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Japan fights ‘battle against time’ to rescue earthquake survivors as death toll rises

At least eight people have reportedly died in an earthquake that struck Japan on New Year's Day as authorities on Tuesday struggled to assess the full extent of a disaster that wrecked buildings and roads and left thousands without power in freezing temperatures.

At least 8 reported dead as prime minister says country facing 'large-scale damage'

Multiple people killed in Japan earthquakes

9 hours ago

Duration 2:27

Officials say vigilance is still needed after a series of major, deadly earthquakes hit the west coast of Japan on Monday, the largest of which had a magnitude of 7.6. There are concerns buildings damaged by the quakes could become unsafe during aftershocks, so residents are being urged to seek out evacuation centres.

Japan on Tuesday struggled to assess the full extent of damage from an earthquake that struck its west coast, killing several people, wrecking buildings and roads and knocking out power to swathes of homes in freezing temperatures.

The quake with a preliminary magnitude of 7.6 struck in the middle of the afternoon Monday, prompting residents in some coastal areas to flee to higher ground as tsunami waves about one metre hit Japan's western seaboard.

Thousands of army personnel, firefighters and police officers from across the country have been dispatched to the worst-hit area in the relatively remote Noto peninsula.

However, rescue efforts have been hindered by badly damaged and blocked roads and one of the area's airports has been forced to close due to cracks in the runway. Many rail services and flights into the area have also been suspended.

"The search and rescue of those impacted by the quake is a battle against time," Prime Minister Fumio Kishida said during an emergency disaster meeting on Tuesday.

A fire burns among buildings during nighttime.

Kishida said rescuers were finding it very difficult to reach the northern tip of the Noto peninsula due to wrecked roads, and that helicopter surveys had discovered many fires and widespread damage to buildings and infrastructure.

Public broadcaster NHK said eight deaths had been reported in the hard-hit town of Wajima near the quake's epicentre, while in nearby Suzu some doctors were unable to reach a hospital that was relying on a backup generator for power.

The national police agency said six people had been confirmed dead, and the fire and disaster management agency said 19 people were in a state of cardiac arrest.

Nearly 100,000 ordered to evacuate homes

More than 90 tremors have been detected since the quake first hit on Monday, according to the Japan Meteorological Agency. The agency has warned more strong shocks could follow in the coming days.

A quake with a preliminary magnitude of 5.6 shook the area as Kishida was speaking on Tuesday.

People evacuate toward higher ground after a tsunami warning in Japan.

In Toyama city, around 100 kilometres from the worst-hit area, some shelves in convenience stores were empty as the disaster disrupted the delivery of goods across the region.

The Japanese government ordered more than 97,000 people to evacuate their homes on Monday night, sending them to makeshift evacuation centres in sports halls and school gymnasiums.

Many returned to their homes Tuesday as authorities lifted tsunami warnings.

On behalf of all Canadians, we extend our sympathies to all those who have been impacted by the earthquake in Japan, and we wish a speedy recovery to the injured. <br><br>Canadians in need of assistance should contact Global Affairs Canada by calling +1 613-996-8885.

&mdash;@melaniejoly

But around 33,000 households remained without power in Ishikawa prefecture early on Tuesday morning, according to Hokuriku Electric Power's website. Most areas in the northern Noto peninsula also have no water supply, NHK reported.

The Imperial Household Agency said it would cancel Emperor Naruhito and Empress Masako's slated New Year appearance on Tuesday following the disaster.

Collapsed buildings

Japanese news footage showed smoke and flames spewing from an area in Wajima city, Ishikawa prefecture, where there were reports of at least 30 collapsed buildings. Images carried by local media showed a building collapsing in a plume of dust in the coastal city of Suzu.

The quake also jolted buildings in the capital Tokyo, some 500 kilometres from Wajima on the opposite coast.

Japanese media reports showed a crowd of people, including a woman with a baby on her back, standing by huge cracks that had ripped through the pavement in Wajima.

A collapsed house following an earthquake.

Earthquake damage inside a building in Kaga, Japan.

A snowboarding tourist in Nagano, a city in central Japan, said he felt "the whole room shaking" when the earthquake struck. Baldwin Chia, 38, was in his hotel room in the Hakuba Alps when the first tremors hit.

"The TV was shaking. I had to keep everything on the table," he said.

Tsunami warnings in Japan and elsewhere

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.

The warning was downgraded several hours later, and all tsunami warnings were lifted as of early Tuesday.

In South Korea, the country's weather agency had urged residents in some eastern coastal towns to watch for possible changes in sea levels. The first tsunami to reach South Korea's coast was 67 centimetres, but it may increase in size after the initial waves and may continue for more than 24 hours, the agency said.

A man wearing a police uniform stands on a beach at nighttime.

South Korea's Gangwon province warned people to take precautions and evacuate to higher ground.

Tsunami warnings were also issued for parts of North Korea and Russia.

Japan is an extremely quake-prone nation, but a tsunami warning of the magnitude of Monday's had not been issued since a major quake and tsunami caused meltdowns at a nuclear plant in March 2011.

Government spokesperson Hayashi told reporters that nuclear plants in the affected area did not report any irregularities on Monday. Nuclear regulators said no rises in radiation levels were detected at the monitoring posts in the region.

WATCH | Strong aftershocks already reported in Japan:

At least 6 dead in Japanese earthquake

5 hours ago

Duration 2:31

A series of powerful earthquakes struck Japan's Ishikawa prefecture on New Year's Day, collapsing homes and killing at least six people. The fear of a tsunami has forced nearly 100,000 people from their homes.

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Credit belongs to : www.cbc.ca

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