Japanese rescuers battled the clock and powerful aftershocks Tuesday to find survivors of a New Year’s Day earthquake that killed at least 48 people and caused widespread destruction.
The 7.5 magnitude quake that rattled Ishikawa prefecture on the main island of Honshu triggered tsunami waves more than a metre high, toppled houses, caused a major fire and tore apart roads.
On the Noto Peninsula, the destruction included buildings damaged by fire, houses flattened, fishing boats sunk or washed ashore, and highways hit by landslides.
I’m amazed the house is this broken and everyone in my family managed to come out of it unscathed,” said Akiko, standing outside her parent’s tilting home in the badly hit city of Wajima.
The way 2024 started “will be etched into my memory forever,” she told AFP after what she called the “long and violent” earthquake on Monday.
“It was such a powerful jolt,” Tsugumasa Mihara, 73, told AFP as he queued with hundreds of others for water in the nearby shellshocked town of Shika.
Local authorities put the death toll at 48, but the number was expected to rise as rescuers comb through the rubble.
“Very extensive damage has been confirmed, including numerous casualties, building collapses and fires,” Prime Minister Fumio Kishida said after a disaster response meeting.
“We have to race against time to search for and rescue victims of the disaster.”
Aerial news footage showed the terrifying scale of a fire that ripped through the old market area of Wajima, where a seven-storey commercial building also collapsed. Quake damage impaired rescue efforts to put out the blaze.
Almost 33,000 households were without power in the region, which saw temperatures touch freezing overnight, the local energy provider said. Many cities were without running water.
The US Geological Survey said the quake had a magnitude of 7.5. Japan’s meteorological agency measured it at 7.6, and said it was one of more than 150 to shake the region through Tuesday morning.
Several strong jolts were felt early Tuesday, including one measuring 5.6 that prompted national broadcaster NHK to switch to a special programme.
“Please take deep breaths,” the presenter said, reminding viewers to check for fires in their kitchens.