Rie Wakabayashi was at the gym when a powerful earthquake struck her hometown in western Japan on Monday. She clung to the workout equipment to stand, but even the machines were shaking, she said.
After a tsunami warning was issued, Wakabayashi and her parents took shelter at a shopping mall in Komatsu, Ishikawa — the prefecture where the 7.6-magnitude earthquake’s epicenter was recorded. On her mind was the triple disaster in March 2011 when a devastating earthquake, tsunami and nuclear meltdown triggered one of the biggest nuclear disasters in history.
“I think everyone remembered March 2011 and the tsunamis, and that’s why there were so many of us [at the mall], probably thousands on each floor,” said Wakabayashi, 33, who paused every few minutes speaking on the phone Tuesday as aftershocks struck.
At least 48 people died, and scores more were injured or missing after the earthquake hit Monday, according to officials. Emergency crews rushed to rescue survivors from the rubble of collapsed buildings and burned homes Tuesday and to send supplies to damaged areas and survivors.
“So far, a large number of casualties, collapsed buildings, fires and other very large-scale damages have been confirmed,” Japanese Prime Minister Fumio Kishida said in a news conference Tuesday. “When it comes to saving lives and rescuing victims, we’re in a battle against time.”
The earthquake prompted the most severe category of tsunami warnings since 2011, when the catastrophic disaster killed at least 18,000 people after waves as high as 130 feet crashed into coastal towns, sweeping away cars and homes, and destroying multistory buildings.
Although all the tsunami warnings were later lifted, the Japan Meteorological Agency warned that more earthquakes with seismic intensities of around 7 could hit seriously affected areas over the coming week, especially the next two to three days. Officials are also concerned about landslides hitting Ishikawa prefecture because rain was forecast there Tuesday night.
More about the earthquake
A 7.5 magnitude earthquake struck western Japan on Monday afternoon, triggering tsunami alerts as far away as eastern Russia and prompting a warning for residents to evacuate affected coastal areas of Japan as soon as possible.
The earthquake struck at 4:10 p.m. local time at a depth of 10 kilometers (6 miles), around 42 kilometers (26 miles) northeast of Anamizu in Ishikawa prefecture, according to the United States Geological Survey (USGS).
The Japan Meteorological Agency immediately issued a tsunami warning along coastal regions of western Japan, and the first waves were reported hitting the coast just over 10 minutes later.
Some of the first reports came from the city of Wajima in Ishikawa prefecture, which saw tsunami waves of around 1.2 meters (3.9 feet) around 4:21 p.m., according to Japanese public broadcaster NHK. No immediate damage was reported.
Suzu city officials in Ishikawa told CNN that buildings have been damaged and there were reports of injuries. Police in the city said some people were trapped in damaged houses, according to NHK. No deaths have been reported so far.
A major tsunami warning was in place in the city of Noto in Ishikawa, with waves of around 5 meters expected, according to the Japan Meteorological Agency.
It was the first major tsunami warning to be issued since 2011, according to a spokesman from Ishikawa prefecture’s disaster management agency.
Under Japan’s tsunami warning system, waves expected less than 1 meter fall under “tsunami advisory,” while those expected above 3 meters fall under “tsunami warning” and waves expected above 5 meters fall under “major tsunami warning.”
In a televised address earlier, Japan’s Chief Cabinet Secretary Yoshimasa Hayashi urged people living in areas under tsunami warnings to evacuate to higher ground.
Footage from NHK showed cameras shaking vigorously as waves slammed into the coastline when the quake hit Ishikawa prefecture.
Houses were also rocked by the earthquake, with images showing collapsed roofs and shaken foundations.
Some services of Japan’s Shinkansen bullet trains were suspended.
Social media videos showed the aftermath of the quake, with store aisles strewn with goods. One clip filmed from inside a train showed signposts on the platform rocking intensely with the tremor.
More than 32,500 homes in Ishikawa prefecture were left without power following the quake, according to the Hokuriku Electric Power Company.
Japan’s Kansai Electric Power Company said in a statement on X that no abnormality had been reported at nuclear plants in the area.
The powerful quake was followed by a series of strong aftershocks, according to the USGS.
A 6.2 magnitude aftershock at a depth of 10 kilometers (6 miles) struck at 4:18 p.m. local time around 4 kilometers (2.4 miles) southwest of Anamizu, according to the USGS.
Some 58 kilometers (about 36 miles) away, tremors of 5.2 magnitude were recorded, and another 5.6 magnitude aftershock was reported closer to the initial quake, according to the USGS.
The country’s weather agency warned that powerful aftershocks could continue over the next three days to a week, and cautioned against potential building collapses and landslides.
Japanese Prime Minister Fumio Kishida said authorities were working to assess potential damage in affected areas.
“We have immediately set up the Prime Minister’s Office of Response – Disaster Counter Measure HQ. Putting human lives as priority, we are making every effort to assess damages – putting forth all efforts in disaster response,” the prime minister wrote on X, formerly Twitter, Monday.
Tsunami waves reported
Waves of less than a meter were reported in a number of other areas along Japan’s western coast, including 80 centimeter waves in Toyama city, 40 centimeter waves in Kashiwazaki and Kanazawa port, and 20 centimeter waves in Tobishima island and Sado island.
The South Korean Meteorological Administration said it was watching for possible sea level changes in the east coast areas of Gangneung, Yang Yang and Goseong of Gangwon Province and Pohang City.
A tsunami threat was also declared in the eastern Russian cities of Vladivostok, Nakhodka, and the island of Sakhalin – as the areas face the Sea of Japan – Russian state media TASS reported. No evacuations have been reported so far.
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