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Major quake jolts Japan, toll nears 50

Tsunami warnings after the 7.6 magnitude earthquake have been lifted, nuclear reactors safe

Major quake jolts Japan, toll nears 50

A series of powerful earthquakes that destroyed buildings, knocked out power, and triggered massive evacuation in central Japan on Monday has killed at least 48 people.

An earthquake of magnitude 7.6 shook Ishikawa prefecture on Monday and triggered strong aftershocks, prompting authorities to issue a tsunami warning along Japan’s west coast. The residents in the coastal areas fled to higher ground following the warning.

Kyodo news agency confirmed 48 deaths in Ishikawa prefecture, including 20 in Suzu, 19 in Wajima, and 5 in Nanao towns. The tremors also knocked down water, power, and cellphone services in some areas.

No irregularities have been reported at the nuclear power plants along the Sea of Japan, including at five active reactors at Kansai Electric Power’s Ohi and Takahama plants in Fukui prefecture, Japan’s Nuclear Regulation Authority said. 

The authority said an inspection had been carried out at the Hokuriku’s Shika plant in Ishikawa, and no impact from the quake was reported. 

Tsunami warnings issued by the Japan Meteorological Agency (JMA) were lifted Tuesday after the highest wave of at least 1.2 meters reached Wajima port on Monday.

Quoting Japanese government spokesperson Yoshimasa Hayashi, Al Jazeera reported that the earthquake had damaged thousands of buildings and led to fires. 

In Wajima, one of the worst affected cities in the prefecture, fires were reported in over 200 structures, officials said. A seven-story building toppled over sideways while a central area known for its morning market was gutted by a large blaze on Monday, Kyodo reported. 

The quake has also damaged buildings and caused injuries in Central Japan’s Niigata, Toyama, Fukui, and Gifu prefectures. 

Army personnel have been deployed to help with rescue operations as people were reported to be stuck under the rubble. 

Japanese Prime Minister Fumio Kishida said 1,000 defense personnel had been dispatched to the disaster zones to join rescue efforts. 

“Saving lives is our priority and we are fighting a battle against time,” he said, according to The Associated Press.

“It is critical that people trapped in homes get rescued immediately,” he added.

Kishida acknowledged that it was extremely difficult for vehicles to enter northern areas of the Noto Peninsula, which was most affected by the quake, due to blocked roads.

JMA recorded the earthquake to be centered around 30km east-northeast of Wajima with a provisional depth of 16km. The agency described it as a level-7 quake, the maximum on the country’s seismic intensity scale, which makes it impossible for people to remain standing. 

Japan is one of the top countries prone to earthquakes and regularly faces strong tremors. 

Nearly 20,000 people were killed in northeastern Japan’s Tohoku region in March 2011 after a massive earthquake and tsunami. 

The earthquake also led to the Fukushima nuclear accident, resulting in the release of radioactive contaminants into the surrounding environment.

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