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At least 3 dead, 61 injured after strong earthquake hits Osaka in western Japan

Passengers from a train walk along railroad tracks following an earthquake in Osaka on June 18, 2018.

[TOKYO] Three people, including a nine-year-old girl, have died and several others are feared dead after a strong earthquake struck Osaka on Monday morning.

At least 61 people were injured, according to an official tally at 11.45am local time (10.45am in Singapore).

The earthquake - which the Japan Meteorological Agency (JMA) put at magnitude 6.1 - hit the western Japan prefecture at 7.58am local time (6.58am Singapore time), disrupting rush-hour traffic at a time when many were on their way to work and school. There was no tsunami risk.

Osaka, Japan’s third most populated city, is a major business hub and tourist hotspot in western Japan. The epicentre of Monday’s quake, which the JMA said occurred at a depth of 13km, was about an hour to the north of the main entertainment district of Dotonbori.

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The quake collapsed walls and damaged roofs, with the nine-year-old girl killed after she was trapped by a damaged wall at a swimming complex north of Osaka. Two men in their 80s also died, news reports said.

Disaster management minister Hachiro Okonogi said there could be people buried under a collapsed building, and that the authorities are working to confirm details and conduct search-and-rescue operations.

The shinkansen bullet train service remains halted due to the quake as at 11.30am local time, while the Hanshin Expressway that connects Osaka to the neighbouring Kyoto and Kobe cities is also closed.

News pictures show residents taking refuge on canvas sheets in open fields.

The JMA has warned of possible major aftershocks, of similar magnitude, occurring over the next week.

Monday’s earthquake caused fires to break out in the residential Takatsuki City district, while there have been reports of flooding due to burst water pipes.

Gas has been cut off to more than 100,000 households in Osaka, while some 170,000 houses in Osaka and neighbouring Kyoto and Hyogo prefectures are left without power.

Telecommunications company NTT Docomo said that its network is down in several areas.

Pictures on Twitter showed fallen signs at a train station. Books were thrown off the shelves at a store.

Japan’s JXTG Nippon Oil & Energy Corp has shut all its refining units at the 115,000 barrels per day Osaka refinery after the earthquake, with product shipments halted. A spokesman said   the company was conducting checks and will resume refining operations if no irregularities are found.

The Nuclear Regulation Authority said it had detected no abnormalities at its facilities after the quake.

Several companies have suspended production at its factories in Osaka and Kyoto, including Panasonic, Daihatsu Motor Co, the Osaka-based unit of Toyota Motor Corp, and a joint venture plant by Sharp Corp and parent company Hon Hai Precision Industry.

The United States Geological Survey (USGS) measured the tremor at magnitude 5.3,  struck at a depth of 15.4km. 

The JMA put the preliminary magnitude at 5.9 at a depth of 10km – which it later reversed to magnitude 6.1 at a depth of 13km. The quake registered a lower six on the seven-point Japanese Shindo earthquake scale, which means it is difficult to stay standing.

Prime Minister Shinzo Abe told reporters that the government has placed its “top priority on saving people’s lives”.

He said he has instructed the ministries to work together to “swiftly collect information on damage, make utmost efforts in rescuing and saving lives... (and) provide timely and appropriate information to the public”.

The Osaka quake on Monday followed two tremors over the weekend. A magnitude 4.6 quake struck Gunma prefecture - north of Tokyo - on Sunday, while a magnitude 4.5 tremor hit Chiba - east of Tokyo - on Saturday.