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Japan jolted into New Year by magnitude 7.6 earthquake, prompting tsunami warnings

Japan entered the new year amidst catastrophe as a powerful magnitude 7 earthquake struck, triggering tsunamis, resulting in casualties, and causing widespread damage.

International concern grows as the nation grapples with its most severe seismic event since 2011.

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JAPAN: Japan began the new year in turmoil as a formidable earthquake, registering a staggering 7 on Japan’s “shindo” scale (the highest intensity level) on Monday (1 Jan).

The quake, centred near Ishikawa Prefecture’s Noto Peninsula, triggered a series of cataclysmic events, including tsunami warnings, extensive damage, and an urgent plea for evacuations.

According to the Japan Times, tsunami waves followed the magnitude 7.6 earthquake, which struck at approximately 4:10 p.m. local time.

The Noto Peninsula, known for its susceptibility to major earthquakes, bore the brunt of the initial shock, leading to a series of strong aftershocks that only intensified the ongoing crisis.

Tragedy struck in Nanao on the Noto Peninsula, where two individuals were feared dead, according to local police. Confirmation of deaths is pending coroner determination, adhering to Japan’s protocol.

Meanwhile, at least six people were reported trapped in collapsed buildings in Wajima, Ishikawa Prefecture, exacerbating the chaos in the aftermath.

A large-scale fire broke out in Wajima, adding to the challenges faced by first responders, while several other municipalities reported collapsed houses.

Injuries were reported across affected areas, with two women in Awara, Fukui Prefecture, hospitalized after being hit by falling objects. A woman in her 80s in Itoigawa, Niigata Prefecture, suffered a head injury while evacuating.

The power outage affected approximately 32,500 homes in Ishikawa, compounding the difficulties for residents and authorities alike.

The Fire and Disaster Management Agency issued evacuation orders to more than 51,000 people in five prefectures, highlighting the urgency of the situation.

Approximately 1,000 residents sought refuge at an Air Self-Defense Force base in Wajima, where the Self-Defense Forces (SDF) responded swiftly, distributing essential supplies such as blankets, water, and food.

Ishikawa Governor Hiroshi Hase requested the SDF’s assistance in a disaster relief mission.

The quake’s epicentre in the Noto region, prone to major earthquakes, raised concerns due to its very shallow depth, as reported by the weather agency.

Despite the severity of the quake, no abnormalities were reported at nuclear plants across the country, providing a small relief amid the chaos.

Transportation services were significantly impacted, the Hokuriku Shinkansen bullet trains have suspended operations due to powerful earthquakes.

West Japan Railway Company reported around 1,400 passengers stranded between Nagano and Kanazawa stations in Ishikawa Prefecture.

The operator assures that the trains have power, functioning air conditioners, and staff have delivered food to passengers by car.

The service suspension is expected to persist until approximately noon on Tuesday (2 Dec).

The widespread damage prompted Prime Minister Fumio Kishida to address the nation, urging residents in affected areas to remain vigilant and evacuate promptly, especially in coastal regions where tsunami warnings were issued.

Initially, a major tsunami warning, the highest level of alert, was issued for Ishikawa Prefecture’s Noto Peninsula, with warnings of waves reaching up to 5 meters.

Although the warning was later downgraded, the entire Sea of Japan coast remained under tsunami warnings or advisories, with waves of up to 3 meters still deemed possible.

The Meteorological Agency emphasized the gravity of the situation, revealing that a major tsunami warning of this magnitude had not been issued since the March 2011 Great East Japan Earthquake.

Waves exceeding 1 meter were considered dangerous, making standing difficult and posing a lethal threat.

Coastal areas, including Ishikawa, Niigata, Toyama, and Yamagata prefectures, were urged to evacuate promptly.

As aftershocks rattled the Noto Peninsula, Prime Minister Kishida assured the public that the government was actively assessing the situation.

The Meteorological Agency warned of potential quakes of up to “shindo 7” in areas that experienced strong shaking over the next week, especially in the next two to three days.

The government set up a special emergency centre to gather and relay information swiftly to ensure public safety.

The intensity of the earthquake on Monday is equivalent to the 1983 Sea of Japan earthquake, which claimed 104 lives and left 324 individuals injured.

The earthquake’s impact extended beyond Japan, as tsunami warnings were issued for parts of North Korea and Russia.

The Russian government issued a warning for the western coastal region of Sakhalin in the Far East, while both North and South Korea issued similar alerts for their eastern coastal areas.

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The same peninsula was struck by a magnitude 6 Earthquake last year in 2023. It seems to be an Earthquake swarm afflicting the area.

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