Tokyo, Jan 2 (EFE).- Japanese authorities increased the death toll to at least 48 people Tuesday from an earthquake that struck the country’s western coast, according to state broadcaster NHK.
Monday’s magnitude 7.6 tremor had its epicenter around the Noto peninsula, forcing the activation of a tsunami alert that was in effect for about 18 hours due to possible tide rises on the western coast of the islands of Honshu and Hokkaido and the north of the island of Kyushu.
There are already 48 fatalities caused by the earthquake, many of them in the city of Wajima, a town of about 27,000 inhabitants in the Ishikawa prefecture that is among the most affected because it is closeness to the epicenter.
According to the latest noon figures, some 32,000 people have been evacuated in Ishikawa Prefectures, Toyama and other nearby areas, while air transport services and local trains remain suspended.
Wajima has suffered significant structural damage and fires, and fatalities include seven deaths at the municipal hospital, according to the Kyodo news agency, which said that at least 25 building had been destroyed.
It is believed that people may be trapped under the remains of 14 of these buildings, public broadcaster NHK added, citing the local fire department, which is carrying out rescue operations.
Footage taken by NHK on Tuesday morning showed a seven-story building collapsed and smoke rising in a central area of Wajima known for its morning market.
A fire also broke out that affected more than 200 structures and persists in some areas, although chances of it spreading further are slim, according to Ishikawa prefecture officials.
The debris on the roads, as well as the continuous aftershocks of the earthquake, are making rescue efforts difficult, they said.
Japanese Prime Minister Fumio Kishida said at a press conference that it is being extremely difficult for vehicles to access the areas in the north of the Noto Peninsula and that the government had already sent supplies by ship.
He added that he himself would be in charge of disaster management.
“I will be the general director, I will mobilize the Self-Defense Forces, the Japan Coast Guard, the firefighters and the police,” Kishida said.
About 1,000 Japanese troops are participating in rescue operations and as of 9:30am local time (0:30 GMT), more than 46,000 people remained evacuated in Ishikawa and Toyama prefectures.
Chief Cabinet Secretary Yoshimasa Hayashi said at a press conference that there had been no report of direct damage to the country’s nuclear power plants.
South Korean President Yoon Suk-Yeol, in a message to Kishida, offered his condolences to the victims and their relatives and expressed solidarity with Japan for the damage caused by the tremor, according to the South Korean Presidential Office.
Yoon also offered assistance for recovery efforts in the affected area and hoped that the inhabitants of these areas could return to their normal lives as soon as possible.
The number of homes without electricity, mainly in Ishikawa, is currently estimated at tens of thousands.
The rises in sea level detected in different locations, and even in neighboring South Korea, did not cause significant damage. EFE mca-asb/lds/sc