and Star-Advertiser staff
POSTED: 11:03 p.m. HST, Apr 10, 2011
LAST UPDATED: 9:43 a.m. HST, Apr 11, 2011
SENDAI, Japan >> A strong new earthquake rattled Japan's northeast and killed one girl Monday as the government urged more people living near a tsunami-crippled nuclear plant to leave, citing concerns about long-term health risks from radiation.
The magnitude 7.0 aftershock, which collapsed the 16-year-old girl's house, came just hours after residents bowed their heads and wept in ceremonies to mark a month since a massive earthquake and tsunami killed up to 25,000 people and set off radiation leaks at the nuclear plant by knocking out its cooling systems.
"Even after a month, I still cry when I watch the news," said Marina Seito, 19, a student at a junior college who recalled being in a basement restaurant in Sendai when the original 9.0-magnitude earthquake hit on March 11. Plates fell and parts of the ceiling crashed down around her.
(The Pacific Tsunami Warning Center in Ewa Beach said the aftershock, which struck at about 10:16 p.m. Sunday, Hawaii time, did not generate a Pacific-wide tsunami.)
Officials said Monday's aftershock did not endanger operations at the tsunami-flooded Fukushima Dai-ichi nuclear complex, where power was cut but quickly restored. The epicenter was just inland and about 100 miles north of Tokyo.
But a nuclear safety official said repeated strong aftershocks — another large quake hit last Thursday — were slowing work at the plant, and said that if one of them were to spawn a tsunami, the complex would be just as vulnerable as on March 11.
"At the moment, no tsunami resistance has been added to the plant. At the moment, there is nothing we can do about it," said Hidehiko Nishiyama of Japan's Nuclear and Industrial Safety Agency.
With the crisis dragging on, residents of five more communities, some of them more than 20 miles from the plant, were urged to evacuate within a month because of high levels of radiation, Chief Cabinet Secretary Yukio Edano told reporters. People living in a 12-mile radius around the plant already have been evacuated.
"This is not an emergency measure that people have to evacuate immediately," he said. "We have decided this measure based on long-term health risks."
Edano sounded a grave note, acknowledging that "the nuclear accident has not stabilized" and that "we cannot deny the possibility the situation could get worse."
The latest quake spooked people yet again in a disaster-weary northeastern Japan. Customers in a large electronics store in Sendai screamed and ran outside and mothers grabbed their children.
In Iwaki, a city close to the quake's epicenter, three houses collapsed and up to seven people were believed trapped inside. A 16-year-old girl was found dead inside, according to a police official in the city. Three other people were rescued. Their condition, and the fate of the others, was not immediately known.
Neither officials gave his name, citing policy.
Japanese officials said the quake had a magnitude of 7.0, but the U.S. Geological Survey said it measured 6.6.