Powerful earthquakes leave at least eight dead and destroy buildings along Japan’s western coast

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BY HIRO KOMAE AND YURI KAGEYAMA

WAJIMA, Japan (AP) — A series of powerful earthquakes hit western Japan, leaving at least eight people dead and damaging buildings, vehicles and boats, with officials warning people in some areas on Tuesday to stay away from their homes because of a risk of more strong quakes.

Aftershocks continued to shake Ishikawa prefecture and nearby areas a day after a magnitude 7.6 temblor slammed the area on Monday afternoon.

Eight people were confirmed dead in Wajima city, officials said. Seven others were seriously injured, while damage to homes was so great that it could not immediately be assessed, they said.

Kyodo news agency reported at least 13 deaths had been confirmed.

“Saving lives is our priority and we are fighting a battle against time,” Prime Minister Fumio Kishida said Tuesday. “It is critical that people trapped in homes get rescued immediately.”

A quake with a preliminary magnitude of 5.6 shook the area as he was speaking.

Japan’s military dispatched 1,000 soldiers to the disaster zones to join rescue efforts, Kishida said, stressing they were facing “large-scale damage.” Details of damaged homes were still under investigation, he said.

Firefighters continued to battle a fire in Wajima city which reddened the sky with embers and smoke.

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. Half-sunken ships floated in bays where tsunami waves had rolled in, leaving a muddied coastline.

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. Waves measuring more than one meter (3 feet) hit some places.

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

People who were evacuated from their houses huddled in auditoriums, schools and community centers. Bullet trains in the region were halted, but service was being restored in some places. Sections of highways were closed, water pipes burst, and cellphone service was out in some areas.

U.S. 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.

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