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At least six dead after huge earthquake rocks Japan on New Year’s Day

TOKYO –

A powerful earthquake that hit central Japan on New Year’s Day killed at least six people, as police and local authorities early on Tuesday reported bodies being pulled from the rubble of collapsed buildings.

The quake with a preliminary magnitude of 7.6 struck in the middle of the afternoon on Monday, destroying buildings, knocking out power to tens of thousands of homes and prompting residents in some coastal areas to flee to higher ground.

It also triggered waves about one metre high along Japan’s long western seaboard as well as in neighbouring South Korea.

Army personnel were dispatched to help with rescue operations, while one local airport in the worst-hit Ishikawa prefecture shut after the quake tore open cracks in the runway.

The extent of the damage as well as the toll remained unclear a day after the disaster, with major roads to the worst-affected areas badly damaged, hindering rescue efforts.

Public broadcaster NHK reported doctors were unable to reach the hospital in the hard-hit town of Suzu, near the quake’s epicentre. It said the hospital was relying on a backup generator because of a power outage.

This image shows a fire that occurred following an earthquake in Wajima, Ishikawa prefecture, Japan, Jan. 1, 2024. (Kyodo News via AP)

Six people are confirmed to have died so far, the national police agency said.

NHK reported three people died after being trapped under collapsed buildings while one man was killed by a stone lantern.

More than 90 tremors have been detected since the quake first hit the remote Noto peninsula on Monday, according to the Japan Meteorological Agency. The agency has warned more strong shocks could hit in coming days.

A collapsed house in Ishikawa following the earthquake in Japan, Monday, Jan. 1, 2024. (Kyodo News)

Japanese Prime Minister Fumio Kishida told reporters late on Monday search and rescue teams were struggling to reach the worst affected areas due to badly damaged and blocked roads.

Many rail services and flights into the affected areas have also been suspended.

In Toyama city, around 100 kilometres from the worst-hit area, some shelves in convenience stores were empty as the disaster disrupted the delivery of goods across the region.

President Joe Biden said in a statement the United States was ready to provide any necessary help to Japan after the earthquake.

“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,” he said.

United States Geological Survey map of the epicentre of the earthquake in Japan.

The Japanese government said as of Monday night it had ordered more than 97,000 people in nine prefectures on the western coast of main island Honshu to evacuate. They were spending the night in sports halls and school gymnasiums, commonly used as evacuation centres in emergencies.

Almost 33,000 households remained without power in Ishikawa prefecture early on Tuesday morning, according to Hokuriku Electric Power’s website.

The Imperial Household Agency said it would cancel Emperor Naruhito and Empress Masako’s slated New Year appearance on Tuesday following the disaster.

NUCLEAR PLANTS

The quake comes at a sensitive time for Japan’s nuclear industry, which has faced fierce opposition from some locals since the 2011 earthquake and tsunami that triggered nuclear meltdowns in Fukushima. Whole towns were devastated in that disaster.

The Nuclear Regulation Authority said no irregularities were found at nuclear plants along the Sea of Japan, including five active reactors at Kansai Electric Power’s Ohi and Takahama plants in Fukui Prefecture.

Hokuriku Electric’s Shika plant, the closest to the epicentre, had already halted its two reactors before the quake for regular inspections and saw no impact from the quake, the agency said.

(Reporting by Tim Kelly, Satoshi Sugiyama, Kantaro Komiya, Sakura Murakami, Chang-Ran Kim and the Tokyo newsroom; Writing by John Geddie and Hugh Lawson; Editing by Diane Craft and Lincoln Feast)

A torii gate is damaged after an earthquake at a shrine in Kanazawa, Ishikawa prefecture, Japan Monday, Jan. 1, 2024. (Kyodo News via AP)

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津波警報出てるし店もグチャグチャやし落下物もあるし3階でボヤあるしスプリンクラー壊れて水止まらんし小松イオン地獄状態です pic.twitter.com/kac5RWgpJN

— せーや(@_tikuwa_1) January 1, 2024

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