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Earthquake rattles buildings in Japan

Associated Press / March 15, 2010

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TOKYO — A strong magnitude-6.6 earthquake off the eastern coast of Japan yesterday rattled buildings across a broad swath of the country, including the crowded capital.

There were no reports of casualties and only light damage to structures near the epicenter, according to local officials.

The quake hit at 5:08 p.m. and was felt most strongly in central Fukushima prefecture about 130 miles northeast of Tokyo, according to the Japan Meteorological Agency.

“It was fairly strong, but didn’t knock over anything in the office,’’ said Ken Yoshida, a town official in Naraha, one of the hardest-hit areas.

The earthquake was centered about 50 miles off the eastern coast at a depth of 25 miles, the meteorological agency said. It was strong enough to gently sway large buildings in Tokyo and was felt across a broad stretch of Japan’s main Honshu and northern Hokkaido islands. The government said there was no danger of a tsunami.

Japan’s early warning system predicted the earthquake just before it hit, with public broadcaster NHK interrupting a sumo match to warn residents to take cover.

Japan is one of the world’s most earthquake-prone countries. In 1995, a magnitude-7.2 quake in the western port city of Kobe killed 6,400 people.

The world has seen an unusual string of major earthquakes in recent months, but seismologists say that is just a coincidence.

Bernard Doft, a seismologist for the Royal Netherlands Meteorological Institute, said there was no direct connection among the lethal quakes that struck Haiti, Chile, and Turkey.