On Monday Jan 1st, 2024, a massive earthquake slammed central Japan, prompting inhabitants to flee some coastal areas, knocking out electricity to thousands of homes, and disrupting flights and rail services to the impacted area.
The early magnitude 7.6 quake generated waves of roughly 1 metre along areas of the Sea of Japan shoreline, with a greater wave likely, according to official broadcaster NHK.
The Japan Meteorological Agency has issued tsunami warnings for the coastal prefectures of Ishikawa, Niigata, and Toyama, the first major alerts since the March 2011 earthquake and tsunami that slammed northeastern Japan.
A major tsunami warning indicates that waves of more than 3 metres (yards) are possible. Russia also issued tsunami warnings in the far eastern towns of Vladivostok and Nakhodka.
Authorities are assessing the extent of any damage, and people should brace themselves for future shocks, Prime Minister Fumio Kishida said in remarks broadcast on NHK.
“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,” Kishida stated in a press release.
“Run!” flashed a bright yellow warning on NHK, telling residents in certain coast regions to leave their houses immediately.
The broadcaster captured footage of a building crumbling in a dust plume in the coastal city of Suzu and inhabitants in Kanazawa city fleeing behind tables as tremors shook their homes. On the other coast, the quake rocked buildings in Tokyo.
According to Hokuriku Electric Electricity, more than 36,000 households in the prefectures of Ishikawa and Toyama have lost electricity.
According to their websites, high-speed rail services to Ishikawa have been discontinued, and telecom carriers Softbank and KDDI have reported phone and internet service interruptions in Ishikawa and Niigata.
According to TV Asahi, Japanese carrier ANA turned back four planes mid-flight on their way to airports in Toyama and Ishikawa, while Japan Airlines cancelled most flight services to Niigata and Ishikawa for the rest of the day.
The Nuclear Regulation Authority of Japan reported no anomalies at nuclear power plants in the Sea of Japan, including five active reactors at Kansai Electric Power’s Ohi and Takahama plants in Fukui Prefecture.
Hokuriku’s Shika facility in Ishikawa, the nearest nuclear power station to the quake’s epicentre, had already suspended its two reactors for normal inspections before the tremor and observed no influence from the quake, according to the agency.
The 2011 earthquake and tsunami killed almost 20,000 people, damaging Fukushima’s villages and nuclear meltdowns.
Another quake, known as the Great Hanshin Earthquake, struck western Japan in 1995, killing over 6,000 people, the majority of whom were in the city of Kobe.
The quake occurred on January 1, a public holiday in Japan, when millions of people customarily visit temples to celebrate the new year.
Images from Kanazawa, a major tourist site in Ishikawa, showed the strewn remains of a collapsed torii gate at the entrance of a shrine as nervous worshippers looked on.
Ayako Daikai, a Kanazawa resident, said she, her husband, and two children fled to a nearby elementary school shortly after the earthquake struck.
“I had also experienced the Great Hanshin Earthquake, so I thought it would be safest to evacuate,” she told Reuters by phone. She stated that the upper floors of the four-story school had become crowded with residents.
“We haven’t decided when to return home yet.”
Images from adjacent Wajima showed crumbled houses and a massive split along a concrete road while worried parents grabbed their children.
Japan is prone to earthquakes due to its location along the Pacific Ring of Fire, a seismically active zone. The country’s tectonic plates shift periodically, causing tremors and quakes.
The government has enacted tight building rules and early warning systems to lessen the impact of these natural calamities. Despite these precautions, earthquakes in Japan can still cause considerable infrastructure damage and fatalities.