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This aerial photo shows buildings burning in the city of Wajima, Ishikawa prefecture on January 1, 2024, after a major 7.5 magnitude earthquake struck the Noto region in Ishikawa prefecture in the afternoon. Image Credit: AFP

Dubai: Japan has warned residents of northwest coast to be on the alert for potentially large aftershocks over the coming days, after a powerful earthquake with a magnitude of 7.5 off the Noto Peninsula destroyed homes and roads, triggering a highest-level tsunami warning.

Later on Monday, Japan dropped its tsunami alert but told residents of coastal areas not to return to their homes as deadly waves could still come.

Four deaths reported

Four people have been confirmed dead in the powerful earthquake that rocked Japan, the Kyodo news agency reported early Tuesday, citing authorities in Ishikawa prefecture.

At least six were also said to be trapped in collapsed buildings in Wajima, Ishikawa Prefecture. A large-scale fire also broke out in the city following the quake, while several other municipalities reported collapsed buildings and homes.

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A staff member of Japan Meterological Agency speaks at a press conference in Tokyo on January 1, 2024, following an earthquake. Image Credit: AP

More than 51,000 people in five prefectures were instructed to evacuate, according to the Fire and Disaster Management Agency, the Japan Times reported.

People returning to get their wallets and other belongings have been known to be swept away and drowned even hours after the first evacuation warning.

Nuclear power plants safe; thousands without power
More than 32,600 households in the affected areas were without power, according to Hokuriku Electric. Temperatures in the areas are set to be near freezing over night, with many families gathering together for the New Year holiday.
Japan’s Nuclear Regulation Authority said there have been no abnormalities found at the nuclear power plants in the region, including Hokuriku Electric’s Shika nuclear power plant and Tokyo Electric Power Co.’s Kashiwazaki Kariwa nuclear power plant.
Nuclear regulators said no rises in radiation levels were detected at the monitoring posts in the region.
Japan is one of the world’s most earthquake-prone countries and in 2011 was hit by a magnitude 9 tremor that triggered a massive tsunami, killing nearly 20,000 and wrecking the Fukushima Dai-Ichi nuclear plant.
The latest warning was the first time since the 2011 disaster that a tsunami warning of this magnitude was issued.
Tsunami warnings were also issued for parts of North Korea and Russia.

People were evacuated to stadiums, where they will likely have to stay for a few days.

Japan’s military was taking part in the rescue efforts, he said.

According to broadcaster TBS, seven people were injured across several towns in Ishikawa prefecture. Video footage on broadcaster ANN showed collapsed houses in Wajima, about 300km northwest of Tokyo and posts on social media showed shops filled with broken bottles and other items that had fallen from shelves.

People crouch following an earthquake at Universal Studios Japan in Osaka on January 1, 2024. Image Credit: AP

More than a dozens quakes

The Japan Meteorological Agency reported more than a dozen quakes in the Japan Sea off the coast of Ishikawa and nearby prefectures shortly after 4pm local time.

At least six homes were damaged by the quakes, with people trapped inside, government spokesman Yoshimasa Hayashi said. A fire broke out in Wajima city, Ishikawa Prefecture, and electricity was out for more than 32,000 households, he said.

The agency initially issued a major tsunami warning for Ishikawa and lower-level tsunami warnings or advisories for the rest of the western coast of the island of Honshu, as well as the northernmost of its main islands, Hokkaido.

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A torii gate is damaged after an earthquake at a shrine in Kanazawa, Ishikawa prefecture. Image Credit: AP

Several hours later, the warning was downgraded to a regular tsunami, meaning the waters could still reach up to 3 meters (10 feet). Aftershocks could also slam the same area over the next few days, it said.

Japanese public broadcaster NHK TV initially warned torrents of water could reach as high as 5 meters (16.5 feet).

The agency said the tsunami waves could keep returning, and warnings were continuing to be aired hours after the initial alert. Several aftershocks also rocked the region.

Japanese media footage showed people running through the streets, and smoke spewing from a fire in a residential neighbourhood. Photos showed a crowd of people, including a woman with a baby on her back, standing by huge cracks that had ripped through the pavement.

Cracks are seen on the ground in Wajima, Ishikawa prefecture. Image Credit: AP

Bullet trains halted

Some people sustained minor injuries when they tripped and fell while fleeing, or objects fell off shelves and hit them.

Bullet trains in the area were halted, although some parts of the service were restored by evening. Parts of the highway were also closed, and water pipes had burst.

Some cell phone services in the region weren’t working.

The Meteorological Agency said in a nationally broadcast news conference that more major quakes could hit the area over the next week, especially in the next two or three days, with risks of setting off landslides and houses collapsing.

Takashi Wakabayashi, a worker at a convenience store in Ishikawa Prefecture, told news agency AP that some items had tumbled from the shelves, but the biggest problem was the huge crowd of people who had shown up to stock up on bottled water, rice balls and bread.

“We have customers at three times the level of usual,” he said.

The Japanese government has set up a special emergency centre to gather information on the quakes and tsunami and relay them speedily to residents to ensure safety, Prime Minister Fumio Kishida told reporters.
-- With agency inputs