The death toll from a series of strong earthquakes on Japan’s west coast has continued to rise. At least 30 people were killed in the severely affected Ishikawa prefecture, the Japanese television station NHK reported. The meteorological authority canceled a warning of tsunami waves that had been issued for the entire west coast of Japan.

The tremors caused significant damage. Around 100,000 people were asked to seek safety during the New Year celebrations.

The first particularly strong earthquake reached a magnitude of 7.6 shortly before nightfall on Monday afternoon. The epicenter was in the Noto Peninsula area of ​​Ishikawa. At daybreak, the emergency services tried to assess the full extent of the destruction and search for survivors. “The search and rescue of the people affected by the quake is a fight against time,” said Prime Minister Fumio Kishida on Tuesday at a meeting of the crisis team. More than 46,000 people in the prefectures and Toyama remained under evacuation Tuesday.

Damage makes the work of emergency services more difficult

Thousands of army personnel, firefighters and police officers from across the country were deployed to the worst-hit area on the relatively remote Noto Peninsula. However, rescue work was hampered by heavily damaged and blocked roads. One of the airports in the region had to be closed due to cracks in the runway. Numerous houses collapsed or fell victim to fires, streets were torn open, and power went out in tens of thousands of households.

Several people suffered injuries. In the hard-hit town of Wajima in Ishikawa, more than 200 homes and businesses caught fire the day before, local media reported. Low flames were still burning in places on Tuesday morning and firefighters were still on duty. Thick smoke hung over the area. Around 1,000 people were housed at an air force base in Wajima and provided with blankets, water and food, the government announced. Footage from NHK television showed a seven-story building in Wajima lying on its side.

Quakes continue

While the emergency services assessed the full extent of the destruction and began the initial clean-up work, the series of earthquakes continued. The weather agency had issued a strong warning of a possible five-meter-high tsunami for Ishikawa the day before, which was later lifted. For all other coastal regions in the west, tsunami warnings initially remained lower. Several tidal waves around one meter high hit the coast. By daybreak on Tuesday there were thick layers of brown mud on the streets in some places.

The tremors triggered landslides and trees fell onto roads. Several boats were lying keel-high in the harbor basin. There were reports of burst water pipes. The government in Tokyo set up a crisis team and the armed forces were called in to provide disaster relief in Ishikawa. The meteorological authority warned of further strong quakes this week, especially in the first two or three days after the particularly severe tremor on New Year’s Day.

In March 2011, a magnitude 9 earthquake triggered a massive tsunami that devastated large areas in the northeast of the country and killed around 20,000 people. There was a disaster at the Fukushima Daiichi nuclear power plant. The Far Eastern island kingdom of Japan is one of the most earthquake-prone countries in the world.