Rescue teams in Japan are struggling to reach isolated areas hit by a powerful earthquake on New Year’s Day, with reports of at least 30 people dead.
The quake with a preliminary magnitude of 7.6 struck in the middle of the afternoon on Monday, toppling buildings and knocking out power to thousands of homes.
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Residents in some coastal areas fled to higher ground as tsunami waves hit Japan’s west coast, sweeping some cars and houses into the sea.
Thousands of army personnel, firefighters and police officers from across the country have been dispatched to the worst-hit area in the Noto peninsula in Ishikawa prefecture.
However, rescue efforts have been hindered by badly damaged and blocked roads and authorities say they are finding it difficult to assess the full extent of the damage.
A stone gate was shattered at a shrine in Kanazawa after an earthquake struck Japan. Credit: AP
Many rail services, ferries and flights into the area have been suspended, and one of the region’s airports has been forced to close due to cracks in the runway.
“The search and rescue of those impacted by the quake is a battle against time,” Prime Minister Fumio Kishida said during an emergency disaster meeting on Tuesday.
Kishida said rescuers were finding it very difficult to reach the northern tip of the Noto peninsula due to wrecked roads, and helicopter surveys had discovered many fires and widespread damage to buildings and infrastructure.
Citing local authorities, public broadcaster NHK reported at least 30 deaths from the quake. Fifteen had died just in the hard-hit town of Wajima near the epicentre, where there were also 14 cases of people trapped in collapsed buildings.
A house is damaged by an earthquake in Wajima, Ishikawa prefecture, Japan. Credit: AP
Japan’s disaster management agency said it had received unconfirmed reports of 19 deaths earlier on Tuesday but official updates on the toll have been infrequent.
More than 140 tremors have been detected since the quake first hit on Monday, according to the Japan Meteorological Agency.
The agency has warned more strong shocks could hit in the coming days.
Nobuko Sugimori, a 74-year-old resident of Nanao city in Ishikawa, told Reuters she had never experienced such a quake before.
“I tried to hold the TV set to keep it from toppling over, but I could not even keep myself from swaying violently from side to side,” Sugimori said from her home which had a large crack down its front wall and furniture scattered around the inside.
Across the street, a car was crushed under a collapsed building where residents had another close call.
Japan has issued tsunami alerts after a series of strong earthquakes in the Sea of Japan. (AP PHOTO) Credit: AP
Fujiko Ueno, 73, said nearly 20 people were in her house for a New Year celebration when the quake struck but miraculously all emerged uninjured.
“It all happened in the blink of an eye” she said, standing in the street among debris from the wreckage and mud that oozed out of the road’s cracked surface.
US President Joe Biden said in a statement the United States was ready to provide any necessary help to Japan after the earthquake.
“As close allies, the United States and Japan share a deep bond of friendship that unites our people. Our thoughts are with the Japanese people during this difficult time,” he said.
The earthquake in Japan toppled houses and cut power to tens of thousands of homes. (AP PHOTO) Credit: AP
The Japanese government ordered more than 97,000 people to evacuate their homes on Monday night, sending them to sports halls and school gymnasiums, commonly used as evacuation centres in emergencies.
Many returned to their homes on Tuesday as authorities lifted tsunami warnings.
But around 33,000 households remained without power in Ishikawa prefecture early on Tuesday morning after a night where temperatures dropped below freezing, according to Hokuriku Electric Power’s website.
Most areas in the northern Noto peninsula also have no water supply, NHK reported.
The Imperial Household Agency said it would cancel Emperor Naruhito and Empress Masako’s slated New Year appearance on Tuesday following the disaster. Kishida postponed his New Year visit to Ise Shrine scheduled for Thursday.