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Damage from the series of major earthwuakes to hit Japan today Kyodo News/AP

4 confirmed dead as Japan lowers tsunami alert after major earthquakes

The quakes, the largest of which had a magnitude of 7.6, started a fire and collapsed buildings on the west coast of Japan’s main island, Honshu.


FOUR PEOPLE HAVE been confirmed dead in the powerful earthquake that rocked Japan, according to the Kyodo news agency, which cited authorities in Ishikawa prefecture.


The news comes as Japan dropped the highest-level tsunami alert it issued following a series of major earthquakes today.

Residents in coastal areas however have been told not to return to their homes as there could still be deadly waves.

The quakes, the largest of which had a magnitude of 7.6, started a fire and collapsed buildings on the west coast of Japan’s main island, Honshu.

It remains unclear how many people might have been injured.

The Japan Meteorological Agency reported more than a dozen quakes in the Sea of Japan off the coast of Ishikawa and nearby prefectures shortly after 4pm (7am Irish time).

At least six homes were damaged by the quakes, with people trapped inside, government spokesman Yoshimasa Hayashi said.

A fire broke out in Wajima city, Ishikawa prefecture, and more than 30,000 households were without electricity, he said.

The agency initially issued a major tsunami warning for Ishikawa and lower-level tsunami warnings or advisories for the rest of the western coast of the island of Honshu, as well as the northernmost of its main islands, Hokkaido.

japan erthwuake Japan issued tsunami alerts and told people to evacuate seaside areas after a series of strong quakes on its western coastline Kyodo News / AP Kyodo News / AP / AP

The warning was downgraded to a regular tsunami several hours later, meaning the water could still reach up to three metres (10 feet).

Aftershocks could also hit the same area over the next few days, it said.

Japanese public broadcaster NHK TV initially warned that torrents of water could reach as high as five metres (16.5 feet).

NHK said the tsunami waves could keep returning, and warnings were continuing to be broadcast hours after the initial alert. Several aftershocks also shook the region.

Hayashi stressed that it was critical for people in coastal areas to get away from the oncoming tsunami.

“Every minute counts. Please evacuate to a safe area immediately,” he said.

People returning to get their wallets and other belongings have been known to be swept away and drowned even hours after the first evacuation warning.

People were evacuated to stadiums, where they are likely to have to stay for a few days.

Hayashi said no reports of deaths or injuries have been confirmed from the quakes, but added that the situation is still unclear.

Japan’s military was taking part in the rescue efforts, he said.

Japanese media footage showed people running through the streets, and red smoke spewing from a fire in a residential neighbourhood.

earthwuake 1 Cracks appear in the ground in Wajima, Ishikawa prefecture, following an earthquake Kyodo News / AP Kyodo News / AP / AP

Photos showed a crowd of people, including a woman with a baby on her back, standing beside huge cracks that had opened up in the pavement.

Some people suffered minor injuries when they tripped and fell while fleeing, or objects fell off shelves and hit them, according to NHK.

Bullet trains in the area were halted, although some parts of the service had been restored by evening.

Parts of the highway were also closed, and water pipes had burst, according to NHK. Some mobile phone services in the region were not working.

The Meteorological Agency said in a nationally broadcast news conference that more major earthquakes could hit the area over the next week, especially in the next two or three days.

More than a dozen strong quakes had been detected in the region, with risks of setting off landslides and houses collapsing, according to the agency.

Takashi Wakabayashi, a worker at a convenience store in Ishikawa prefecture, said some items had fallen from the shelves, but the biggest problem was the huge crowd of people who had arrived to stock up on bottled water, rice balls and bread.

“We have customers at three times the level of usual,” he said.

earthquake Earthquake damage to a shrine in Kanazawa, Ishikawa prefecture, Japan Kyodo News / AP Kyodo News / AP / AP

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

The Japanese government has set up a special emergency centre to gather information on the quakes and tsunami and relay them speedily to residents to ensure safety, Prime Minister Fumio Kishida told reporters.

Japan is an extremely quake-prone nation.

In March 2011, a major quake and tsunami caused meltdowns at a nuclear plant.

The latest warning was the first time since the 2011 disaster that a tsunami warning of this magnitude had been issued.

Government spokesman Hayashi told reporters that nuclear plants in the affected area had not reported any irregularities.

Nuclear regulators said no rises in radiation levels were detected at the monitoring posts in the region.

Additional reporting from Press Association and Jane Matthews.

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