San Francisco

At Least 15 Dead After Series of Big Earthquakes in Japan

In the last week, there have been 24 earthquakes in the region, according to the U.S. Geological Survey.

Daybreak in Japan reveals an earthquake’s ire: landslides, collapsed roads and damage to nearby Kumamoto. At least six people have died after a 7.0 magnitude quake struck overnight, and at least nine were killed after Thursday’s 6.2 magnitude temblor, with hundreds more injured.

“It was a pretty big one. I actually went under the table. Everything was moving,” Sandra Huynh said. The San Francisco native teaches English in Oita, about 90 miles from the epicenter.

The San Jose State University graduate says there does not seem to be much damage in her neighborhood, but there have been several aftershocks since the larger quakes.

“My heart jumps. You’re not sure if it’s going to be another big one or if it’s just one of the smaller ones right now,” Huynh said.

In the last week, there have been 24 earthquakes in the region, according to the U.S. Geological Survey (USGS).

Visiting scientist Shunta Noda says he was surprised, despite the high frequency of earthquakes in Japan.

“The Western area [of Japan] is really similar to California in terms of seismic activity,” said Noda, who hails from Tokyo but is now living in Menlo Park. He helped develop the early earthquake warning system for the high-speed rail line in Kyushu.

USGS geophysicist Fred Pollitz says the active fault line in Japan is long, similar to the San Andreas Fault. However, a sequence of quakes like this one is unlikely to happen here.

“What has just happened in japan is very unusual,” Pollitz said. “The tectonic plates are crunching together about four times faster than on the San Andreas Fault in California. And that leads to a tremendous amount of stress accumulating.”

Pollitz says the chance of a large earthquake happening within 24 hours of another large earthquake is about 5 percent. He says a series of quakes preceded the Loma Prieta earthquake in 1989, but happened weeks earlier.

“It’s too early to tell, but this could be a part of a continuing earthquake sequence,” Pollitz said, predicting there could be another earthquake in Japan in the next two weeks.

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