Eight people have likely died, with two confirmed dead and six in a state of cardiopulmonary arrest, Japan's public broadcaster NHK said after a powerful earthquake battered Japan's northernmost prefecture of Hokkaido early Thursday.
Around 140 people have been injured following the powerful temblor with a preliminary magnitude of 6.7 rocking Japan's Hokkaido prefecture at 3:08 a.m. local time on Thursday (1808 GMT Wednesday) and the death toll is likely to rise, officials said, as multiple houses were buried by landslides with rescue work underway for those still missing.
Local authorities said that around 40 people still remained missing as search and rescue operations ramped up their efforts to find the missing before nightfall.
Also complicating rescue efforts, Hokkaido Electric Power Company said that power was out across the whole of Japan's northernmost prefecture.
After the quake struck, it said that it shut down all of its thermal power plants as a preemptive measure to ensure safety in case multiple fires broke out as the prefecture continued to be rattled by powerful ongoing aftershocks.
All flights have been cancelled at Hokkaido's New Chitose Airport and train, bus and highway services have been suspended, local operators said.
Local police said they had received multiple reports of injuries as a result of the quake and in the town of Atsuma, at least 16 people were missing after eight households were buried by landslides and seven residents have since been found without vital signs, according to public broadcaster NHK.
In Sapporo, the capital city of Hokkaido, scores of people were reported injured, according to local firefighters, and a number of houses in the quake-stricken areas have collapsed, with emergency work underway to rescue those potentially buried under the houses, local officials said.
The quake has also triggered power blackouts across a wide area in Hokkaido affecting some 3 million households, and hundreds of thousands of households were without water supply, local utilities said.
More than 1,300 public schools in the prefecture have decided to close and students are told to stay at home amid the dangerous aftershocks, according to local reports.
The Japanese government has set up a liaison unit at the crisis management center of the office of Prime Minister Shinzo Abe to gather more information on the devastating quake.
It said some 25,000 personnel from the Japanese Self-Defense Forces will be dispatched to the quake-stricken areas for rescue and relief operations at the request of the governor of Hokkaido.
According to the Japan Meteorological Agency (JMA), the major temblor occurred in Hokkaido Prefecture at 3:08 a.m. local time on Thursday morning (1808 GMT Wednesday), with the epicenter located at a latitude of 42.7 degrees north and a longitude of 142.0 degrees east and at depth of 40 km.
The earthquake was logged at upper 6 in some areas of Hokkaido Prefecture on the Japanese seismic intensity scale which peaks at 7.
It was the first time for a quake in Hokkaido to reach an intensity of upper 6 since the seismic scale was revised in 1996, the JMA noted.
Dozens of aftershock followed, including one with a preliminary magnitude of 5.4 that hit the prefecture at 6:11 a.m. local time (2111 GMT Wednesday), the weather agency said.
The Japan Meteorological Agency has warned that earthquakes with a similar intensity could continue in the area for about a week.
Japan's Nuclear Regulation Authority said that the Tomari nuclear power plant operated by Hokkaido Electric Power Co. had lost an external power source, and a spent fuel pool was being cooled by an emergency power supply system. Power supply has since been restored at the plant, according to the plant's operator.
The nuclear watchdog said that no abnormalities had been observed in radiation levels around the plant.
The JMA said there might be a slight sea-level change in Japan's coastal areas as a result of the early morning temblor.
A potentially lethal fire broke out at a petrochemical complex in Muroran, local media reported, and was later extinguished by firefighters.