Monday, July 16, 2007

Five people have been killed and at least 500 injured following an earthquake in Japan.

The 6.8 magnitude earthquake struck off the coast of Niigata, which is situated about 250km northwest of Tokyo.

Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe broke off from election campaigning to visit the scene of the worst damage in Niigata and Nagano prefectures.

Mr Abe, who is struggling in opinion polls, gave instructions to his government that 'all possible measures be taken to ensure the safety of residents'.

Nearly 300 buildings were flattened by the quake, which also triggered mudslides and sparked a fire at a nuclear plant.

However, officials at the Kashiwazaki nuclear plant said there was no risk of a radiation leak.

The quake triggered a small 50cm tsunami and was followed by several aftershocks, including a strong 5.6 tremor in the afternoon.

Monday was a bank holiday in Japan, so financial markets and many offices were closed.

Service on Japan's famed Shinkansen trains was temporarily suspended as a precaution after the earthquake, which severed power to some 21,000 households.

Japan lies at the junction of four tectonic plates and is hit by about 20% of the world's most powerful earthquakes.