A Maltese family was terrified but unhurt when a powerful earthquake struck Japan's northern island of Hokkaido last night.

Well-known sports commentator John Busuttil recounted how his son Damian and his family live in Sapporo, one of the towns hit by the 6.6 magnitude quake overnight.

"They spent a night of terror. Streets near them collapsed but fortunately they suffered no injury or damage," Mr Busuttil told Times of Malta.

When contacted, Damian Busuttil said the earthquake was by far the most powerful he had ever felt in 14 years living there.

“We never had such a powerful tremor. Hokkaido is usually spared the powerful earthquakes which frequently hit Japan.

“But this was different, it was very powerful, some streets just 5km from where I live have been destroyed,” he said. "It was very scary, there were many aftershocks and we spent the night without electricity."

Several buildings were badly damaged.

He said people were fearing an even bigger earthquake.

Shops were raided and emptied this morning as people stocked up as a precaution.

“Those of us who still have a water supply have been told to fill the bath, just in case the supply is cut,” he said.

People did not go to work today, schools and the metro system have been closed, and people have been urged not to use their cars, because of damage to the infrastructure and to traffic lights. 

Several people he knew had moved in with friends because of the infrastructural damage, particularly damage to a power station which is likely to keep a large section of the town without power for quite some time. 

A devastated street in Sapporo (Damian Busuttil/Facebook).A devastated street in Sapporo (Damian Busuttil/Facebook).

Reuters and AFP Television footage from Sapporo (see above) showed crumbled roads and mud covering a main street. Police directed traffic because signal lights were out while drink-vending machines, ubiquitous in Japan, and most ATMs were not working.

The earthquake paralysed Hokkaido, killing at least nine people, triggering landslides and knocking out power to its 5.3 million residents.

The death toll is likely to rise as rescuers search houses buried by landslides.

About 33 people were missing and 300 were injured, public broadcaster NHK said. Four people were in cardiopulmonary arrest, a term used before death is officially confirmed.

The quake was the latest in a string of natural disasters to batter Japan after typhoons, flooding and a record-breaking heat wave within the past two months.



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