Japan quake toll rises to 62 as rescuers struggle to reach cut-off villages

Heavy rain is forecast into Thursday raising the risk of landslides and further complicating relief efforts.

Japanese rescuers continue to search for survivors from Monday’s earthquake in Ishikawa prefecture as authorities warned heavy rain, landslides and repeated aftershocks could hamper relief efforts.

The regional government said on Wednesday that 62 people had been confirmed dead and more than 300 injured, 20 of them seriously.

It warned the death toll was likely to climb further.

The magnitude-7.6 quake struck on Monday afternoon off the Noto Peninsula, flattening houses in Suzu on its northern coast and triggering fires that ravaged parts of nearby Wajima City. It also ripped up roads, adding to the challenge of search and rescue.

More than 31,800 people were in shelters, the government said.

“More than 40 hours have passed since the disaster. We have received a lot of information about people in need of rescue and there are people waiting for help,” Prime Minister Fumio Kishida said after an emergency task force meeting.

“Rescue efforts are being made by the local authorities, police, firefighters and other operational units, while the number of personnel and rescue dogs is enhanced.”

People taking shelter in a green house after the quake. They are sitting on the floor. They are wearing winter clothes and some have blankets around them
People evacuated from their homes in Wajima take shelter in a greenhouse [Kim Kyung-Hoon/Reuters]
A resident walks through devastation in Wajima. Pylons and cables lie across the road, there's debris everywhere. A couple of buildings are in the distance behind
Fires swept through parts of Wajima, one of the worst-affected places in the Noto Peninsula [Kyodo via Reuters]

Kishida said the central government was trying to bring help to the worst-affected parts of the Noto Peninsula by ship because roads had been left almost impassable. Japan’s Self-Defence Forces was also using helicopters to reach cut-off villages, the Kyodo news agency reported.

Complicating the relief effort, the Japan Meteorological Agency (JMA) said heavy rain was expected, which could increase the risk of landslides.

90 percent gone

In Suzu, Mayor Masuhiro Izumiya said there were “almost no houses standing”.

“About 90 percent of the houses [in the town] are completely or almost completely destroyed… the situation is really catastrophic,” he said, according to broadcaster TBS.

Nearly 34,000 households remained without power in Ishikawa prefecture, the local utility said.

Many cities were without running water.

The US Geological Survey measured the quake at a magnitude of 7.5, while the JMA put it at 7.6 and issued a major tsunami warning, which was later lifted.

Monday’s quake was one of more than 400 to shake the region up until Wednesday morning, according to the JMA.

Two Japanese soldiers trying to bring someone out from the upper floor of their wrecked home.
Some 1,000 soldiers from the Japanese Self-Defence Force have been deployed to help in the rescue effort [Joint Staff Office of the Defence Ministry of Japan via Reuters]

Four of the world’s tectonic plates meet in Japan making the country particularly prone to earthquakes.

It experiences hundreds every year, but most cause little to no damage.

Although casualty numbers from Monday’s quake have continued to climb, the prompt public warnings, relayed on broadcasts and phones, and the quick response from the general public and officials appeared to have limited some of the impact.

Toshitaka Katada, a University of Tokyo professor specialising in disasters, said people were prepared, with evacuation plans worked out and emergency supplies in stock.

“There are probably no people on Earth who are as disaster-ready as the Japanese,” he told The Associated Press news agency.

The number of earthquakes in the Noto Peninsula region has been steadily increasing since 2018, a Japanese government report said last year.

In 2011, Japan’s northeast was hit by one of the most powerful earthquakes ever recorded. The 9.0 magnitude undersea quake triggered a massive tsunami that wiped out entire communities and brought disaster to the Fukushima nuclear plant. At least 18,500 people were killed.

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