Houses were buried by multiple landslides after a powerful earthquake in Atsuma, Hokkaido - The Asahi Shimbun

At least eight people were killed killed and 32 were missing, Japanese media reported, after a powerful earthquake paralysed the northern island of Hokkaido on Thursday, triggering landslides and knocking out power to its 5.3 million residents.

Aerial footage showed dozens of landslides exposing barren hillsides near the town of Atsuma in southern Hokkaido, with mounds of reddish earth and fallen trees piled up at the edge of green fields. The collapsed remains of what appeared to be houses or barns were scattered about.

Six of the deaths were in the village of Atsuma, National broadcaster NHK reported.

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

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

Residents watch a road damaged by an earthquake in Sapporo, Hokkaido, northern Japan - Credit: AP

Akira Fukui, from the main city of Sapporo, told AFP: “I woke up around 3am with a vertical jolt. I put the light on but it went out shortly afterwards. All the traffic lights are out and there’s no power at work.”

Another Sapporo resident told NHK: “I was scared… I felt the tremor, which lasted for about 30 seconds. I was on the sixth floor, it was really scary.”

The entire island was without power after Hokkaido Electric Power Co said it conducted an emergency shutdown of all its fossil fuel-fired power plants following the quake.

The utility said it wasn’t clear when electricity would be restored to 2.95 million households. The trade and industry ministry told the utility to restart the coal-fired Tomato-Atsuma power plant within a few hours, Trade Minister Hiroshige Seko said.

All trains across the island were also halted.

Roof tiles and water could be seen on the floor at Hokkaido’s main airport, New Chitose Airport, which would be closed for at least Thursday.

New Chitose is a major tourist gateway to the island, known for its mountains, lakes and abundant farmland and seafood, and more than 200 flights and 40,000 passengers would be affected, Kyodo News Agency said.

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