Japan lifts tsunami warnings but warns quake damage ‘widespread’

At least 30 people have been reported dead after a massive earthquake hit 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 quake struck on 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 had about 18,500 people declared dead or missing in the northeast.

Speaking on Tuesday, Kishida said “extensive damage” had been confirmed with the quake bringing down buildings and triggering fires.

Casualties were “numerous” he said, adding that it would be a “race against time” to rescue victims.

Authorities reported that rescue efforts have been hindered by damaged roads and that they are finding it difficult to assess the full extent of the fallout.

Officials have warned people in some areas to stay away from their homes because of the risk of more strong quakes. Aftershocks have continued to shake Ishikawa prefecture.

However, the initial tsunami warning, which was later downgraded, was lifted on Tuesday morning.

Citing local authorities, 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 epicentre, where 14 people were reported to be trapped in collapsed buildings. In nearby Suzu, it said some doctors were unable to reach a hospital that was relying 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 toll have been infrequent.

The Japan Meteorological Office said the country had been hit by 155 earthquakes since the initial tremor on Monday.

Wajima was hit by a tsunami of at least 1.2 metres (4 feet) and aerial news footage showed devastation from a major fire as a seven-storey building collapsed at the port.

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

Nobuko Sugimori, a 74-year-old resident of Nanao city in Ishikawa, said 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 told the Reuters news agency from her home, which had a large crack down its front wall and furniture scattered around the inside.

Across the road, 73-year-old Fujiko Ueno was counting her blessings.

She said nearly 20 people were in her house for a New Year celebration when the quake happened but nobody was injured.

“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 cracked road.

Nearly 100,000 people across nine prefectures were evacuated and spent the night in sports halls and school gymnasiums, commonly used as evacuation centres in emergencies in Japan.

Almost 33,000 households remained without power in Ishikawa prefecture early on Tuesday morning, according to Hokuriku Electric Power’s website. NHK said most areas in the northern Noto Peninsula were also without water.

As a result of the disaster, the Imperial Household Agency cancelled Emperor Naruhito and Empress Masako’s New Year’s appearance, which had been expected to take place on Tuesday.

Japan’s allies expressed their concern at the disaster and said they were ready to offer assistance.

“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.

United Kingdom Prime Minister Rishi Sunak said he was monitoring developments.

“My thoughts are with all those affected by the earthquakes in Japan which have caused such terrible damage,” he said.

Source: Aljazeera

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