A massive 7.6 magnitude earthquake struck off the coast of central Japan on Monday, January 1, 2024, triggering tsunami warnings and advisories along the country’s western coastline.
The powerful temblor hit at approximately 4:10pm local time in the Noto Peninsula region, causing widespread damage in Ishikawa Prefecture. Numerous buildings collapsed and fires broke out in cities across the prefecture, including Wajima City and Suzu City.
Government spokesperson Yoshimasa Hayashi reported at least six homes have been destroyed with residents trapped inside in Noto and Ishikawa. A major blaze also erupted in downtown Wajima City following the initial quake.
The Wajima City Fire Department received over 30 calls about collapsed structures trapping victims under debris. Officials estimate dozens of buildings were destroyed based on initial reports. A firefighter in Wajima stated there were “numerous” injuries from falling objects and infrastructure damage.
Within 10 minutes of the quake, tsunami waves exceeding one meter arrived onshore along Ishikawa’s coast. The highest wave recorded was 4 feet in Wajima Port at approximately 4:21pm. Tsunami alerts remain in effect for Ishikawa, Niigata and Toyama prefectures, with warnings of potential waves up to 16 feet.
The strong temblor was felt over 300 miles away in Tokyo at around 4:20pm, swaying buildings in the capital. No major damage was reported in Tokyo, but residents described feeling significant shaking.
Extensive damage to infrastructure was reported near the epicenter. Over 36,000 households lost electricity in Ishikawa and Toyama prefectures, according to Hokuriku Electric Power Company.
At least 40 train lines suspended service, including bullet train routes. Six expressways were forced to close, along with a regional airport due to cracks in its runway.
Aftershocks continue rattling the region, with over 21 tremors above magnitude 4 detected so far. The Japan Meteorological Agency warns strong aftershocks are likely, especially within the first 48 hours. Officials urge continued vigilance along the coasts as tsunami threats persist.
The full extent of damage and potential casualties remains unclear as emergency personnel and Japan’s military assess the situation and conduct rescue operations in the most devastated areas. Prime Minister Fumio Kishida said the government has established an emergency response center to coordinate relief efforts.