JAPAN: The death toll has risen to at least 48 people following a powerful earthquake that struck Japan on New Year’s Day (1 Jan).
Rescue teams are facing challenges reaching isolated areas where buildings have been toppled, roads destroyed, and power cut to tens of thousands of homes.
The earthquake, with a preliminary magnitude of 7.6, occurred in the middle of the afternoon on Monday, prompting residents in some coastal areas to flee to higher ground as tsunami waves hit Japan’s west coast.
The quake, rated the highest level 7 on Japan’s “shindo” intensity scale, struck Ishikawa Prefecture’s Noto Peninsula.
Centered around 30 kilometres east-northeast of Wajima, with a provisional depth of 16 km, the quake triggered a series of cataclysmic events, including tsunami warnings, extensive damage, and an urgent plea for evacuations.
— さくら総合病院 (@sakura_hospital) January 2, 2024
Tsunami waves followed the earthquake, striking at approximately 4:10 pm local time.
Authorities in Japan rushed to assess the damage the day after the powerful earthquake, which left at least 48 dead, led to landslides, building collapses, a large-scale fire in a popular tourist area, and triggered a tsunami warning for the nation’s west coast.
Rescue operations were hampered by continuing aftershocks, rubble on roadways, and damaged roads.
Over 200 structures in the central Wajima area were engulfed in fires but have since been brought under control.
Hiroshi Hase, governor of Ishikawa reported widespread road cuts due to landslides or cracking, and in the port of Suzu, “multiple” vessels had capsized.
Some confirmed deaths were a result of people being trapped or buried in collapsed buildings in Niigata, Toyama, Fukui, and Gifu prefectures, causing multiple injuries.
— はせ浩（馳浩）石川県知事 (@hase3655) January 2, 2024
According to Ishikawa Prefecture, 19 people have been confirmed dead in Wajima, 20 in Suzu, five in Nanao, two in Anamizu, and one each in Hakui and Shika.
In Wajima, 25 houses collapsed, with at least 14 sites having a likelihood of people being buried under rubble.
In Kanazawa, Ishikawa Prefecture, at least three homes collapsed on a hillside, but other areas of the neighbourhood seemed safe from damage.
The Wajima Fire Department’s duty officer reported on Tuesday that authorities were still grappling with an overwhelming influx of rescue requests and damage reports.
The impact on transportation services was substantial, with the Hokuriku Shinkansen bullet trains suspending operations due to the powerful earthquakes.
West Japan Railway Company revealed that approximately 1,400 passengers were stranded between Nagano and Kanazawa stations in Ishikawa Prefecture.
Despite the disruption, the operator assured that the stranded trains had power and functioning air conditioners, and staff had delivered food to passengers by car.
The service suspension was anticipated to persist until approximately noon on Tuesday (2 Jan).
Japan PM declares emergency response as earthquake impact unfolds
Prime Minister Fumio Kishida announced on Tuesday morning that the government had established an emergency disaster response headquarters in Ishikawa to assess the situation and provide support.
Mr Kishida emphasized the growing clarity of the disaster’s impact, stating, “Saving the lives of the disaster victims is a race against time.”
In response to the crisis, the Self-Defense Forces set up a joint task force and deployed 10,000 personnel for rescue and relief operations.
The magnitude of the disaster prompted over 46,000 people to evacuate across Ishikawa and Toyama prefectures by Tuesday morning.
Notably, in Noto Island, part of the city of Nanao, over 160 people have evacuated, but closed roads on the connecting bridge are hindering the delivery of essential supplies.
Since the initial earthquake, which struck around 4:10 pm on Monday, there have been more than 129 aftershocks with a shindo intensity of 2 or higher, as of 6 am on Tuesday.
The Meteorological Agency issued a warning on Monday, cautioning that earthquakes of up to shindo 7 could potentially strike the area again in the coming week, emphasizing the need for heightened caution, particularly over the next few days.
In response to this ongoing threat, the government promptly established a dedicated emergency centre, aiming to efficiently collect and disseminate information to ensure the safety of the public.
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