Powerful quake rocks Japan, nearly 100,000 residents ordered to evacuate

January 2, 2024 6:40 am

[Source: Reuters]

A powerful earthquake struck central Japan, killing at least one person, destroying buildings, knocking out power to tens of thousands of homes and prompting residents in some coastal areas to flee to higher ground.

The quake with a preliminary magnitude of 7.6 triggered waves of about 1 metre along Japan’s west coast and neighbouring South Korea.

The Japan Meteorological Agency (JMA) initially issued a major tsunami warning – its first since the March 2011 earthquake and tsunami that struck northeast Japan killing nearly 20,000 people – for Ishikawa prefecture. It later downgraded that and eventually cut it to an advisory.

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It was the strongest quake in the region in more than four decades, according to the U.S. Geological Survey.

Houses were destroyed, fires broke out and army personnel were dispatched to help with rescue operations, government spokesperson Yoshimasa Hayashi told reporters.

An elderly man was pronounced dead after a building fell down in Shika Town in Ishikawa, broadcaster NTV reported citing local police.

Local media footage from the prefecture showed a building collapsing in a plume of dust in the city of Suzu and a huge crack in a road in Wajima where panicked-looking parents clutched their children.

One witness on social media platform X posted footage of the Keta Grand Shrine near the coast in Hakui rocking in the quake as a crowd of visitors watched. “It’s swaying,” she exclaims. “This is scary!”

Millions of Japanese traditionally visit shrines and temples on Jan. 1 to mark the start of the new year.

In nearby Kanazawa, a popular tourist destination, images showed the remnants of a shattered stone gate strewn at the entrance of another shrine as anxious worshippers looked on.

The tremor was also felt in the mountains of neighbouring Nagano prefecture.

More strong quakes in the region, where seismic activity has been simmering for more than three years, could occur over coming days, JMA official Toshihiro Shimoyama said.

Russia and North Korea also issued tsunami warnings for some areas.

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

Kanazawa resident Ayako Daikai said she had evacuated to a nearby elementary school with her husband and two children soon after the earthquake hit. Classrooms, stairwells, hallways and the gymnasium were all packed with evacuees, she said.