Evacuation widens as deadly aftershock rattles Japan
Yet another strong earthquake struck Japan Tuesday morning local time, the country's Meteorological Agency announced, a day after a powerful aftershock claimed a young girl's life.
The agency gave the quake a preliminary magnitude of 6.3, saying its epicentre was just off the coast of Chiba, east of Tokyo.
The quake did not trigger a tsunami warning, and there were no immediate reports of injuries or damage.
The quake was part of a series of aftershocks that have continued to rock Japan one month after a 9.0-magnitude earthquake and tsunami devastated the northeastern part of the country. An estimated 25,000 people were killed and officials continue to struggle with radiation leaks and other problems at a nearby nuclear facility.
Tuesday's quake came a day after a powerful aftershock struck about 160 kilometres north of Tokyo, just hours after the island nation paused to mark the one-month anniversary of the devastating earthquake and ensuing tsunami that hit March 11.
Monday's aftershock, which was measured at a magnitude of 7.0 by Japanese officials and magnitude 6.6 by the U.S. Geological Survey, collapsed at least three houses in the city of Iwaki.
At least seven people were believed trapped, local police said, in addition to a teenage girl who was found dead in the rubble of her collapsed home.
A tsunami warning was issued immediately following Monday's aftershock, but was lifted approximately one hour later.
Monday's tragedy occurred as government officials, citing long-term health concerns, told more residents of the disaster-stricken region to leave.
In a press conference Chief Cabinet Secretary Yukio Edano said the residents of an additional five communities -- some of which are well beyond the existing 20-kilometre evacuation zone surrounding the crippled Dai-ichi nuclear power complex in Fukushinma prefecture -- should consider heading to another part of the country.
Although the Japanese government's top spokesperson insisted there was no imminent peril, he admitted emergency crews have been unable to bring the nuclear crisis at the plant under control.
"This is not an emergency measure that people have to evacuate immediately," Edano told reporters. "We have decided this measure based on long-term health risks."
A month after the disaster, authorities are still struggling to restore a sense of normalcy in a country where more than 150,000 people are living in shelters, while persistent dangers at the damaged nuclear facility prevent many from returning to their homes.
"My chest has been ripped open by the suffering and pain that this disaster has caused the people of our prefecture," said Yuhei Sato, the governor of Fukushima, which saw its coastal areas devastated by the tsunami and is home to the stricken Dai-ichi nuclear plant.
The tsunami disabled the cooling systems at the six-reactor Dai-ichi plant, which has suffered explosions, fires and radiation leaks in the ensuing month.
Nuclear safety official Hidehiko Nishiyama apologized Monday for the inconvenience caused by the radiation issues at Dai-ichi.
"It's still difficult to give a timeline regarding when we can resolve the problem," Nishiyama said Monday. "We are very sorry for the evacuees who are anxious to see the problem resolved."
Atsushi Yanai, a 55-year-old construction worker, has not been able to go home since the tsunami. His house was not harmed by the quake or the tsunami, but it is located within an evacuation zone surrounding the Dai-ichi plant.
"We have no future plans. We can't even start to think about it because we don't know how long this will last or how long we will have to stay in these shelters," Yanai said.
Many memorial services in hard-hit towns took place at 2:46 p.m. local time on Monday, a month after the massive quake struck on March 11.
Marina Seito, a 19-year-old college student, was inside a basement restaurant when the quake hit.
"Even after a month, I still cry when I watch the news," Saito said Monday, recalling the scene of the ceiling above her falling apart.
But hours after Japanese citizens gathered to remember their dead on Monday, the ground began shaking again when the aftershock hit.
With files from The Associated Press