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Power outage cripples manufacturing in quake-hit Hokkaido

Tokyo — Manufacturing operations in Hokkaido island in north Japan are likely to be suspended for about a week, due to power outage in the entire region following a 6.7 magnitude earthquake at around 03:08 am local time Thursday (1108 GMT Wednesday).

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Japan's Toyota Motor halted operation of its automotive component manufacturing plant in Tomakomai City, and steel plants of Nippon Steel and Sumitomo Metal Corp, Japan Steel Works, and Mitsubishi Steel, all located in Muroran City, shut down due to the Hokkaido-wide power outage.

Three Japanese beer brewers Kirin, Asahi and Sapporo, the main end-users of aluminum sheets used for cans, also halted production at their Hokkaido plants.

"We have not been able to secure power. We will be flexible on our plant operation as there is no clear visibility," said a Toyota Motor spokeswoman, adding that there were no plans yet to shift production to other plants outside of Hokkaido.

The plant manufactures transmission, accelerator systems and other automotive components.

The quake epicenter was in southwestern Hokkaido where many coal/oil-fueled power plants were located. The biggest Tomatoh power plant suffered damages, the Ministry of Economy, Trade and Industry said.

Hokkaido Electric Power (HEPCO) has restarted Thursday hydropower plants that have been idled.

"Power transmission lines have escaped major damages, and once power generation operations restart, there will be power supply," METI said in a statement Thursday.

It would take about a week to full recovery, however, said the METI minister Hiroshige Seko on national television.

A spokesman of local electric arc furnace steelmaker Japan Steel Works said there has been no casualties at the company's Muroran plant.

"There is nothing [we can] do, however, without power supply," he said.

HEPCO has been JSW's sole power supplier.

JSW and Mitsubishi Steel are one of the major spot buyers of high-carbon ferrochrome in Japan. JSW also uses ferromolybdenum for specialty steel production.

A Kirin Brewery spokeswoman said there was no plan yet to shift production to plants outside of Hokkaido.

"It is not that the country is going short of beer," she said.

One aluminum canmaker source said there has been no immediate change in his company's operation due to the earthquake.

Food processing, tourism, pulp and steel count as the main industries of Hokkaido.

--Mayumi Watanabe,

--Edited by Maurice Geller,