Japan Earthquake Rescue Efforts Hampered as Death Toll Rises

Rescue teams in Japan are facing significant challenges reaching isolated areas struck by a powerful earthquake on New Year’s Day, with the death toll surpassing 20 people. The disaster toppled buildings, triggered tsunamis, and left tens of thousands of homes without power.

The quake, measuring 7.6 in magnitude, occurred on Monday afternoon, prompting coastal residents to flee to higher ground. Reports indicate that tsunami waves swept cars and houses into the sea, causing major damage along the west coast of Honshu island.

Thousands of army personnel, firefighters, and police officers from across the country have been dispatched to the worst-hit area in the Noto peninsula, Ishikawa prefecture. However, rescue efforts are being hindered by badly damaged and blocked roads, making it challenging to assess the full extent of the fallout.

Prime Minister Fumio Kishida emphasized the urgency of the situation during an emergency disaster meeting on Tuesday, stating, “The search and rescue of those impacted by the quake is a battle against time.” Wrecked roads are particularly impeding access to the northern tip of the Noto peninsula.

While the fire and disaster management agency has officially confirmed six deaths, local authorities report over 20 casualties with many more trapped in collapsed buildings. Firefighters are contending with blazes in several cities, and the agency warns of the possibility of more strong aftershocks in the coming days.

Residents in affected areas describe the violent shaking, with some narrowly escaping toppled homes. Many transportation services, including rail, ferries, and flights, have been suspended, compounding the challenges faced by rescue teams. Noto airport remains closed, leaving 500 people stranded in its parking lot.

World leaders, including President Joe Biden, have sent condolence messages, offering assistance to Japan during this difficult time. The Japanese government has evacuated around 100,000 people, providing shelter in sports halls and school gymnasiums.

As rescue efforts intensify, concerns also arise about Japan’s nuclear industry. The earthquake comes at a sensitive time, as the country recently lifted an operational ban on the world’s largest nuclear plant. While nuclear plants along the Sea of Japan reported no irregularities, companies are assessing damage, and the situation remains precarious.

The disaster has prompted cancellations of public appearances, with the Imperial Household Agency canceling Emperor Naruhito and Empress Masako’s New Year appearance. Prime Minister Kishida has also postponed his scheduled New Year visit to Ise Shrine.