Japan earthquake: Death toll rises to 55 with 'battle against time' to rescue those trapped

People in some areas were being urged to stay away from their homes because of a risk of more strong quakes

At least 55 people have died and 17 people were seriously injured after a series of powerful earthquakes hit western Japan on Monday.

Rescuers scrambled to save those buried under destroyed buildings. Aftershocks continued to shake Ishikawa prefecture and nearby areas a day after a magnitude 7.6 quake hit the area on New Year's Day.

People in some areas were being urged to stay away from their homes because of a risk of more strong tremors.

Japanese media reports said tens of thousands of homes were destroyed, and water, power and cell phone service were still down in some areas. 

A car is trapped at a partially collapsed road caused by a powerful earthquake near Anamizu Town, Ishikawa Prefecture. Credit: AP

Japan's military dispatched 1,000 soldiers to the disaster zones to join rescue efforts, Mr Kishida said, stressing they were facing "large-scale damage.”

Nuclear regulators said several nuclear plants in the region were operating normally. A major quake and tsunami in March 2011 caused three reactors to melt and release large amounts of radiation at a nuclear plant in northeastern Japan.

News videos showed rows of collapsed houses. Some wooden structures were flattened and cars were overturned.

On Monday, the Japan Meteorological Agency issued a major tsunami warning for Ishikawa and lower-level tsunami warnings or advisories for the rest of the western coast of Japan’s main island of Honshu, as well as for the northern island of Hokkaido.

A burnt car and debris are seen at a marketplace after a fire following strong earthquake. Credit: AP

The warning was downgraded several hours later, and all tsunami warnings were lifted as of early Tuesday. Waves measuring more than one metre (three feet) hit some places.

The agency warned that more major quakes could hit the area over the next few days.

Weather forecasters predicted rain, sparking worries about already crumbling buildings and infrastructure.

The region includes tourist spots famous for lacquerware and other traditional crafts, along with designated cultural heritage sites.

US president Joe Biden said in a statement that his administration was “ready to provide any necessary assistance for the Japanese people.”

Japan is frequently hit by earthquakes because of its location along the “Ring of Fire,” an arc of volcanoes and fault lines in the Pacific Basin.

Over the last day, the nation has experienced about a hundred aftershocks.

Toshitaka Katada, a University of Tokyo professor specialising in disasters, warned the situation remains precarious and unpredictable. The March 2011 quake and tsunami in northeastern Japan had been preceded by other quakes.

“This is far from over,” Mr Katada said.

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