At least eight people have been confirmed dead since the 7.6 magnitude quake struck the west coast on New Year’s Day.
At least eight people have been confirmed dead after a massive earthquake hit the coast of central Japan on New Year’s Day with Prime Minister Fumio Kishida warning that damage was “widespread” and casualties were likely to rise.
The 7.6 magnitude quake struck on Monday afternoon near the Noto Peninsula in Ishikawa Prefecture, triggering the country’s first major tsunami warning since the March 2011 earthquake and tsunami that left about 18,500 people dead or missing in northeastern Japan.
Speaking on Tuesday, Kishida said “extensive damage” had been confirmed with buildings collapsed and fires reported.
Casualties were “numerous” he said, adding that it would be a “race against time” to rescue victims.
The tsunami warning, which was later downgraded, was lifted on Tuesday morning.
Public broadcaster NHK said eight deaths had been reported in the hard-hit town of Wajima near the quake’s epicentre, while in nearby Suzu, some doctors were unable to reach a hospital that was relying on a backup generator for power. The Kyodo news agency put the death toll at 13.
The Japan Meteorological Office said the country had been hit by 155 earthquakes since the initial tremor on Monday.
Wajima was hit by a tsunami of at least 1.2 metres (4 feet) and aerial news footage showed devastation from a major fire as a seven-storey building collapsed at the port.
The fire engulfed a row of houses with people being evacuated in the dark, some with blankets and others carrying babies.
“There was shaking that I have never experienced before,” an elderly man told NHK.
“Inside my house, it was so terrible… I am still alive. Maybe I have to be content with that.”
Nearly 100,000 people across nine prefectures were evacuated and spent the night in sports halls and school gymnasiums, commonly used as evacuation centres in emergencies in Japan.
Almost 33,000 households remained without power in Ishikawa prefecture early on Tuesday morning, according to Hokuriku Electric Power’s website. NHK said most areas in the northern Noto Peninsula were also without water.
As a result of the disaster, the Imperial Household Agency cancelled Emperor Naruhito and Empress Masako’s New Year’s appearance, which had been expected to take place on Tuesday.
Japan’s allies expressed their concern at the disaster and said they were ready to offer assistance.
“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,” US President Joe Biden said in a statement.
French President Emmanuel Macron expressed “solidarity”, while Italian Prime Minister Giorgia Meloni offered condolences and assistance.
United Kingdom Prime Minister Rishi Sunak said he was monitoring developments.
“My thoughts are with all those affected by the earthquakes in Japan which have caused such terrible damage,” he said.