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. Last Updated: 07/27/2016

Earthquake Starts Fire at Atomic Plant

KASHIWAZAKI, Japan -- A 6.8-magnitude earthquake rocked Japan's northwest coast Monday, killing at least seven people. The quake injured hundreds, flattened buildings and triggered a fire and leak at a nuclear power plant.

Fire sirens could be heard in the hard-hit city Kashiwazaki, and older buildings were reduced to piles of lumber. National broadcaster NHK reported that more than 800 people were hurt, with injuries including broken bones, cuts and bruises.

Six people in their 70s and 80s -- four women and two men -- died after being crushed when buildings collapsed on them, said officials with the National Police Agency in Tokyo. A seventh person -- an 82-year-old man -- died at a hospital where he had been taken with quake-related injuries, said NPA spokesman Shigeyoshi Nagano.

The area was plagued by a series of aftershocks, the strongest of which was magnitude 5.8. There were no immediate reports of additional damage or injuries from the aftershocks, which triggered no tsunami warnings.

"I was so scared -- the violent shaking went on for 20 seconds," Ritei Wakatsuki, an employee of convenience store Lawson, said by telephone from Kashiwazaki. "I almost fainted by the fear of shaking."

Flames and billows of black smoke poured from the Kashiwazaki nuclear plant -- the world's largest in terms of power output capacity -- which automatically shut down during the quake. The fire, at an electrical transformer, was put out shortly after noon and there was no release of radioactivity or damage to the reactors, said Motoyasu Tamaki, a plant official.

Later Monday, however, the plant operator said water containing radioactive material leaked from a nuclear reactor, NHK reported. The water leaked from the plant into the Sea of Japan, but the radioactivity level was below safety levels and posed no danger to the environment. NHK reported.

Around 7,000 people in the quake zone were evacuated from their homes, according to media reports. More than 300 buildings in the city were destroyed, according to city officials.