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Test passed? Japan's earthquake causes quick response near Fukushima (+video)

Coming so soon after Sunday’s tunnel collapse raised questions about Japan's infrastructure, the absence of major damage from today's quake shows Japan’s level of preparedness for them.

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There were other reminders of the tragedy after Friday’s earthquake struck out at sea, 176 miles east of the city of Sendai: TV announcers imploring viewers to remember last year's quake and tsunami, and the appearance on-screen of red and yellow lines marking out the areas most at risk. 

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On Friday, as on the day of Japan’s worst disaster in more than six decades, the initial quake was followed by powerful aftershocks and the ever-present risk of another tsunami warning.

Narita Airport closed briefly for safety checks and phone lines were temporarily jammed by the sheer volume of calls. Several much smaller tsunami waves, measured in inches, arrived in other parts of the northeast coastline, including Soma city, which lies just outside the 12-mile evacuation zone imposed around the Fukushima Daiichi nuclear power plant.

The earthquake measured a lower 5 in Miyagi Prefecture on Japan's scale of 1 to 7, which measures the amount of shaking a quake causes rather than its intensity.

Earthquakes of that strength can cause damage to older buildings and roads that do not have strict quake-resistant features introduced after more than 6,000 people died in an earthquake in Kobe in January 1995.

Japan is one of the world's most earthquake-prone countries. Due to its location on the Pacific Ocean’s “ring of fire,” it accounts for about a fifth of the world’s earthquakes of magnitude 6.0 or higher, and experiences at least one tremor every five minutes.

Added anxiety

Buildings swayed for several minutes as far away as Tokyo; nearer the epicenter, where last year’s tsunami turned coastal towns and villages into near-deserted swathes of flattened land, people quickly headed to higher ground.

For all the relief that catastrophe had been diverted, Friday’s earthquake only added to the anxiety felt by the 325,000 people in the region still living in temporary accommodation. (Read more about life after Japan's 2011 quake, tsunami, and nuclear meltdown)

"I was in the center of the city the very moment the earthquake struck,” Chikako Iwai, a resident of Ishinomaki, in Miyagi Prefecture told Reuters.

“I immediately jumped into the car and started running toward the mountains. I'm still inside the car. I have the radio on and they say the cars are still stuck in traffic. I'm planning to stay here for the next couple of hours," she said.

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