Japan earthquake: At least 48 people dead

The extent of the damage following a massive earthquake along the Sea of Japan coast on New Year’s Day is becoming clear. We are providing regular updates here.

The earthquake has left at least 48 people dead in Ishikawa Prefecture.

Injuries are reported in the prefectures of Ishikawa, Niigata, Fukui, Toyama, and Gifu.

Wajima City, Ishikawa Prefecture

Fire department officials say 25 buildings, including houses have collapsed in Wajima City. They say 14 of the structures may have people trapped inside. Firefighters are trying to rescue them.

Meanwhile, the fire department says that the fire that broke out yesterday in Kawai Town in the center of the city is no longer at risk of spreading, but firefighters are still trying to put it out.

A total of about 200 buildings, including shops and houses, are believed to have been burned around Asaichi Street, a popular tourist spot. The buildings are located in an area about 280 meters square.

NHK staff flew over central Wajima City in a helicopter at around 7 a.m. Flames were coming out from several places. White smoke rose in wide areas, and fires can be seen.

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A structure believed to be a seven-story building is lying sideways.

A building is seen collapsed in Wajima City, Ishikawa Prefecture.

The fire department says it has received information that a building of a long-established Wajima lacquerware company in Kawai Town in Wajima City collapsed. It is trying to confirm the information.

In the city, the quake registered an intensity of upper 6 on the Japanese seismic scale. Most of the roads leading to the city have reportedly been left impassable after the earthquake.

Because of this, many officials of relevant organizations heading to the site have been stranded. They haven't been able to fully check the situation, and relief supplies are also in short supply.

Suzu City, Ishikawa Prefecture

Authorities in Suzu City say they have received about 53 reports of collapsed houses.

One building believed to be a temple has also been completely destroyed. Graves in the surrounding area were also toppled.

Aerial footage at around 7:30 a.m. shows the damage in Suzu City, Ishikawa Prefecture.

Several boats had capsized at the city's port.

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Prefectural government officials say at least 60 people have been taken to hospitals.

They also say they have received about 50 reports of people trapped in collapsed buildings. Firefighters are conducting rescue operations.

NHK aerial footage from around 1 p.m. shows the words "SOS" made using folding chairs at a facility related to Kanazawa University in Misaki Town.

An SOS message made using folding chairs in Misaki Town, Suzu City

Kanazawa City, Ishikawa Prefecture

At least three houses on a slope in a residential area of Kanazawa have tilted or are damaged.

Kanazawa City
Kanazawa City

City officials have been checking the situation at the site. They say the surrounding roads are closed.

Nanao City, Ishikawa Prefecture

A massive landslide is believed to have occurred on a mountain in Nanao City. Aerial footage taken by NHK around 10 a.m. shows several places with bare mountain surfaces.

Shika Town, Ishikawa Prefecture

The maximum seismic intensity of 7 on the Japanese scale was observed on Monday in Shika Town.

Homes were seen with smashed windows and roof damage. The garage of one house had collapsed.

The prefectural government says it has received reports of damage to Togi Hospital. Officials at the facility say about 70 patients will need to be transported elsewhere.

Himi City, Toyama Prefecture

Concrete block walls at multiple houses have collapsed in Kitaomachi in Himi City, struck with an intensity of upper 5. Cracked roads, and liquefaction has also occurred in some areas. The district is home to many old wooden buildings.

A two-story wooden house has collapsed from the first floor. The fire department says that 3 people in their 60s who were in the collapsed house at the time were rescued safely and are not injured.

Niigata City, Niigata Prefecture

The road that runs through rice fields in the countryside in Nishikan Ward in Niigata City has been closed to traffic after cracks have left the surface uneven. Several utility poles are tilted over or have fallen onto the road.

Joetsu City, Niigata Prefecture

Huts along Naoetsu beach have been damaged or completely washed away, with debris strewn across the coastline. A road leading to the area is currently closed.

A damaged building along Naoetsu beach

500 people stranded at Noto Airport

Noto Airport

Land ministry officials say about 500 people are stranded in a parking lot at Noto Airport. They are said to be waiting in buses and other vehicles after the terminal building sustained extensive damage.

Food and blankets are reportedly being provided, but nearby roads are unusable.

The tremors have caused several cracks as long as 10 meters on the runway.

Officials say the airport will be closed until at least Thursday. Repair workers are currently unable to reach the facility due to road damage.

Electricity supply issues at Shika nuclear plant

Shika nuclear power plant in Ishikawa Prefecture

Officials at Hokuriku Electric Power Company say the system to supply electricity to the Shika nuclear power plant remains partially unusable.

Both reactors at the facility had been taken offline long before Monday's quakes. The officials say seismic activity of upper 5 on the Japanese scale was observed in a basement floor of the No.1 reactor building.

They say two transformers used to receive electricity are experiencing problems due to damaged pipes, with oil for insulation and cooling leaking out.

They say both reactors are receiving electricity from other means, adding that emergency diesel generators have enough fuel to last seven days.

Analysis of causes

Experts have been observing greater seismic activity under the Noto Peninsula for the past several years. They believe one cause is the subterranean movement of fluids.

Professor Takuya Nishimura of the Disaster Prevention Research Institute of Kyoto University, who has been analyzing the situation, says the fluids may have triggered the New Year's Day earthquake. He says careful attention should be paid to further such activity over a wider area.

Based on his studies of crustal deformations and seismic movements, Nishimura says the Noto Peninsula has become more active since 2020. He says fluids are flowing about 15km underground, making the surrounding faults slippery and stimulating seismic movement. However, Nishimura points out the areas affected by the quake were greater than previous observations pointed to.

"Earlier seismic activity around Noto was confined to a width of about 30km east to west, but this magnitude 7.6 earthquake occurred over a much wider area," he says. "Seismic activity triggered by underground fluids may have released energy that had been accumulating in surrounding areas."

Nishimura called for caution. "Earthquakes are increasingly likely not only around the epicenter of this quake, but also in areas further east and west. We need to remain vigilant about earthquakes and tsunami for some time."

'Active fault may have shifted over a 100km stretch'

Professor Toda Shinji of Tohoku University, an expert on the mechanisms of faults and earthquakes, says the active fault itself may have shifted over more than a 100km stretch from east to west. He also called for greater vigilance, saying the area surrounding the fault is also prone to earthquakes.

In light of the scale of the January 1 quake, as well as his other investigations of active faults, Toda concluded the following: "This fault began to shift around the city of Suzu, but it appears to have expanded 50 kilometers northeast toward Sado City and 50 kilometers west toward Wajima City, making a total fault length of 100 kilometers or more. The energy of the earthquake was about five times that of the main quake that hit Kumamoto (in 2016), and the tremors were extremely strong over a wide area."

He also urged caution.
"This was a major earthquake on an active fault line, and there will be many more quakes in the future," he says. "A large earthquake that strikes under the sea also raises the possibility of further tsunami, so it is vital to continue paying close attention."