Noto Peninsula Earthquake: Make Every Effort to Find People under Collapsed Houses / Protecting Evacuees from Cold Also Essential

A massive earthquake struck the Noto Peninsula on New Year’s Day. The full extent of the damage is still unclear. The central and local governments must do their utmost to rescue victims and provide support for evacuees.

The earthquake that hit the Noto region of Ishikawa Prefecture on Monday evening registered a magnitude of 7.6. It measured 7, the highest on the Japanese intensity scale in the town of Shika in the prefecture, and upper 6 in such municipalities as the cities of Nanao and Wajima in the prefecture. Many houses and buildings collapsed, fires broke out, and tsunami reached coastal areas.

Full damage unclear

Many deaths have already been confirmed in Ishikawa Prefecture. The damage continued to grow on Tuesday, the day after the earthquake. Many people are believed to have been trapped under houses and are waiting to be rescued.

The Noto Peninsula region is intensely cold at night. Rescue efforts are battling against time. Fire departments, the police and the Self-Defense Forces are urged to do their best to find and rescue trapped people.

The central government has set up an emergency disaster headquarters. Relief teams are said to be struggling to enter the region due to such factors as cutoff roads. Efforts should be made to gather and analyze information, and air and sea routes must be utilized to deal with the situation.

Firefighting activities faced extreme difficulties. In an area surrounding the Wajima Morning Market Street, a well-known tourist spot, fire burned throughout the night, and 200 structures are estimated to have been destroyed in the blaze.

Strong winds caused the fire to spread quickly, and it is possible that the fire could not be put out sufficiently due to severed roads and cutoff water supplies. Aftershocks have been continuing, so care must be taken to prevent more fires from breaking out.

The epicenter of the earthquake was shallow at a depth of 16 kilometers, and tsunami washed over many areas. In coastal locations such as the city of Suzu, Ishikawa Prefecture, there are traces of houses that were washed away.

Many people may have fled to higher ground after a major tsunami warning was issued, but the extent of human casualties must be swiftly confirmed.

Support for evacuees is also essential. In some areas, the electricity and running water have stopped, and residents are taking refuge in evacuation centers, fearful of aftershocks.

Distribution services have been disrupted, and supermarkets and convenience stores have been unable to open for business. The central and local governments should continue their efforts to deliver water and food to the affected areas, using drones and other means to prevent shortages.

Prepare blankets, heaters

Measures against the cold are especially important in the latest disaster. Evacuees will have to contend with severe cold in school gymnasiums and community centers being used as evacuation centers. Blankets and heaters must be provided as soon as possible.

In an environment where many people are crowded together, it is important to remember to take preventive measures against the spread of COVID-19 and influenza and to secure spaces where privacy can be maintained.

Earthquakes have been occurring frequently in the Noto region since 2020. In May last year, there was a magnitude 6.5 earthquake with an intensity of upper 6 on the Japanese scale. The Monday quake exceeded the Great Hanshin Earthquake’s magnitude of 7.3, making it the largest for the region since 1885, the earliest year for which there are statistics.

It is not uncommon for a major earthquake to be followed by another one on the same scale. The Japan Meteorological Agency is urging people to be on alert for earthquakes of magnitude 7 or so for about a week. For the time being, evacuees are being asked not to return to buildings that have been damaged and are prone to collapse.

All tsunami advisories were lifted on Tuesday. However, small fluctuations in the sea level are reportedly still occurring. Continued caution is required when working at sea.

In the Noto region, there have been upheavals in the surface of the ground. Experts have said this is a situation in which “fluids” such as water rise from deep underground, affecting the movement of surrounding faults and making earthquakes more likely to occur.

However, the detailed mechanisms that cause major earthquakes are not yet known under current science. The latest earthquake has once again illustrated the reality that a magnitude 7-class earthquake could occur anywhere and at any time in Japan.

The central government and local governments in areas that were not hit by the disaster should engage in “push” support, meaning they should actively send supplies without waiting for requests from the affected areas.

Municipalities that have experienced disasters in the past know well what disaster-affected people need. Such municipalities should take the initiative in sending necessary supplies such as medicines, diapers and sanitary products.

Misinformation on social media

A great deal of fake or dubious information is being posted on social media regarding the latest earthquake. In some cases, videos of what appeared to be altered footage of the tsunami caused by the Great East Japan Earthquake were posted as if they were videos from the latest earthquake.

False information disseminated during disasters interferes with lifesaving and rescue activities. Prime Minister Fumio Kishida also made an unusual call for people to “strictly refrain” from posting misinformation. Not only must such heinous postings stop, but people who read false rumors must refrain from carelessly spreading them.

(From The Yomiuri Shimbun, Jan. 3, 2024)