Japan earthquakes death toll climbs to at least 48 as temblors continue rocking country’s west

A series of powerful earthquakes hit western Japan, leaving at least 48 people dead and damaging thousands of buildings, vehicles and boats, with officials warning people in some areas on Tuesday to stay away from their homes because of a risk of more strong quakes. Aftershocks continued to shake Ishikawa prefecture and nearby areas a day after a magnitude 7.6 temblor slammed the area on Monday (January 1, 2024) afternoon. 48 people were confirmed dead in Ishikawa, with the casualties concentrated in the cities of Wajima and Suzu.

At least 14 others were seriously injured, while damage to homes was so great that it could not immediately be assessed. Tens of thousands of homes were destroyed. Water, power, and cellphone service were still down in some areas, and residents expressed sorrow about their destroyed homes and uncertain futures. It is not just that it is a mess. The wall has collapsed, and you can see through to the next room.

Residents can not live here anymore. Japan’s military dispatched 1,000 soldiers to the disaster zones to join rescue efforts. Saving lives is the priority and they are fighting a battle against time. It is critical that people trapped in homes get rescued immediately. A quake with a preliminary magnitude of 5.6 shook the Ishikawa area. Firefighters managed to bring a fire under control in Wajima city which had reddened the sky with embers and smoke.

Several fires in Wajima had engulfed more than 200 structures and there were more than a dozen reports of people being trapped under rubble in the city.

The quake has also caused injuries and structural damage in Niigata, Toyama, Fukui, and Gifu prefectures. It is extremely difficult for vehicles to enter northern areas of the Noto Peninsula. The central government has been coordinating shipment of relief supplies using ships. Nuclear plants in the region were operating normally. A major quake and tsunami in March 2011 caused three reactors to melt and release large amounts of radiation at a nuclear plant in northeastern Japan.

News videos showed rows of collapsed houses. Some wooden structures were flattened and cars were overturned. Half-sunken ships floated in bays where tsunami waves had rolled in, leaving a muddied coastline. 500 people were trapped at Noto Airport in Wajima, including airport staff, passengers, and local residents. Because the airport’s windows were shattered and glass and debris scattered around the terminal, all were sheltering in the parking lot, inside rental cars, and tour buses, with the airport not scheduled to reopen until Thursday (January 4, 2024).

On Monday, the Japan Meteorological Agency issued a major tsunami warning for Ishikawa and lower-level tsunami warnings or advisories for the rest of the western coast of Japan’s main island of Honshu, as well as for the northern island of Hokkaido. The warning was downgraded several hours later, and all tsunami warnings were lifted as of early Tuesday (January 2, 2024). Waves measuring more than 3 feet hit some places.

The Japan Meteorological Agency warned that more major quakes could hit the area over the next few days.

People who were evacuated from their houses huddled in auditoriums, schools, and community centers. Bullet trains in the region were halted, but service was mostly restored by Tuesday afternoon. Sections of highways were closed. Weather forecasters predicted rain, setting off worries about already crumbling buildings and infrastructure. The region includes tourist spots famous for lacquerware and other traditional crafts, along with designated cultural heritage sites.

United States President Joe Biden said in a statement that his administration was “ready to provide any necessary assistance for the Japanese people”. Japan is frequently hit by earthquakes because of its location along the “Ring of Fire”, an arc of volcanoes and fault lines in the Pacific Basin. Over the last day, Japan has experienced about a hundred aftershocks.