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Sonya Davis and Shawn Richardson, both petty officers first class, rode out Thursday’s earthquake in a tower apartment complex on Misawa Air Base, Japan.

Sonya Davis and Shawn Richardson, both petty officers first class, rode out Thursday’s earthquake in a tower apartment complex on Misawa Air Base, Japan. (Jennifer H. Svan / S&S)

MISAWA AIR BASE, Japan — Everyone reacted a little differently Thursday to one of the more violent earthquakes to jolt the Misawa community in more than a decade.

One Air Force captain said she pulled the covers over her head and prayed.

Melody Redd, 42, an Air Force spouse, squeezed her husband’s hand before they both leapt from bed and braced under separate doorways.

The couple’s 7-year-old son snoozed through the whole thing.

Airman 1st Class Joe Mattingly, 20, was already awake when his base dormitory started shaking after midnight, but he didn’t budge.

"I thought it was pretty awesome," he said.

The magnitude 6.8 temblor (on the Japanese scale) struck about 75 miles underground along the northern Iwate prefecture coast, according to the Japan Meteorological Agency. Misawa is in Aomori prefecture, which borders Iwate.

Throughout northern Japan, 131 injuries were reported as of noon Thursday, including 16 that were serious, according to Kyodo News. Japan’s National Police Agency also counted 31 houses that were damaged, according to the Japan news service.

The earthquake caused strong shaking for up to 40 seconds in large parts of northern Japan.

On Misawa Air Base, no major injuries or structural damages were reported to the command post, according to Master Sgt. Tonya Scott, 35th Fighter Wing Command Post superintendent. One spouse went to an off-base emergency room for minor cuts and scratches, she said. Otherwise, there were small cracks in tower hallways, one small water pipe leaked and the shaking set off alarms in buildings, she said.

In the dormitories, a bathroom mirror broke and ceiling tiles fell in the youth center, base officials said. Crews were still inspecting structures Thursday to be certain there were no serious damages, officials said.

A Misawa city official said three people were injured in Misawa. One 69-year-old woman broke her leg after falling down the stairs of her house and others sustained cuts on their legs. Power went out in the Omachi 1-chome area after the earthquake hit at 12:26 a.m. Thursday, but it came back on around 1:35 a.m., the official said. There were some buildings in the city where walls fell, but there were no major damages, such as landslides, and no road closures were reported in Misawa, according to the official.

On base, people eagerly shared their personal accounts of riding out the earthquake.

"It was scary, unexpected," said Petty Officer 1st Class Sonya Davis, 29, a base tower apartment resident. "It felt like somebody started shaking you really hard."

"The house felt like it was swaying," said Redd, the Air Force spouse, who lives in an H-style military house. A lamp tipped over, contents on a closet shelf spilled and bottles in a bathroom broke a CD on the floor, Redd said.

Staff Sgt. Ochshalay Davis, an information manager with the 35th Fighter Wing, wasn’t as lucky. The sixth-floor base tower resident said she has a broken 36-inch flat screen TV that toppled over during the earthquake and DVDs that cracked when her DVD holder fell down.

Base officials said they were awaiting guidance from higher headquarters as to how people should file legal claims for personal property damaged by the earthquake.

Petty Officer 1st Class Shawn Richardson, 31, another tower resident, said his TV tipped over but didn’t break. Of all things, he recalls his tomato plant shaking.

Now on his second tour in Japan, this was the strongest quake he’s felt, he said.

The earthquake was slightly weaker in Hachinohe, Gonohe, and Hashikami in Aomori prefecture, but still measured above 6.0, according to the Japan Meteorological Agency. The last earthquake that measured 6.0 or greater in Aomori prefecture was Dec. 28, 1994, according to the agency.

The Associated Press contributed to this story.

Earthquake survival tips

Air Force safety officials at Misawa provided a few tips Thursday on how to survive an earthquake.

During an earthquake and its aftershocks:

Inside – Take cover under a desk or table, or against an inside wall. Protect your body from things that could injure you. In bed, cover yourself with pillows and blankets.Outside – Move away from buildings, trees, billboards, telephone and electric lines.In a car – Drive away from bridges, underpasses/overpasses; stop in a safe area; stay in vehicles until shaking stops.After the shaking stops:

Check for injuries.Check for gas, water and sewage breaks; check for downed electric lines and shorts; turn off appropriate utilities; turn off gas only if you see, smell or hear gas escaping; check for building damage and potential safety problems such as cracks around chimney and foundation.Wear sturdy shoes.Don’t use the telephone except for life-threatening emergencies.Tune into local radio station.Supplies to have on hand:

Portable radio with extra batteries.Flashlight with extra batteries.First-aid supplies, including an extra pair of glasses and a first-aid book.Fire extinguisher, A-B-C type.Smoke alarm.Portable fire escape ladder for homes/apartments with multiple floors.Bottled water – at least 1 gallon per person per day.Canned and processed foods sufficient for a week for each member in household.Non-electric can opener.Portable stove such as butane or charcoal. NOTE: Do not use stoves until you are sure there is no gas leak nearby. Use charcoal outdoors only – use indoors can cause carbon monoxide poisoning.Matches.Telephone numbers of police, fire and doctor.Misawa safety officials also suggest people refer to the Federal Emergency Management Agency’s Web site on disaster preparation.

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Jennifer reports on the U.S. military from Kaiserslautern, Germany, where she writes about the Air Force, Army and DODEA schools. She’s had previous assignments for Stars and Stripes in Japan, reporting from Yokota and Misawa air bases. Before Stripes, she worked for daily newspapers in Wyoming and Colorado. She’s a graduate of the College of William and Mary in Virginia.
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Hana Kusumoto is a reporter/translator who has been covering local authorities in Japan since 2002. She was born in Nagoya, Japan, and lived in Australia and Illinois growing up. She holds a journalism degree from Boston University and previously worked for the Christian Science Monitor’s Tokyo bureau.
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