A catastrophic 7.6 magnitude earthquake struck central Japan around 4:10pm local time on January 1st, 2024. The extremely shallow quake originated off the coast of Ishikawa Prefecture, with an epicenter located approximately 86 km north of the city of Takaoka in Toyama Prefecture. According to the Japan Meteorological Agency (JMA), the quake registered a maximum intensity of 7 on the Japanese seismic scale in parts of Ishikawa. The United States Geological Survey (USGS) also measured the massive temblor at magnitude 7.6. Multiple strong aftershocks followed, including a 6.2 magnitude quake shortly after the main shock. Over 50 total earthquakes above magnitude 3.2 shook the region throughout the afternoon and evening.
Tsunami Warnings Issued
The significant seismic activity prompted Japanese authorities to issue emergency tsunami warnings for the Sea of Japan coast, stretching hundreds of kilometers from Niigata to Hokkaido. Initial tsunami waves measuring over 4 feet high made landfall along parts of the coast within 30 minutes of the earthquake. Officials warned that subsequent waves could reach up to 16 feet, urging residents to evacuate areas at risk of inundation immediately.
Widespread Damage Reported
The violent shaking triggered by the earthquake caused substantial damage across central Japan. Numerous buildings partially collapsed as far away as Tokyo, nearly 300 miles from the epicenter. Fires broke out in the cities of Wajima and Kanazawa, with dozens of homes sustaining damage. Landslides also occurred in several mountainous areas of Ishikawa Prefecture. Initial reports indicated at least 6 buildings had collapsed, with people trapped inside the rubble. Around 30,000 households lost electricity as power infrastructure took a hit. Several major highways closed due to large cracks in the roadway or other earthquake damage. Bullet train service also shut down between Tokyo and impacted regions along the Sea of Japan.
The earthquake’s tremors managed to reach as far as Tokyo Disney Resort, located over 160 miles south of the epicenter. Tokyo Disneyland and DisneySea momentarily suspended operations during the earthquake as a safety precaution. Flooding occurred in parking areas, prompting the parks to keep nearly 20,000 guests on-site overnight, since public transportation had ceased operations. Minor damage took place throughout the resort, including power outages, a small fire, and structural damage to buildings. The parks conducted safety inspections before reopening the next day. Back in 2011, Tokyo Disneyland remained closed for over a month due to a devastating 9.1 earthquake and resulting tsunami. Thankfully, damage appears less extensive from today’s disaster. But the resort may close again if severe aftershocks continue plaguing the region.
Ongoing Aftershock Risk
According to Japan’s meteorological agency, the risk of additional earthquakes remains substantially elevated over the next several days. Officials warn that aftershocks as high as magnitude 7 are possible, which could produce further tsunami flooding. The region has experienced heightened seismic activity since a series of major earthquakes struck Ishikawa three years ago. Today’s event significantly compounds the instability in this part of the country fault network. Residents are encouraged to continue following emergency information and evacuation orders, as the situation remains dangerous for coastal communities. With the death toll still unknown, Japan faces a long road to recovery from this disaster as 2024 begins.