A fire engulfed a historic castle on the southern Japanese island of Okinawa, destroying much of the structure that symbolized the ancient Ryukyu kingdom and the restoration of the island from World War II.
Flames swept Shuri Castle, a UNESCO World Heritage Site located in the capital city of Naha around 2:40 a.m. and quickly spread to other buildings in the complex, local police said.
No initial reports of injuries were reported, but nearby residents were evacuated while firefighters spent several hours trying to bring the fire under control.
The castle, a popular tourist spot, dates from the days of the Ryukyu Kingdom, which began in 1
Most recently, the castle comes to symbolize Okinawa's struggle to overcome the devastation of war. More than 200,000 Americans and Japanese, including about a quarter of Okinawa's civilian population, died during a brutal 82-day battle from April to June 1945. The island is still home to a large number of US military bases.
As the headquarters of the Imperial Japanese Army, Shuri Castle was mercilessly fired on by US forces who occupied the island until it regained control of Japan in 1972, two decades after the rest of Japan regained full independence. The castle was restored and rebuilt as a national park in 1992.
"The cause of the fire has not yet been determined, but the security company's alarm went off at about 2.30 in the morning," Rio Kochi spokesman for Okinawa police .
"Started in the main temple and seems to be spreading rapidly in all major structures … firefighters are still beating the fire," he added.
Television footage shows the multistructured castle reduced to a skeleton, wrapped in flames and smoke hours after firefighters were alerted to the fire, said public broadcaster NHK.
While the cause is unknown, the flame is thought to have started in the main structure of the castle. The main temple of Seiden and the structure of the Hokuden, or northern temple, were burnt down and a third building was nearly demolished, Kochi added.
He said a tourist event was being held at the castle on October 27, and some work was related to the event lasting until 1 am, but it is not clear if it was fire-related.
Nearly a dozen fire engines were shipped to the scene, the Kyodo news agency reported.
Due to the correct nature of the post-war reconstruction, Shuri Castle was registered as a World Heritage Site in 2000 along with the surrounding complex and other Ryukyu sites in the region.
"Five hundred years from Ryukyuan's history [12th-17th century] are represented by this group of sites and monuments," the UNESCO website says.
"The ruins of castles on the imposition of elevated sites are evidence of the social structure for much of this period, while the sacred sites provide indelible evidence of the rare survival of an ancient form of religion in the modern age. "
Unesco was particularly impressed with the reconstructed main hall of Shuri Castle, describing it as" a great monument symbolizing the pride of the Ryukyu people. "