At least eight people are confirmed dead according to Japan's public broadcaster NHK after an earthquake rocked the island of Hokkaido early on Thursday. Authorities said a nuclear power plant on the island was secure.

Police officers and rescue workers search for survivors from a building in Atsuma town damaged by a landslide caused by an earthquake in northern Japan's island of Hokkaido on September 6, 2018.
Police officers and rescue workers search for survivors from a building in Atsuma town damaged by a landslide caused by an earthquake in northern Japan's island of Hokkaido on September 6, 2018. (Reuters)

A powerful earthquake rocked Japan's northernmost main island of Hokkaido early Thursday, triggering landslides that crushed homes, knocking out power across the island, and forcing a nuclear power plant to switch to a backup generator.

Reagan Des Vignes reports.

The magnitude 6.7 earthquake struck southern Hokkaido at 3:08am at a depth of 40 kilometres (24 miles), Japan's Meteorological Agency said. The epicentre was east of the city of Tomakomai but the shaking also affected Hokkaido's prefectural capital of Sapporo, which has population of 1.9 million.

TRT World's Reagan Des Vignes has more.

Japan's public service broadcaster NHK said at least eight people were killed, with over one hundred injured and about 20 people feared missing. Hokkaido's local disaster agency put the number of injured at 48.

Several of those reported missing were from the town of Atsuma, where a massive landslide engulfed homes.

People look at an area damaged by an earthquake in Sapporo in Japan's northern island of Hokkaido, Japan, in this photo taken by Kyodo September 6, 2018.
People look at an area damaged by an earthquake in Sapporo in Japan's northern island of Hokkaido, Japan, in this photo taken by Kyodo September 6, 2018. (Reuters)

Reconstruction Minister Jiro Akama told reporters that five people were believed to be buried in the town's Yoshino district. Some of the 40 people stranded there were airlifted to safer grounds, NHK said.

Aerial views showed dozens of landslides in the surrounding area, with practically every mountainside a raw slash of brown amid deep green forest.

Houses damaged by a landslide caused by an earthquake, are seen in Atsuma town in Japan's northern island of Hokkaido, Japan on September 6, 2018.
Houses damaged by a landslide caused by an earthquake, are seen in Atsuma town in Japan's northern island of Hokkaido, Japan on September 6, 2018. (Reuters)

Airports and many roads on the island were closed following the early morning quake.

Prime Minister Shinzo Abe said that 25,000 troops and other personnel were being dispatched to the area to help with rescue operations.

TRT World spoke to Shingetsu News Agency's Michael Penn.

NHK showed the moment the quake struck the city of Muroran, with its camera violently shaking and all city lights going black a moment later. In Sapporo, a mudslide on a road left several cars half buried.

Power loss

Power was knocked out for Hokkaido's 2.9 million households. Economy, Trade and Industry Minister Hiroshige Seko told reporters that the extensive power outage was caused by an emergency shutdown of the main thermal power plant that supplies half of Hokkaido's electricity.

Utility officials were starting up hydroelectric plants, Seko said, adding that he hoped to get power back "within a few hours." In the meantime, authorities sent power-generator vehicles to hospitals so enable them to treat emergency patients, he said.

A police officer during blackout after a powerful earthquake hit the area at a cross-point in Sapporo, Japan on September 6, 2018.
A police officer during blackout after a powerful earthquake hit the area at a cross-point in Sapporo, Japan on September 6, 2018. (Reuters)

Chief Cabinet Secretary Yoshihide Suga told a news conference that the authorities were doing their utmost to rescue and assess damage after receiving hundreds of calls about people missing and buildings collapsing.

The central government set up a crisis management task force at the prime minister's office.

Three reactors at the Tomari nuclear plant were offline for routine safety checks, but they are running on backup generators that kicked in after losing external power because of the island-wide blackouts, Japan's Nuclear Regulation Authority said. Spent fuel in storage pools was safely cooled on backup power that can last for a week, the agency said.

Rescue workers search for survivors from a house damaged by a landslide caused by an earthquake in Atsuma town in Japan's northern island of Hokkaido, Japan on September 6, 2018.
Rescue workers search for survivors from a house damaged by a landslide caused by an earthquake in Atsuma town in Japan's northern island of Hokkaido, Japan on September 6, 2018. (Reuters)
Source: AP