Over 78 Dead, Hundreds Injured or Missing After Twin Quakes Strike Western Japan
A desperate search and rescue operation is underway in western Japan after two powerful earthquakes struck the region on New Year’s Day, leaving at least 78 dead, hundreds injured, and dozens missing.
The first 7.4-magnitude quake hit the coastal Fukui prefecture shortly after midnight on January 1st, causing widespread damage and triggering tsunami warnings. Just hours later, a second 6.2-magnitude quake struck neighboring Ishikawa prefecture, collapsing buildings and trapping residents under piles of rubble.
“It’s a race against time,” said rescue worker Fumio Hamada. “With heavy snow in the forecast and temperatures dropping, we have to move as fast as possible to pull people from the wreckage before hypothermia sets in.”
Devastating Damage Across Western Prefectures
The quakes caused extensive destruction across Fukui, Ishikawa, and Toyama prefectures along the Japan Sea coast. Landslides crushed homes while the shaking toppled centuries-old structures, historical castle towers, and the famed Keta Washi paper market. Fires broke out in some areas as natural gas lines ruptured.
“Barely a single household or building was left untouched,” said Yoshiki Otomo, a Fukui resident. “Parts of the city look like they were carpet bombed.”
Over 210,000 homes initially lost power across the impacted prefectures, prompting concerns over those trapped indoors without heat. Restoration efforts are underway but over 9000 homes remained without electricity as of January 3rd.
Desperate 72-Hour Rescue Window
Authorities say victims buried under rubble can typically survive 72 hours if temperatures are above freezing. But with heavy snow falling and overnight temperatures dipping below freezing, rescuers are in a desperate race to save as many lives as possible. Japan has deployed thousands of Self Defense Force personnel alongside police and firefighters.
“We’ve pulled children from the wreckage of their school, elderly from nursing homes, and dozens from their crumbled traditional wooden homes,” said rescue diver Kyoko Tanabe. “But sometimes, despite our best efforts, we can only recover the dead.”
The following table summarizes the current status across the impacted prefectures:
Officials warn these preliminary figures will likely rise as rescues continue and more damage is assessed across remote coastal villages.
Initial Tsunami Warnings Spark Chaos
The first massive quake triggered tsunami warnings across Japan’s northwest coast, sparking panicked evacuations from coastal regions. Although only small waves ultimately arrived onshore, the chaos resulted in additional casualties.
Over two dozen elderly nursing home residents perished from hypothermia or accidents after being evacuated onto snowy roads and fields. A family of four died from carbon monoxide poisoning after seeking shelter from the tsunami warning in an enclosed parking garage.
“The choice between drowning or freezing is an impossible one,” said Misakiyo Otomo, who lost three relatives after they evacuated from their Ishikawa coastal home. “We must review these policies to prevent such needless deaths in the future.”
Nuclear Plants Temporarily Impacted But Deemed Safe
The earthquakes temporarily cut power and halted operations at two regional nuclear plants – the Takahama and Ohi plants located over 100 miles from the epicenters – but regulators said all safety systems functioned properly. Both plants have resumed operations after safety checks and damage assessments.
The quakes’ epicenters were also located far from the Fukushima Daiichi plant, site of the 2011 meltdown, which reported no abnormalities. Nonetheless, the incident served as an urgent reminder to ensure operational safeguards and reviews of Japan’s other aging nuclear facilities.
Slow Recovery Ahead But Nation Vows to Rebuild
While aftershocks continue across the region, the focus now shifts from rescue to recovery. With tens of thousands displaced from uninhabitable homes, many survivors are taking shelter in school gymnasiums and hotel lobbies while the government scrambles to provide temporary housing.
“We have a monumental task ahead to rebuild these lives and cities,” said Prime Minister Sanae Takaichi during a visit to damaged areas. “But Japan is resilient. We vow not to rest until these communities are restored.”
The recovery will progress slowly, with damaged infrastructure hampering relief efforts. But the enduring spirit of Japan’s people suggests that though deeply scarred, the coast will prosper again.
“Sitting here right now, it’s hard to imagine anything blooming in spring,” said apple farmer Hideki Sasano, surveying his collapsed orchards in Fukui. “But the cherry blossoms will return to Fukui, as they always have – it’s a promise of rebirth.”
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