New Year’s Day Earthquake Rocks Japan

( – At least fifty-five people are dead following a massive 7.6 magnitude earthquake off the western coast of Japan on New Year’s Day. That death toll is likely to rise over the coming days and weeks as thousands of homes were destroyed and hundreds of buildings have been leveled by the quake and resultant disasters like fires and flooding.

The massive quake registered 7.6 on the Richter scale and its epicenter was in Ishikawa prefecture on the country’s western coast. Urgent tsunami warnings were issued for much of the western coast line, especially in the surrounding prefectures of Niigata, Toyama, and Kanazawa.

Tens of thousands of homes in the area lost power and mobile phone communications have also been disrupted. Roads have also been blocked or destroyed entirely, complicating rescue efforts along with freezing temperatures.

Japanese media outlet NHK warned residents that water levels could be as high as 16.5 feet above normal in some areas. The Japanese Meteorological Agency also warned that additional quakes could strike over the following days.

A small fire at the Shika nuclear power plant triggered concerns of a potential nuclear disaster, but it was quickly contained and officials said there was no threat of radioactive material being released.

The incident echoes the 2011 earthquake and subsequent nuclear disaster at Fukushima Daiichi nuclear power plant. That event resulted in 18,000 deaths and years of recovery efforts along the country’s northeastern coast after a massive 130 foot tsunami destroyed homes, buildings, vehicles, and lives. The subsequent nuclear disaster leaked radioactive material into the surrounding area.

A fire raged through Wajima, a city in Ishikawa near the epicenter, destroying 200 buildings, according to a report by Kyodo News. At least 33,000 homes in Ishikawa and neighboring Niigata prefectures lost power.

Authorities across the Sea of Japan in South Korea registered a tsunami of 3.3 feet along their eastern coast, according to Reuters.

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