Japan redoubled its efforts this Friday to find the 240 people still missing since the first day of the New Year, when a magnitude 7.6 earthquake shook the center of the country. Japanese Prime Minister Fumio Kishida asked during a press conference on Thursday that everything be done to save as many lives as possible, “even beyond 72 hours after the disaster”, after which the rate survival rate drops sharply, according to emergency personnel. This decisive margin ended on Thursday afternoon (early morning in mainland Spain). The number of deaths now stands at 92, according to the latest count published by the Kyodo news agency this Friday at noon.
A total of 4,600 Japanese Self-Defense Forces troops joined search operations in the Noto Peninsula (Ishikawa Prefecture), which were hampered by huge damage to roads and infrastructure, landslides , rain and sub-zero temperatures. With them, the total number of rescuers stands at 7,000. Authorities said 156 people were rescued, including an elderly man in his 80s who spent three days under the rubble. There are more than 40 notifications of victims still trapped under collapsed buildings, as reported this Friday morning by the Kyodo agency. The same media report that 240 people remain missing.
The central government plans to allocate 4 billion yen (24.6 million euros) from reserve funds to step up its response, although this figure could rise: the true extent of the damage is not yet clear, because access to certain transport routes is blocked and communications remain interrupted.
Roads in very poor condition
Dr Shunsaku Kohriki, who has worked in other emergencies, told Reuters: “Compared to other disasters, the access roads to Wajima are in very poor condition and I think we need to more time than usual for help to arrive. (…) In reality, the evacuees will have to live in very harsh conditions for a while,” he said. Some 33,000 Ishikawa residents evacuated on January 1 are still spread across 370 shelters, where the Food and water are becoming scarce, as the mayor of Wajima, Shingeru Sakaguchi, admitted, quoted by local media.
Three days after the earthquake, 30 municipalities remained inaccessible and some 780 residents remained completely isolated, according to Ishikawa prefectural authorities Thursday afternoon. Material aid has arrived in trickles, local media warn. An estimated 30,000 homes in the region have no electricity and 80,000 have no running water, while at least 200 buildings have collapsed or been damaged. The government has promised to provide supply proactively, rather than waiting for formal requests from councils.
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The epicenter of the earthquake was located about 30 kilometers east and northeast of Wajima Municipality on the Noto Peninsula. Monday’s tremor, measuring 7.6 magnitude, registered level 7 on the Japanese seismic intensity scale, the highest of this gradation. Ishikawa, Niigata, Toyama and Yamagata prefectures issued evacuation orders affecting more than 50,000 residents.
The strong tremors also forced authorities to issue a “major tsunami alert” along the west coast of the Japanese archipelago, from Hokkaido (north) to Nagasaki prefecture (south). It was the first time this had happened since the Fukushima nuclear disaster in 2011. After a few hours, the alarm was reduced to a “tsunami alert” and the next day it was removed altogether. In the port of Wajima, the tsunami caused waves one meter high, although they were initially expected to reach five meters.
The northern part of the Noto Peninsula, the most affected area after the January 1 earthquake, has been experiencing notable seismic movements since December 2020. As of last month, 506 tremors with a seismic intensity of at least 1 were reported, the smallest tremor that humans can perceive. Experts cited by Japanese media believe that one of the causes is the rise of high-pressure water and steam from deep underground, which already triggered a 6.5 magnitude earthquake in May of last year, in which one person died. injured and 200 houses collapsed.
Takuya Nishimura, professor of geodesy at Kyoto University’s Disaster Reduction Research Institute, told the newspaper: Asahi Shimbun“Although the mechanism of the earthquake is similar to previous earthquakes on the Noto Peninsula, I never thought that an earthquake of such magnitude would occur there. “It’s close to the strongest ever on the coast of the Sea of Japan.”
In 1983, a tsunami generated by a 7.8 magnitude earthquake in the central coastal areas of the Sea of Japan killed 104 people. A decade later, the death toll from a 7.7 magnitude earthquake southwest of Hokkaido and the tsunami that followed rose to 230 victims. With the latest earthquake close to these magnitudes, Nishimura considers the possibility that a fault may have moved outside the main area of the earthquake swarm.
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