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.Update January 3
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.
Japan quake toll rises to 73 as weather hampers rescuersUpdate January 6
Japanese rescuers struggled with heavy rain, blocked roads and aftershocks on Wednesday following a powerful earthquake that killed at least 73 people and left tens of thousands without power or running water.
Throughout the Ishikawa prefecture on the main island of Honshu sirens blared as emergency vehicles tried to navigate roads blocked by rocks and fallen trees.
The Noto Peninsula was worst hit by the 7.5-magnitude quake on January 1, with port towns such as Wajima and Suzu resembling war zones with streets of mud, flattened houses and sunken boats.
"I can never go back there. It's unlivable now," 75-year-old Yoko Demura said from a shelter in the city of Nanao where she went after her home was reduced to rubble.
"It makes me sad and I will miss it," she told AFP.
There were "almost no houses standing" in one town in the Suzu area, said municipal mayor Masuhiro Izumiya.
"About 90 percent of the houses (in that town) are completely or almost completely destroyed... the situation is really catastrophic," he said, according to broadcaster TBS.
The regional government confirmed 73 people are dead and nearly 400 injured, but the toll is expected to rise.
More than 33,400 people were in shelters, and at least 200 buildings had collapsed.
Around 30,000 households were still without power in Ishikawa prefecture, the local utility said, and over 110,000 households left without running water.
Aftershocks threatened to bury more homes and block roads crucial for relief shipments, as the death toll from the earthquakes that rattled Japan's western coastline this past week rose to 126 on Saturday.Update January 9
Among the dead was a 5-year-old boy who had been recovering from injuries after boiling water spilled on him during Monday's 7.6 magnitude earthquake. His condition suddenly worsened and he died Friday, according to Ishikawa prefecture, the hardest-hit region.
Officials warned that roads, already cracked from the dozens of earthquakes that continue to shake the area, could collapse completely. That risk was growing with rain and snow expected overnight and Sunday.
The death toll on Saturday rose to 126. Wajima city has recorded the highest number of deaths with 69, followed by Suzu with 38. More than 500 people were injured, at least 27 of them seriously.
The temblors left roofs sitting haplessly on roads and everything beneath them crushed flat. Roads were warped like rubber. A fire turned a neighborhood in Wajima to ashes.
More than 200 people were still unaccounted for, although the number has fluctuated. Eleven people were reported trapped under two homes that collapsed in Anamizu.
Death toll from Japan quake rises above 200
The death toll from the powerful earthquake that flattened parts of central Japan on January 1 passed 200 on Tuesday, with just over 100 still unaccounted for, authorities said.
The 7.5 magnitude quake destroyed and toppled buildings, caused fires and knocked out infrastructure on the Noto Peninsula on Japan's main island Honshu just as families were celebrating New Year's Day.
Eight days later thousands of rescuers were battling blocked roads and poor weather to clear the wreckage as well as reach almost 3,500 people still stuck in isolated communities.
Ishikawa regional authorities released figures on Tuesday showing that 202 people were confirmed dead, up from 180 earlier in the day, with 102 unaccounted for, down from 120.
On Monday, authorities had more than tripled the number of missing to 323 after central databases were updated, with most of the rise related to badly hit Wajima.
But since then "many families let us know that they were able to confirm safety of the persons (on the list)", Ishikawa official Hayato Yachi told AFP.
With heavy snow in places complicating relief efforts, as of Monday almost 30,000 people were living in around 400 government shelters, some of which were packed and struggling to provide adequate food, water and heating.
Almost 60,000 households were without running water and 15,600 had no electricity supply.
Road conditions have been worsened by days of rain that have contributed to an estimated 1,000 landslides.