Japan earthquake kills at least 48 | International

At least 48 people have died in Japan’s Ishikawa Prefecture after a strong earthquake shook central Japan on New Year’s Day, emergency teams confirmed Tuesday, as they continue to work to find survivors. The 7.6 magnitude earthquake caused extensive structural damage and fires, and forced a tsunami warning along the country’s west coast, which was lifted on Tuesday morning. Japanese authorities said they were having difficulty assessing the true scale of the disaster, as more than 140 aftershocks since the first quake have torpedoed relief operations. The National Meteorological Agency has warned that even stronger tremors could occur in the coming days.

“The search and rescue of people affected by the earthquake is a battle against time,” Prime Minister Fumio Kishida said on Tuesday during an emergency meeting on disasters, quoted by the Kyodo news agency. The Japanese leader highlighted the difficulties faced by rescue teams in reaching the northern areas of the Noto Peninsula (Ishikawa Prefecture) due to the poor condition of the roads, which were destroyed, for which the central government is coordinating the delivery of relief. supplies by ship. Numerous fires caused serious damage to more than 200 buildings and infrastructure, Kishida added.

Authorities in Ishikawa confirmed the deaths of 48 people, including at least 15 in the town of Wajima, near the epicenter of the earthquake. The tremor struck mid-afternoon on Monday, forcing residents in some coastal areas to flee to higher ground as tsunami waves engulfed some homes and cars in the sea. The quake also caused injuries and structural damage in Niigata, Toyama, Fukui and Gifu prefectures.

Evacuation of 100,000 people

On Monday evening, the government ordered the evacuation of 100,000 people who took shelter in sports halls and school gymnasiums, facilities that usually serve as evacuation centers in emergencies. Many returned home on Tuesday, when authorities lifted tsunami warnings. However, some 33,000 homes were still without power in the early morning hours, Hokuriku Electric Power reported on its website, while most areas in the northern Noto Peninsula also had no water supply, according to the NHK channel.

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The Minister of Defense informed the press on Tuesday that 1,000 soldiers are participating in rescue operations and that 10,000 could be deployed. These join thousands of firefighters and police officers from across the country sent to the worst-hit area of ​​the Noto Peninsula.

Many rail, sea and air services to the region have been suspended. Noto airport was closed due to damage to the runway, terminal and access roads and 500 people were trapped in cars in the parking lot, according to public broadcaster NHK. For its part, the West Japan Railway reported that some 1,400 passengers of the bullet train were stuck for 11 hours in the carriages, while the condition of the tracks between Toyama and Kanazawa stations was checked.

The Japan Meteorological Agency estimated that the quake occurred about 30 kilometers east and northeast of Wajima, with a tentative depth of 16 kilometers, and registered a maximum of 7 on the scale. seismic intensity of the country, the maximum level. An earthquake of this force is considered to leave people unable to stand. Such a quake was last recorded in 2018 in Hokkaido.

Initially, authorities issued a “major tsunami alert”, the highest, an alarm that had not been sounded since 2011, when a 9.1 magnitude earthquake – the most powerful since Japan began recording data 150 years ago – caused a gigantic tsunami that devastated the country. north of the Japanese archipelago and triggered the Fukushima nuclear accident. Entire towns were destroyed during this triple disaster which cost the lives of nearly 20,000 people.

A delicate moment for the Japanese nuclear industry

Monday’s quake, which also prompted authorities in South Korea, North Korea and Russia to declare a tsunami alert, comes at a delicate time for Japan’s nuclear industry, which faces fierce opposition from some local activists since the Fukushima disaster. However, despite initial fears that the quake could damage operating plants in the country, Japan’s Nuclear Regulatory Authority assured Monday that no irregularities had been found at plants along the Sea of ​​Japan. .

Last week, Japan lifted the operating ban on the world’s largest nuclear power plant, Kashiwazaki-Kariwa, which had been out of service since the 2011 tsunami. The plant is located in Niigata Prefecture, which was also affected due to Monday’s earthquake. For its part, Hokuriku Electric’s Shika plant, closest to the epicenter of the earthquake, has also been shut down since 2011. The company reported that there were power outages and fuel leaks after Monday’s earthquake, but said no radiation leak had occurred. . The company had previously expressed its intention to commission the reactor in 2026.

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