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A powerful earthquake struck Japan's west coast, killing at least 4 people


A powerful earthquake has struck Japan's west coast, killing at least four people and triggering tsunami warnings.



UNIDENTIFIED PERSON #2: (Non-English language spoken).

KELLY: This was the moment that the earthquake hit a shrine complex in the region. The ground started swaying. People screamed in fear, and then the shrine columns collapsed and shattered. The earthquake has erased New Year's festivities. Japan's government is telling people to remain vigilant about possible further quakes. NPR's Anthony Kuhn joins us from Seoul. Hey there, Anthony.


KELLY: So that moment we just heard when the quake hit - tell me more about what happened in that moment.

KUHN: Well, this was just after 4 p.m. local time. It was in Ishikawa Prefecture on Japan's west coast. And as you could hear, a 7.6 magnitude quake shakes things pretty hard. People were crouching on floors. They were running out of buildings. They were covering their heads. Tsunami warnings were issued for pretty much the length of the west coast on Japan's main islands. The quake was also felt in Tokyo, and there were even tsunami warnings as far away as North and South Korea as well as cities in Russia's far east.

KELLY: And what about damage? What do we know?

KUHN: Well, it got dark just after the quake. The sun has just come up now in Japan, and the extent of the damage will become clear. But we know that some buildings on the Noto Peninsula of Ishikawa Prefecture collapsed, injuring or burying some people. Many homes lost water and electricity. Some cellphone networks went down. At least one big fire was started. Also, streets and roads buckled. There was some flooding and landslides. Flights were cancelled, and several bullet train lines were stopped. There are several nuclear power plants in the area. Those were checked, but they didn't find any damage. Luckily, the tsunamis were quite a bit smaller than the estimated 16-foot-high waves people told - people were told would be coming.

KELLY: Wow. Now, we were also saying the government has told people be vigilant. This may - there may be more coming. What else is the government doing to respond?

KUHN: They have taken in tens of thousands of people at evacuation centers. They have mobilized the military to provide relief and rescue. Three prefectures near the epicenter have applied a disaster relief law, which ensures that they will get the help they need. Japan's chief government spokesman, Yoshimasa Hayashi, described government efforts this way. Let's hear him.


YOSHIMASA HAYASHI: (Non-English language spoken).

KUHN: He says, "we will do our best to implement emergency disaster measures, giving top priority to saving lives and rescue operations." He added that, "we ask Japan's people to continue to be vigilant about further possible magnitude-seven earthquakes."

And in the U.S., President Joe Biden said that the U.S. is ready to assist Japan if needed.

KELLY: Anthony, as you know well, Japan has a lot of earthquakes. Do we know how this latest one compares to what they've experienced in past?

KUHN: Certainly not as the magnitude - not as bad as the magnitude 9 quake of 2011 that killed nearly 20,000 people. This quake did produce the first major tsunami warning since 2011. Last year marked a century since the Great Kanto earthquake of 1923 that killed nearly 150,000 people. Japanese cities are better built than then. But one often-cited figure is that there is a 70% chance of a major quake hitting Tokyo in the next 30 years, so Japan is preparing for the next big one.

KELLY: That is NPR's Anthony Kuhn reporting from Seoul on this latest development in Japan. Thank you so much.

KUHN: Thank you. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

NPR transcripts are created on a rush deadline by an NPR contractor. This text may not be in its final form and may be updated or revised in the future. Accuracy and availability may vary. The authoritative record of NPR’s programming is the audio record.

Anthony Kuhn is NPR's correspondent based in Seoul, South Korea, reporting on the Korean Peninsula, Japan, and the great diversity of Asia's countries and cultures. Before moving to Seoul in 2018, he traveled to the region to cover major stories including the North Korean nuclear crisis and the Fukushima earthquake and nuclear disaster.

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