Japan earthquake: Fires hit quake zone as rescuers race to reach survivors
Rescue operations persist in Japan following a powerful earthquake on New Year’s Day that claimed the lives of at least 57 people. Homes crumbled, buildings ignited, and roads sustained extensive damage, impeding the efforts of rescue teams.
The epicenter of the 7.6 magnitude tremors was the Noto peninsula in central Japan. Prime Minister Fumio Kishida emphasized that emergency services were in a “race against time” to save survivors.
Approximately 3,000 rescuers were deployed to inaccessible parts of the Noto peninsula, where helicopter surveys revealed numerous fires and widespread damage to structures and infrastructure.
Wajima, located on the northern tip of Noto, became isolated due to disrupted land routes.
The Japanese military distributed essential supplies like food, water, and blankets to those forced to evacuate their homes, with 57,360 people reported to have been relocated by the government. Substantial quantities of meals are being transported to the affected region.
Aftershocks persisted throughout Monday and Tuesday, prompting Japan’s chief cabinet secretary, Yoshimasa Hayashi, to caution people to “be alert” for additional earthquakes, possibly reaching an intensity of up to 7 in the coming week. Ishikawa, situated 155 km (96.3 miles) south of the Noto peninsula, experienced a 4.9 magnitude quake on Tuesday afternoon.
The major tsunami warnings put out by the Japanese government on Monday were later downgraded. By Tuesday, all tsunami advisories were lifted along the Sea of Japan, meaning there was no longer a risk of such an event.
Residents of the affected area of Japan have been sharing their experiences of the quake, which lasted several minutes.
An 82-year-old resident of Nanao, Toshio Iwahama, told the BBC that his wooden home had partially collapsed. He said that despite living through multiple earthquakes, he had never experienced tremors of this magnitude.
Briton Emma Ward, 41, who was on a skiing holiday in the resort village of Hakuba, said the quake had hit “without warning”, prompting her group to take shelter under a table in a café. She told the BBC that the intensity of the tremors caused people to flee the building entirely, she said. “The worst part during the earthquake was not knowing how intense it would become. It’s a very frightening experience,” Ms Ward said.
Many also said the quake reminded them of the devastating 2011 earthquake and tsunami that killed 18,000 people and triggered an accident at a nuclear plant in Fukushima.
In an incident unrelated to the earthquake, a Japan Airlines plane caught fire on Tuesday as it collided with a coastguard aircraft on its way to provide earthquake relief at Tokyo’s Haneda airport.
Five people on board the coastguard plane are known to have died, but the Japan Airlines plane’s 379 passengers and crew managed to escape.
Japan is one of Earth’s most seismically active nations, owing to its location on the Pacific Ring of Fire, where many tectonic plates meet.
The constant threat of earthquakes has led Japan to develop one of the world’s most sophisticated tsunami warning systems.