55 dead and numerous trapped as Japan endures 155 earthquakes within a day. Despite freezing temperatures, rescue teams faced challenges on Tuesday as they endeavored to access coastal regions where a considerable number of people are believed to be trapped beneath potentially thousands of demolished homes.
The town of Suzu, located near the epicenter of the quake and home to just over 5,000 households, suffered severe devastation. The mayor, Masuhiro Izumiya, estimated that approximately 90% of houses in Suzu may have been destroyed by the powerful earthquake. "The situation is catastrophic," he said.
A quake with a preliminary magnitude of 7.6 struck on Monday afternoon, leading residents in western coastal areas to evacuate to higher ground as tsunami waves engulfed cars and houses. Since the initial quake on Monday, approximately 200 tremors have been recorded, according to the Japan Meteorological Agency, which cautioned that additional powerful aftershocks could occur in the coming days.
Tragically, a Coast Guard aircraft heading to provide aid to the earthquake-affected region collided with a commercial airplane at Tokyo's Haneda airport on Tuesday, resulting in the loss of five Coast Guard members. Fortunately, all 379 passengers aboard the Japan Airlines flight managed to escape unharmed.
Over 24 hours after the earthquake struck the Noto Peninsula in Ishikawa prefecture, Prime Minister Fumio Kishida stated that the magnitude of the damage was becoming "more evident."
"The government has deployed emergency rescue teams from the Self-Defence Forces, police, and fire departments to the area and is doing its utmost to save lives and rescue victims and survivors, but we have received reports that there are still many people waiting to be rescued under collapsed buildings."
Facing challenges, Prime Minister Fumio Kishida mentioned that approximately 3,000 rescuers were encountering difficulties in reaching the northern tip of the peninsula. Helicopter surveys in that area revealed numerous fires and extensive damage to buildings and infrastructure.
Japan, situated on the "Ring of Fire" arc, characterized by volcanoes and oceanic trenches around the Pacific Basin, witnesses around 20% of the world's earthquakes with a magnitude of 6 or greater. Annually, the country experiences up to 2,000 perceptible quakes.
Due to the earthquake, many rail services and flights to the affected region have been halted. Noto's airport, hosting over 500 stranded individuals, closed due to runway and road cracks, along with damage to its terminal building.
The confirmed death toll stands at 55, all in Ishikawa prefecture, marking it as Japan's deadliest earthquake since 2016. The severely affected areas include Suzu and Wajima, cities on the remote northern tip of the Noto Peninsula. Additionally, numerous people have been injured, and authorities are grappling with fires in several cities, conducting rescue operations to extract individuals from collapsed buildings.
"I've never experienced a quake that powerful," said Wajima resident Shoichi Kobayashi, 71, who was at home having a celebratory New Year's meal with his wife and son when the quake struck, sending furniture flying across the dining room.
A map showing the extent of the earthquakes in different prefectures in Japan
Fujiko Ueno, a 73-year-old resident of Nanao city in Ishikawa, shared that her house, where nearly 20 people had gathered for a New Year celebration, experienced the quake's impact. The walls splintered and collapsed onto a parked car. Remarkably, despite the destruction, no one suffered injuries.
"It all happened in the blink of an eye," she said, standing beside the flattened car on a road strewn with debris and mud seeping out from cracks in the surface.
Condolence messages poured in from the pope and various world leaders, with President Joe Biden expressing in a statement that the United States stood prepared to offer any necessary assistance to Japan.
Responding to the crisis, the Japanese government issued evacuation orders for approximately 100,000 people on Monday night, directing them to seek refuge in sports halls and school gymnasiums, commonly designated as evacuation centers during emergencies.
By Tuesday, nearly half of the evacuated individuals had returned home, following the authorities' decision to lift tsunami warnings. Despite the passing night with temperatures dipping below freezing, approximately 33,000 households in Ishikawa prefecture still lacked power. Additionally, over 100,000 homes were grappling with a lack of water supply.