Japan earthquake: 48 dead after buildings collapse and inferno at port

Rescue teams search rubble, with aftershocks adding to urgency of locating survivors

People walk through the damaged marketplace in Wajima, Ishikawa prefecture. AP
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At least 48 people were killed in Monday's earthquake in western Japan which caused a small tsunami and left buildings blazing and roads buckled.

Rescue workers looked for people feared trapped in rubble amid about 155 aftershocks, which are complicating recovery efforts.

The 7.5-magnitude quake, which hit Ishikawa prefecture on the main island of Honshu, also caused a port fire and has wrecked motorways.

Officials said 16 others were seriously injured, while damage to homes was so great that it could not immediately be assessed, they said.

Japanese media reports said tens of thousands of homes had been destroyed and almost 45,000 households were without power in the region where temperatures touched freezing overnight.

“Saving lives is our priority and we are fighting a battle against time,” Prime Minister Fumio Kishida said Tuesday. “It is critical that people trapped in homes get rescued immediately.”

“We have to race against time to search for and rescue survivors of the disaster.”

Video captures magnitude 7.6 quake in Japan

Video captures magnitude 7.6 quake in Japan

The US Geological Survey (USGS) said the quake had a magnitude of 7.5. Japan's meteorological agency measured it at 7.6, and said it was one of more than 150 to shake the region through Tuesday morning.

Japan's military sent 1,000 soldiers to join rescue efforts, Mr Kishida said, stressing they were facing “large-scale damage.” Details of damaged homes were still under investigation, he said.

Firefighters continued to battle a fire in Wajima city that engulfed row of houses, with people being evacuated in the dark, some with blankets and others carrying babies.

A duty officer at Wajima Fire Department told they still were being overwhelmed Tuesday by rescue requests and reports of damages.

Tsunami warning lifted

On Monday waves at least 1.2 metres high hit Wajima, and a series of smaller tsunamis were reported elsewhere.

But warnings of much larger waves proved unfounded and on Tuesday Japan lifted all tsunami warnings.

A total of 62,000 people had been ordered to evacuate, according to the fire and disaster management agency.

About 1,000 people were staying at a military base, the Defence Ministry said.

Monday's quake shook apartments in the capital Tokyo some 300 kilometres away, and several major motorways were closed around the epicentre, Japan's road operator said. Bullet train services from Tokyo were also suspended.

Japan experiences hundreds of earthquakes every year and the vast majority cause no damage.

The country has strict regulations intended to ensure buildings can withstand strong quakes and routinely holds emergency drills.

In 2011, a 9.0-magnitude undersea quake off north-eastern Japan triggered a tsunami that left around 18,500 people dead or missing.

The 2011 tsunami also 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.

Japan's nuclear authority said there were no abnormalities reported at the Shika atomic power plant in Ishikawa or at other plants after Monday's quake.

Japan is frequently hit by earthquakes because of its location along the Ring of Fire, an arc of volcanoes and fault lines in the Pacific Basin.

Updated: January 03, 2024, 5:36 AM