At least 20 people have died since the 7.6 magnitude earthquake struck the West Coast on New Year’s Day.
At least 20 people were reported dead after a massive earthquake hit off the coast of central Japan on New Year’s Day, with Prime Minister Fumio Kishida warning that damage was “widespread” and casualties were likely to rise.
The magnitude 7.6 earthquake struck Monday afternoon near the Noto Peninsula in Ishikawa Prefecture, triggering the country’s first major tsunami warning since the March 2011 earthquake and tsunami that left about 18,500 dead. people dead or missing in the northeast.
Speaking on Tuesday, Kishida said “extensive damage” had been confirmed as the quake toppled buildings and sparked fires.
The victims were “numerous,” he said, adding that it would be a “race against time” to rescue the victims.
The tsunami warning, which was later downgraded, was lifted on Tuesday morning.
Citing local authorities, the Kyodo news agency reported more than 20 deaths from the disaster. Public broadcaster NHK said 15 had died in the hard-hit town of Wajima, near the epicenter, where 14 people were reported trapped in collapsed buildings. In nearby Suzu, he said some doctors were unable to reach a hospital that relied on a backup generator for power.
Japan’s disaster management agency said it had received unconfirmed reports of 19 deaths earlier on Tuesday, but official updates on the number of victims have been infrequent.
Japan’s Meteorological Bureau said the country had been hit by 155 earthquakes since Monday’s initial tremor.
Wajima was hit by a tsunami of at least 1.2 meters (4 feet) and aerial news footage showed the devastation of a large fire as a seven-story building collapsed into the port.
The fire engulfed a row of houses where people were evacuated in the dark, some with blankets and others with babies.
Nobuko Sugimori, a 74-year-old resident of Nanao City in Ishikawa, said she had never experienced such an earthquake before.
“I tried to hold the TV to prevent it from falling, but I couldn’t even stop myself from swinging violently from side to side,” Sugimori told Reuters news agency from his home, which had a large crack in the front wall. and furniture scattered around the interior.
Across the street, Fujiko Ueno, 73, was counting her blessings.
He said nearly 20 people were at his home to celebrate the New Year when the earthquake hit, but no one was injured.
“It all happened in the blink of an eye,” she said, standing on the street among the debris and mud oozing from the cracked road.
Nearly 100,000 people in nine prefectures were evacuated and spent the night in sports halls and school gymnasiums, commonly used as emergency evacuation centers in Japan.
Nearly 33,000 homes remained without power in Ishikawa Prefecture as of early Tuesday morning, according to Hokuriku Electric Power’s website. NHK said most areas in the north of the Noto Peninsula were also without water.
As a result of the disaster, the Imperial Household Agency canceled the New Year’s appearance of Emperor Naruhito and Empress Masako, which was expected to take place on Tuesday.
Japan’s allies expressed concern about the disaster and said they were willing to offer help.
“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,” US President Joe Biden said in a statement.
French President Emmanuel Macron expressed “solidarity,” while Italian Prime Minister Giorgia Meloni offered condolences and assistance.
UK Prime Minister Rishi Sunak said he was following developments.
“My thoughts are with all those affected by the earthquakes in Japan that have caused such terrible damage,” he said.