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A powerful quake Thursday on Japan's northernmost main island of Hokkaido triggered dozens of landslides that crushed houses under torrents of dirt, rocks and timber, prompting frantic efforts to unearth any survivors.

Public broadcaster NHK put the death toll at 12, with five people unresponsive.

"So far there are 16 [dead] people and many people injured, with 26 still missing", Prime Minister Shinzo Abe told a cabinet meeting to discuss the quake.

The quake left nearly three million people without power after damage to a major thermal plant supplying the region, which was already affected by a typhoon earlier in the week.

Almost 5,000 Hokkaido residents spent the night in evacuation centers where food was distributed in the morning.

"We've heard there are people still stuck under the mud, so we've been working around the clock but it's been hard to rescue them", a Self-Defense Forces serviceman in Atsuma told public broadcaster NHK.

Rescue workers search for survivors from a house damaged by a landslide caused by an quake in Atsuma town, Hokkaido, Japan, in this photo taken by Kyodo September 6, 2018.

"We will devote all our energy to saving lives", Abe said.

According to Hokkaido Electric, power has been restored to 1.4 million houses - about 40 per cent of the population - but authorities have warned it could take as long as a week to get the service fully back to normal.

New Chitose Airport also restarted services for domestic flights to and from the main gateway to Hokkaido, although many people were unable to secure seats. The island, about the size of Austria and with 5.3 million people, is a popular tourist destination known for its mountains, lakes, rolling farmland and seafood.

After the Japan Football Associated (JFA) were rapidly able to establish that all the players and staff were safe, they took a decision to call the game off due to the situation of the stricken area.

Hokkaido's main airport was closed, at least for the day.

Kansai International Airport has been shut since Typhoon Jebi ripped through Osaka on Tuesday, although some domestic flights operated by Japan Airlines (JAL) and ANA's low-priced carrier Peach Aviation resumed on Friday, the carriers said.

JR Hokkaido planned to resume bullet train operations from midday.

"While we have yet to confirm the full picture and magnitude of the damages suffered, there are reports on large-scale landslides and power outages, and the entire region is still under an unpredictable condition". Operations at Toyota plant will be suspended until power is restored, the carmaker said.

Utility officials are starting up hydro-power plants to help restart the main thermal plant, Seko said.

The quake prompted Japan's Self-Defense Forces to cancel two joint military exercises in Hokkaido, including the first-ever drill with Australian fighter jets, and a training exercise with the U.S. Marine Corps.


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