SENDAI, Japan -- The earthquake was powerful enough to sway skyscrapers 185 miles away in Tokyo. And with an estimated magnitude of 7.2, it had the potential to cause catastrophic damage.
But this time, Japan got lucky.
No one died in the quake that rocked a wide swath of northern Japan yesterday. The scene of the worst damage was an indoor pool where part of the roof caved in, injuring a couple dozen swimmers, many of them young children.
Still, the jolt underscored the fragility of the lifelines of even the most modern, quake-resistant cities. It forced highways and railroads to close, leaving tens of thousands of people stranded, and 17,000 households lost electricity.
''We were lucky this time," said office worker Mari Abe, 36. ''But there will be another one. It may be years away, but there's always the fear of the next big one."
Japan sits at the juncture of four tectonic plates -- or moving slabs of the earth's outer crust -- and is one of the world's most quake-prone regions.
The visible damage from the quake was surprisingly light.
Few houses were destroyed, and by nightfall the city of Sendai had returned to its normal routine. The streets were crowded with cars, and the malls with shoppers.
Sixty-two people were reported hurt, the worst injuries being broken bones. Most were hit by falling debris, police said.
Damage was minimized because the quake was centered about 50 miles offshore and 12 miles under the seabed.
A 7.3-magnitude quake centered directly under the city of Kobe killed 6,400 people in 1995.
The quake hit about 11:46 a.m., the Meteorological Agency said. Two small tsunamis followed, but caused no significant damage. The temblor was followed by at least four aftershocks. More jolts of up to magnitude 6 could follow, the agency warned.