Japan earthquakes death toll climbs to at least 48 as temblors continue rocking country’s west

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Wajima, Japan — A series of powerful earthquakes hit western Japan, leaving at least 48 people dead and damaging thousands of buildings, vehicles and boats, with officials warning people in some areas on Tuesday to stay away from their homes because of a risk of more strong quakes. Aftershocks continued to shake Ishikawa prefecture and nearby areas a day after a magnitude 7.6 temblor slammed the area on Monday afternoon.

Forty-eight people were confirmed dead in Ishikawa, with the casualties concentrated in the cities of Wajima and Suzu, according to Japan’s state broadcaster NHK and other media outlets. At least fourteen others were said by officials to have been seriously injured, while damage to homes was so great that it could not immediately be assessed.

Japanese media reports said tens of thousands of homes were destroyed. Government spokesperson Yoshimasa Hayashi said 17 people were seriously injured and gave a slightly lower death tally, while saying he was aware of the prefecture’s tally.

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Firefighters inspect collapsed wooden houses in Wajima, Ishikawa prefecture, Japan, Jan. 2, 2024, a day after a major earthquake struck the Noto region.

KAZUHIRO NOGI/AFP/Getty


Water, power and cellphone service were still down in some areas, and residents expressed sorrow about their destroyed homes and uncertain futures.

“It’s not just that it’s a mess. The wall has collapsed, and you can see through to the next room. I don’t think we can live here anymore,” Miki Kobayashi, an Ishikawa resident, said as she swept around her house.

Their house was also damaged in a 2007 quake, she said.

Japan’s military dispatched 1,000 soldiers to the disaster zones to join rescue efforts, Prime Minister Fumio Kishida said Tuesday.

“Saving lives is our priority and we are fighting a battle against time,” he said. “It is critical that people trapped in homes get rescued immediately.”

A quake with a preliminary magnitude of 5.6 shook the Ishikawa area as he was speaking.

Firefighters managed to bring a fire under control in Wajima city which had reddened the sky with embers and smoke. Japan’s Kyodo news agency, citing Ishikawa prefectural officials, said several fires in Wajima had engulfed more than 200 structures and there were more than a dozen reports of people being trapped under rubble in the city.

The quake has also caused injuries and structural damage in Niigata, Toyama, Fukui and Gifu prefectures.

“It is extremely difficult for vehicles to enter northern areas of the Noto Peninsula,” Prime Minister Fumio Kishida said at a press conference, adding the central government has been coordinating shipment of relief supplies using ships.  

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This aerial photo provided by Jiji Press shows smoke rising from an area following a large fire in Wajima, in Japan’s western Ishikawa prefecture, Jan. 2, 2024, a day after a major earthquake struck the Noto region.

STR/JIJI PRESS/AFP/Getty


Nuclear regulators said several nuclear plants in the region were operating normally. A major quake and tsunami in March 2011 caused three reactors to melt and release large amounts of radiation at a nuclear plant in northeastern Japan.

News videos showed rows of collapsed houses. Some wooden structures were flattened and cars were overturned. Half-sunken ships floated in bays where tsunami waves had rolled in, leaving a muddied coastline.

Japanese media, quoting the Ministry of Transport, said 500 people were trapped at Noto Airport in Wajima, including airport staff, passengers and local residents. Because the airport’s windows were shattered and glass and debris scattered around the terminal, all were sheltering in the parking lot, inside rental cars and tour buses, the reports said, with the airport not scheduled to reopen until Jan. 4.

On Monday, the Japan Meteorological Agency issued a major tsunami warning for Ishikawa and lower-level tsunami warnings or advisories for the rest of the western coast of Japan’s main island of Honshu, as well as for the northern island of Hokkaido.

The warning was downgraded several hours later, and all tsunami warnings were lifted as of early Tuesday. Waves measuring more than 3 feet hit some places.

The agency warned that more major quakes could hit the area over the next few days.

Damages After Strong Earthquake Hits Northwestern Japan
A damaged vehicle is pinned under a collapsed house following an earthquake in Nanao, Ishikawa Prefecture, Japan, Jan. 2, 2024.

Soichiro Koriyama/Bloomberg/Getty


People who were evacuated from their houses huddled in auditoriums, schools and community centers. Bullet trains in the region were halted, but service was mostly restored by Tuesday afternoon. Sections of highways were closed.

Weather forecasters predicted rain, setting off worries about already crumbling buildings and infrastructure.

The region includes tourist spots famous for lacquerware and other traditional crafts, along with designated cultural heritage sites.

U.S. President Joe Biden said in a statement that his administration was “ready to provide any necessary assistance for the Japanese people.”

Japan is frequently hit by earthquakes because of its location along the “Ring of Fire,” an arc of volcanoes and fault lines in the Pacific Basin.

Over the last day, the nation has experienced about a hundred aftershocks.

First appeared on www.cbsnews.com

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