Tsunami hits Japan after 7.6-magnitude earthquake

Tremor struck Ishikawa and nearby prefectures in north central Japan

A damaged car stands near a collapsed house, following an earthquake, in Nanao, Ishikawa prefecture. Reuters
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A series of powerful earthquakes struck central Japan on Monday, triggering tsunami waves more than 1 metre high, knocking out power to thousands of homes and disrupting flights and rail services to the affected region.

A succession of 21 earthquakes registering 4.0-magnitude or stronger struck the coast of Ishikawa and nearby prefectures in a little more than 90 minutes, the Japan Meteorological Agency said.

The strongest jolt measured 7.6 shortly after 4pm, prompting the country's first major tsunami warning since 2011, when the country experienced a 9.0-magnitude undersea quake off the north-eastern coast. A major tsunami warning means there is a possibility of waves of more than 3 metres.

By 4am Tuesday, there were four confirmed deaths, authorities in Ishikawa prefecture said.

The alert, which was later downgraded to an ordinary tsunami warning, caused some train services to stop, power plants to halt operations and authorities to check on nuclear reactors.

Video captures magnitude 7.6 quake in Japan

Video captures magnitude 7.6 quake in Japan

“All residents must evacuate immediately to higher ground,” national broadcaster NHK said.

It is unclear how many people were killed or hurt as a result, but two people recovered from quake debris in Ishikawa prefecture were unresponsive, public broadcaster NHK reported.

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

Prime Minister Fumio Kishida warned residents to prepare for more disasters.

“Residents need to stay on alert for further possible quakes and I urge people in areas where tsunamis are expected to evacuate as soon as possible,” he said.

The 7.6-magnitude quake was the largest in the Noto peninsula region since records began in 1885.

It struck during the January 1 public holiday, when millions of Japanese traditionally visit temples to mark the new year.

In Kanazawa, a popular tourist destination in Ishikawa, images showed the remnants of a collapsed torii gate strewn at the entrance of a shrine as anxious worshippers looked on.

A video clip posted on social media platform X showed lines of toppled wooden houses.

“This is the Matsunami district of Noto. We are in a horrible situation. Please come and help us. My town is in a horrible situation,” said a person in the video.

Broadcaster ANN showed collapsed houses in Wajima, about 300 kilometres north-west of Tokyo, after it was hit by a tsunami of at least 1.2 metres.

A major fire broke out in the city, which appeared to spread across several buildings, video on broadcaster NTV showed.

Army units have been dispatched to help with rescue operations, government spokesperson Hayashi Yoshimasa said, adding that authorities were still assessing the extent of the damage.

The Pacific Tsunami Warning Centre said that waves were possible within 300km of the quake's epicentre along the Japanese coast.

A tsunami of about 3 metres high was expected to hit Niigata and other prefectures on the western coast of Japan. Smaller tsunami waves were already confirmed to have reached the coastline, according to NHK.

Warnings of waves up to a metre high were also issued for parts of North Korea and Russia.

Russian officials issued a tsunami alert for the island of Sakhalin, warning that areas across the island’s west coast could be affected by the waves.

In nearby South Korea, the weather agency urged residents in some eastern coastal towns to watch for changes in sea levels. Residents in the Gangwon province were urged to take precautions and move to higher ground.

The first tsunami reached South Korea's east coast at 09.21am GMT at a height of 0.67 metres, South Korea's meteorological agency said. It was followed by another tsunami measuring under 1 metre.

The tsunami can grow after the initial waves and may continue for more than 24 hours, the agency said in an advisory.

The JMA said the Noto region experienced a rapid succession of quakes, starting with a 5.7-magnitude tremor at 4.06pm local time.

This was followed by a 7.6-magnitude quake at 4.10pm, a 6.1-magnitude quake at 4.18pm, a 4.5-magnitude one at 4.23pm, a 4.6-magnitude quake at 4.29pm, and 4.8-magnitude quake at 4.32pm.

Another quake with a magnitude of 6.2 hit soon after, the US Geological Survey said.

The largest of the quakes prompted broadcasters to switch to special programming and make urgent calls for affected residents to leave for higher ground.

“We realise your home, your belongings are all precious to you, but your lives are important above everything else. Run to the highest ground possible,” a presenter on broadcaster NHK told viewers.

Witness recounts moment earthquake hits Japan

Witness recounts moment earthquake hits Japan

Several major motorways were closed around the epicentre of the earthquakes, while Shinkansen bullet train services were also suspended between Tokyo and the Noto region, Japan Railways said.

Japanese airline ANA turned back planes headed to airports in Toyama and Ishikawa, while Japan Airlines cancelled most of its services to Niigata and Ishikawa regions and authorities said one of Ishikawa's airports was closed.

The earthquake was felt in Tokyo.

Video aired by NHK appeared to show buildings collapsing in Ishikawa, and tremors shaking buildings in the capital on the opposite coast.

More than 36,000 households lost power in Ishikawa and Toyama prefectures, utilities provider Hokuriku Electric Power said.

There were no immediate reports of damage and no abnormalities have been confirmed at nuclear power plants along the Sea of Japan, including five active reactors at Kansai Electric Power’s Ohi and Takahama plants in Fukui prefecture.

“It has been confirmed that there are no abnormalities at Shika nuclear power plant [in Ishikawa] and other stations as of now,” government spokesman Yoshimasa Hayashi said.

Japan has strict construction regulations intended to ensure buildings can withstand strong earthquakes and routinely holds emergency drills for quakes.

The 2011 tsunami left about 18,500 people dead and sent three reactors into meltdown at the Fukushima nuclear plant, causing Japan's worst post-war disaster and the most serious nuclear accident since Chernobyl in 1986.

In March 2022, a 7.4-magnitude quake off the coast of Fukushima shook large areas of eastern Japan, killing three people.

Another quake, known as the Great Hanshin Earthquake, hit western Japan in 1995, killing more than 6,000 people, mainly in the city of Kobe.

The capital Tokyo was devastated by a significant earthquake a century ago in 1923.

Updated: January 02, 2024, 5:08 AM