At least 55 people have been confirmed dead from the powerful New Year’s Day earthquake that struck off the western coast of Japan.
Much of the damage from the quake, which the Japan Meteorological Agency said was a magnitude 7.6, occurred in Ishikawa prefecture on the island of Honshu. Dozens of homes and buildings were flattened, with an unknown number of people trapped in the rubble. Roads have been split in pieces, and a runway in at least one regional airport had cracked, making it difficult for emergency officials to assess the damage.
The earthquake triggered tsunami waves measuring more than one meter that swept across the region, washing cars and homes into the sea and scuttling scores of fishing boats. The brunt of the damage in Ishikawa occurred in the port city of Wajima, famous for its morning market and fine lacquerware and other traditional crafts. The quake triggered a massive fire that destroyed numerous buildings.
Firefighters battled throughout Monday night to bring the fire under control. Japanese Prime Minister Fumio Kishida said Tuesday during a meeting with government disaster officials that search and rescue crews are waging “a battle against time” to save any victims who remain trapped in the rubble in Ishikawa prefecture.
About 1,000 members of the Japanese Self-Defense Forces have been dispatched to the disaster zones. More than 40,0000 households in Ishikawa remain without electricity.
The Japanese Meteorological Agency lifted all tsunami warnings for the western region by early Tuesday morning. The agency initially issued a major tsunami warning for Ishikawa and lower-level tsunami warnings or advisories for the rest of the western coast of Honshu, as well as the northernmost of its main islands, Hokkaido.
Monday’s quake has been followed by several strong aftershocks, which the agency says could continue over the next few days. The quake revived memories of the March 2011 earthquake and subsequent tsunami that knocked out the power supply and cooling systems at a nuclear plant in northeastern Fukushima prefecture.
The damage led to a meltdown of its three reactors, leading to the world’s worst nuclear disaster since the 1986 Chernobyl accident. But a government spokesperson said there were no reported irregularities at any of the nuclear power plants near the epicenter of Monday’s quake.
Authorities closed some major highways near the epicenter, and bullet train services between Tokyo and Ishikawa were suspended for hours, although some service in the earthquake region was restored Monday evening.