Hit by 155 quakes, Japan 'racing against time' to rescue victims

Series of quakes since Monday, including a 7.6-magnitude jolt and another over 6, have caused "very extensive damage", Japanes Prime Minister Fumio Kishida says. (Photo/Reuters)

Japans has said it is racing against time to save people after a series of powerful earthquakes hit western regions, leaving at least six people dead and damaging buildings, vehicles and boats, with officials warning people in some areas to stay away from their homes because of a continuing risk of major quakes.

Aftershocks continued to shake Ishikawa prefecture on Tuesday and nearby areas a day after a magnitude 7.6 temblor slammed the area on Monday afternoon.

The Japan Meteorological Office said the country was hit with 155 earthquakes, including a 7.6-magnitude jolt and another over 6. Most of the quakes had a magnitude greater than 3 and while the strength has gradually moderated, six strong jolts were still felt early on Tuesday, the JMO said.

The major quake that hit central Japan on New Year's Day caused "extensive" damage with numerous casualties, Prime Minister Fumio Kishida said.

"Very extensive damage has been confirmed, including numerous casualties, building collapses and fires," he told reporters on Tuesday, describing a "race against time" to rescue victims.

The scale of the damage from Monday's quake was still emerging, with news footage showing toppled buildings, sunken boats at a port, countless charred homes, and locals without power in freezing overnight temperatures.

The US Geological Survey [USGS] said the quake, which struck Ishikawa prefecture on the main island of Honshu had a magnitude of 7.5.

Waves at least 1.2 metres high hit the port of Wajima on Monday, and a series of smaller tsunamis were reported elsewhere, but warnings of much larger waves proved unfounded.

Aerial news footage showed sunken boats at the fishing port of Suzu, with at least one washed onto shore, and devastation from a major fire in Wajima.

Around 32,700 households in the region remained without power on Tuesday, the local energy provider said.

Tens of thousands of people had been ordered to evacuate, according to the fire and disaster management agency, cited by Kyodo news agency. About 1,000 people were staying at a military base, the Defence Ministry said.

'Horrible situation'

Images on social media showed cars and houses in Ishikawa shaking violently and terrified people cowering in shops and train stations. Houses collapsed and huge cracks appeared in roads.

"I have never experienced anything like this before, it was scary. I went out right away but the ground was shaking," an elderly man told NHK news outlet.

"We are in a horrible situation. Please come and help us," said one person in a video shared on X, formerly Twitter, showing several badly damaged houses.

The major fire in Wajima engulfed a row of houses, video footage showed, with people being evacuated in the dark, some with blankets and others carrying babies.

A duty officer at Wajima Fire Department said they still were being overwhelmed Tuesday by rescue requests and reports of damages.

"Since this morning, the number is rising," he told AFP, adding that the department has received dozens of reports of structural damage.

A six or seven-storey building toppled over, but the officer could not give details on whether any people were inside.

"We are dealing with va rious fires and sending our resources for those too," he told the AFP news agency.

Many houses collapsed in the city of Suzu, reports said.

In Washington, US President Joe Biden was briefed on the quake and offered Japan "any necessary assistance" to cope with the aftermath.

Bullet trains suspended

Several major highways were closed around the epicentre, Japan's road operator said, and bullet train services from Tokyo were also suspended.

Four bullet trains stopped for hours in the affected region on Monday evening, with around 1,400 passengers stuck on the trains, local media said, with some of the services moving by Tuesday morning.

Flights and mobile phone coverage were reportedly disrupted while many convenience stores were shut.

Defense Minister Minoru Kihara said 1,000 military personnel were preparing to go to the region, while 8,500 others were on standby. Around 20 military aircraft were dispatched to survey the damage.

The Japan Meteorological Agency warned local residents of possible further quakes during the coming week or so, particularly within the next two to three days.

Monday's quake shook apartments in the capital Tokyo some 300 kilometres away, where a public New Year greeting event that was to be attended by Emperor Naruhito and his family members was cancelled, local media said.

Japan experiences hundreds of earthquakes every year and the vast majority cause no damage.

The country has strict regulations intended to ensure buildings can withstand strong quakes and routinely holds emergency drills.

But the country is haunted by the memory of a massive 9.0-magnitude undersea quake off northeastern Japan in March 2011, which triggered a tsunami that left aroun d 18,500 people dead or missing.

The 2011 tsunami also sent three reactors into meltdown at the Fukushima nuclear plant, causing Japan's worst post-war disaster and the most serious nuclear accident since Chernobyl.

Japan's nuclear authority said there were no abnormalities reported at the Shika atomic power plant in Ishikawa or at other plants after Monday's quake.


Source: TRT