Western Japan hit by largest quake in 40 years

The Associated Press

OSAKA, Japan Japan's deadliest earthquake in 40 years slammed its western cities on Tuesday, killing more than 1,000 people and injuring thousands. Hundreds more were missing. The quake triggered raging fires, destroyed roads, and toppled buildings.

The earthquake, with a preliminary magnitude of 7.2, devastated Kobe, a port city of 1.4 million people 280 miles west of Tokyo. It was barely felt in Tokyo.

By evening, 12 hours after the quake, national police reported 1,042 people dead and 3,569 injured, and said 577 people were missing. The casualty toll was expected to rise as communications links were restored and more victims were pulled from the rubble.

The quake knocked trains off their tracks, collapsed elevated highways, knocked down buildings and set off hundreds of fires. Thousands of buildings were damaged.

Kobe was a landscape of wreckage grand and small. Television showed a teen-age boy standing atop debris from his destroyed home, crying ''Grandma, Grandma!'' His father wandered nearby, dazed.

''I thought it was the end of the world,'' Minaru Takasu, 64, told the Asahi newspaper. ''I'm happy to be alive.''

Huge pillars of smoke rose into the sky over Kobe and could be seen from Osaka, about 20 miles east across the bay.

It was the deadliest quake in Japan since 1952, when an 8.2 quake killed more than 8,000 on the northern island of Hokkaido.

More than four hours after the quake, fires burned out of control in Kobe, darkening the skies over the city with a thick cloud of smoke. One fire appeared to cover at least six city blocks in a residential area.

The quake was also felt strongly in Osaka, Japan's second-largest city, but the most widespread damage was in and around Kobe.

The western city of Ashiya, a posh residential area between Kobe and Osaka, was reportedly devastated. Japan's national television, NHK, said up to 200 people were believed buried in rubble there.

Deaths also were reported on Awaji Island, closest to the epicenter.

The quake, which struck at 5:46 a.m. (3:46 p.m. EST Monday), was centered 12 1/2 miles under Awaji in the Inland Sea, the Central Meteorological Agency said. Part of the quake's destructive power was due to the shallowness of its epicenter, quake watchers said.

Ben Deeley, a U.S. businessman from the Philadelphia area who was in Kobe during the quake, told the Cable News Network that the building next door collapsed on top of a car.

''The whole house must have picked up and moved about five feet,'' he said.

''All of us were outside, some with clothes, some without clothes, some with blankets,'' he said. ''There were no sirens at all. No emergency sirens, nothing. It was very eerie.''

Japan is one of the world's most seismically active areas, but the quake's destructiveness shocked Japanese rescue officials.

''I've never felt such a large earthquake before,'' said Takeshi Sakamoto, head of rescue operations on Awaji Island.

Sections of several elevated highways collapsed, including the Hanshin Highway, the major link between Osaka and Kobe. At the newly opened Kansai International Airport in Osaka Bay, walkways broke.

Telephone service was disrupted, and calls to Kobe and Osaka only yielded recordings saying they could not be connected. Within Kobe, local lines were dead, leaving many residents unable to report fires and summon help.

More than a dozen aftershocks rattled the area following the quake. More aftershocks were expected, adding to fire danger from broken gas mains.

''I couldn't control my legs because of the shaking. I've never felt anything like it,'' a middle-aged man told Japanese TV.

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