03/21/2005, 00.00
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Cleanup begins after wave of shock sweeps Japan

Tokyo (AsiaNews/Agencies) - People across much of southern Japan spent yesterday cleaning up after a magnitude 7 earthquake jolted the region, while those closest to the epicentre worried about a series of aftershocks. The focus of the quake was 9km below the seabed in the Sea of Japan, about 70km off the coast of Yamaguchi prefecture.

One of the most seriously affected places was the tiny island of Genkai. More than 100 of the island's 700 residents were evacuated after 20 houses built on its steep slopes collapsed. Dozens more buildings were badly damaged and local officials appealed for help as villagers were sent for treatment at hospitals on the mainland.

Images caught on security cameras in offices showed people taking cover under their desks as the first shocks were felt. A home video of a primary school graduation ceremony showed screaming children being protected by their teachers and parents.

Other footage showed a funeral service ending in chaos as the quake toppled gravestones and scattered mourners.

Inside the Fukuoka Dome baseball stadium, people preparing for a flower show fell to the floor and looked nervously at the roof of the building.

Television stations cancelled their scheduled programmes immediately after the 10.53am quake because of concerns of a tsunami striking the coast of northern Kyushu, the most southerly of Japan's four main islands.

Outlines of southern Japan were superimposed on the rolling news coverage showing sections of the coast where the tsunami was expected to strike.

With memories of the Indian Ocean tsunami still fresh, the Meteorological Agency quickly issued an alert for a tsunami with a maximum height of half a metre.

Residents were warned to move to higher ground, although the alert was cancelled one hour later.
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