A powerful earthquake that hit Japan on New Year’s Day killed at least 55 people, with rescue teams struggling in freezing temperatures to reach coastal areas where many are feared trapped under possibly thousands of destroyed homes.
In Suzu, a town of about 5000 households near the quake’s epicentre, 90 per cent of houses may have been destroyed, according to its mayor Masuhiro Izumiya.
“The situation is catastrophic,” he said.
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The quake with a preliminary magnitude of 7.6 struck on Monday afternoon, prompting people in western coastal areas to flee to higher ground as tsunami waves swept cars and houses into the water.
About 200 tremors have been detected since the quake first hit on Monday, according to the Japan Meteorological Agency, which warned that more strong shocks could hit in coming days.
Destruction caused by an earthquake was most extensive in cities such as Wajima. Credit: APBystanders look at damages somewhere near Noto town. Credit: Hiro Komae/AP
A Coast Guard aircraft en route to deliver aid to the quake-hit region collided with a commercial airplane in Tokyo’s Haneda airport on Tuesday, killing five Coast Guard.
All 379 on board the Japan Airlines flight escaped.
Prime Minister Fumio Kishida said the extent of damage from the quake was becoming “increasingly clear” more than 24 hours after it struck on the Noto peninsula in Ishikawa prefecture.
“The government has deployed emergency rescue teams from the Self-Defence Forces, police and fire departments to the area and is doing its utmost to save lives and rescue victims and survivors but we have received reports that there are still many people waiting to be rescued under collapsed buildings.”
Kishida said about 3000 rescuers were finding it difficult to reach the northern tip of the peninsula where helicopter surveys had discovered many fires and widespread damage to buildings and infrastructure.
Firefighters work on a fire at burnt-out marketplace. Credit: APA series of powerful earthquakes in western Japan damaged homes, cars and boats. Credit: AP
Japan sits on the “Ring of Fire” arc of volcanoes and oceanic trenches that partly encircles the Pacific Basin.
It accounts for about 20 per cent of the world’s earthquakes of magnitude 6 or greater, and each year experiences up to 2000 quakes that can be felt.
Many rail services and flights into the quake area have been suspended.
More than 500 people were stranded at Noto’s airport which closed due to cracks in its runway and access road and damage to its terminal building.
A firefighter walks through the rubble and wreckage. Credit: APA man directs a driver moving through a damaged street near Anamizu town in the Noto peninsula. Credit: Hiro Komae/AP
Authorities have confirmed 55 deaths, all in Ishikawa prefecture, making it Japan’s deadliest earthquake since 2016.
Many of those killed are in Suzu and Wajima, another city on the remote northern tip of the Noto peninsula.
Scores more have been injured and authorities were battling blazes in several cities on Tuesday and hauling people from collapsed buildings.
“I’ve never experienced a quake that powerful,” said Wajima resident Shoichi Kobayashi, 71, who was at home having a celebratory New Year’s meal with his wife and son when the quake struck, sending furniture flying across the dining room.
Fujiko Ueno, a 73-year-old resident of Nanao city in Ishikawa, said nearly 20 people were in her house for a New Year celebration when the quake struck, splintering the walls which came crashing down on a parked car.
Miraculously, no one was hurt.
“It all happened in the blink of an eye,” she said, standing next to the crushed car on a road littered with debris and mud that oozed out from cracks in the surface.
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