A series of large earthquakes shook Japan on Monday, killing at least four people and trapping others under collapsed houses, according to local reports.
Kyodo News reported the four deaths, citing the Ishikawa prefectural government.
Later on Monday, the government lowered its highest-level tsunami warning but warned residents not to return to their homes because deadly waves and aftershocks could still persist.
The Japan Meteorological Agency reported more than a dozen strong earthquakes, including a magnitude of 7.6, in the Sea of Japan off the coast of Ishikawa and nearby prefectures, which began shortly after 4 p.m. local time.
The weather agency initially issued a major tsunami warning for Ishikawa and lower-level tsunami warnings or advisories for the rest of Honshu’s western coast, as well as the country’s northernmost main island, Hokkaido.
The warning was downgraded to a regular tsunami several hours later, meaning the sea could still generate waves of up to 10 feet. Aftershocks could also hit the same area in the coming days, the agency said.
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More than a dozen strong earthquakes have been detected in the region, with risks of causing landslides and house collapses. The earthquakes sparked a fire and collapsed buildings on the west coast of Japan’s main island, Honshu.
Japanese public broadcaster NHK TV initially warned that torrents of water could reach up to 5 metres. The network continued to issue warnings hours later as aftershocks shook the region.
Footage of the chaos showed people running through the streets and red smoke billowing from a fire in a residential neighborhood. Photos showed a crowd of people, including a woman with a baby on her back, standing next to huge cracks that had opened up the pavement.
Some people suffered minor injuries when they tripped and fell while fleeing, or when objects fell from shelves and hit them, according to NHK.
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Bullet trains in the area were suspended, although parts of the service were restored in the afternoon. Parts of a road were also closed and water pipes burst, according to NHK. Some cell phone services in the region were not working.
At least six houses off the coast of Ishikawa were damaged by the earthquakes and people were trapped inside, government spokesman Yoshimasa Hayashi said. A fire broke out in the city of Wajima, Ishikawa Prefecture, leaving more than 30,000 homes without power.
Hayashi emphasized that people needed to move away from coastal areas. He said there were no confirmed reports of deaths or injuries from the earthquakes. The Japanese military was participating in the rescue efforts.
The Japanese government has set up a special emergency center to collect information about the earthquakes and tsunami and quickly transmit it to residents to ensure safety, Prime Minister Fumio Kishida told reporters.
Japan is an extremely earthquake-prone nation, but a tsunami warning of Monday’s magnitude had not been issued since a large earthquake and tsunami triggered meltdowns at a nuclear plant in March 2011.
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Hayashi told reporters that nuclear plants in the affected area did not report any irregularities on Monday. Nuclear regulators said no increases in radiation levels were detected at monitoring posts in the region.
The Associated Press contributed to this report.