TOKYO, Sept. 7 (Xinhua) -- Nine people have been confirmed dead and 24 people remained missing after a powerful earthquake rocked Hokkaido Prefecture in northern Japan in the early hours of Thursday morning, the government said on Friday.
The government had earlier announced that the death toll had risen to 16, but the government's top spokesperson, Chief Cabinet Secretary Yoshihide Suga, announced that the figure had been revised back down to nine, adding that another nine were feared dead but were yet to be declared as fatalities.
As search and rescue efforts continued Friday after the 6.7-magnitude quake struck Japan's northernmost prefecture a day earlier, 24 people remained missing, as police, firefighters and thousands of Self-Defense Forces personnel used heavy machinery to remove rubble.
In one of the hardest-hit towns of Atsuma where massive landslides buried numerous homes and where all of those missing have been located, rescue teams were seen combing through the rubble with their hands, looking for signs of those still unaccounted for.
Whole mountain ranges in the hardest-hit regions had their landscapes altered owing to massive landslides, local media reported, and the Japan Meteorological Agency (JMA) has warned of more possible landslides as heavy rain is expected to hit Hokkaido through Saturday.
Some 2.95 million homes were without electricity, as the entire prefecture suffered a power outage, with Hokkaido Electric Power Company initially saying it might take up to a week until power is fully restored in its service area.
Water supply at one point was cut off at 42,700 households, local utilities also said.
But easing the pressure somewhat Friday, power was reconnected to 1.54 million homes in Hokkaido, the utility said, and water had been reconnected at 4,400 homes.
The industry ministry said however that 191 hospitals remained without power as of midday Friday.
According to prefectural officials, around 10,000 people were forced to spend the night at evacuation centers, some having to queue in long lines to gather water from emergency supply stations.
According to transport officials, Hokkaido's Shinkansen bullet train service was resumed at noon on Friday and Sapporo's subway system also restarted services.
The local office of the transport ministry said that power has been restored to the terminal building at New Chitose Airport, the gateway to Hokkaido.
Airlines are now making arrangements to resume operations, but all flights on Friday morning were cancelled and passengers were struggling to book seats on flights out of Hokkaido due the masses of people waiting to leave.
At least 300 people have been injured as a result of the earthquake which measured the maximum 7 on Japan's seismic intensity scale.
This marked the first time a quake in Hokkaido has reached this intensity level since the seismic scale was revised in 1996, Japan's weather agency said.
Hundreds of aftershocks have since followed and the JMA has warned that earthquakes over 5.0-magnitude could continue in the area for about a week.