After a series of major earthquakes rocked Japan on Monday, the government downgraded its highest-level tsunami alert but warned residents not to return home as deadly waves and aftershocks could still linger.
The Japan Meteorological Agency reported more than a dozen strong quakes – including a magnitude of 7.6 – in the Japan Sea off the coast of Ishikawa and nearby prefectures starting shortly after 4 p.m. local time.
The meteorological agency initially issued a major tsunami warning for Ishikawa and lower-level tsunami warnings or advisories for the rest of the western coast of Honshu, as well as for the northernmost of the country’s main islands, Hokkaido.
The warning was downgraded to a regular tsunami several hours later, meaning the sea could still generate waves of up to 10 feet. Aftershocks could also slam the same area over the next few days, the agency said.
More than a dozen strong quakes had been detected in the region, with risks of setting off landslides and houses collapsing. The quakes started a fire and collapsed buildings on the west coast of Japan’s main island, Honshu.
Japanese public broadcaster NHK TV initially warned that torrents of water could reach as high as 16.5 feet. The network continued to air warnings hours later as aftershocks rocked the region.
Footage of the chaos showed people running through the streets, and red smoke spewing from a fire in a residential neighborhood. Photos showed a crowd of people, including a woman with a baby on her back, standing by huge cracks that had ripped through the pavement.
Some people sustained 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 were restored by evening. Parts of a highway were also closed, and water pipes had burst, according to NHK. Some cell phone services in the region weren’t working.
At least six homes off the coast of Ishikawa were damaged by the quakes, with people trapped inside, government spokesman Yoshimasa Hayashi said. A fire broke out in Wajima city, Ishikawa Prefecture, and electricity was out for more than 30,000 households.
Hayashi stressed that people needed to move away from coastal areas. He said there were no confirmed reports of deaths or injuries were confirmed from the quakes. Japan’s military was taking part in rescue efforts.
The Japanese government has set up a special emergency center 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, but a tsunami warning of the magnitude of Monday’s had not been issued since a major quake and tsunami caused meltdowns at a nuclear plant in March 2011.
Hayashi told reporters that nuclear plants in the affected area did not report any irregularities Monday. Nuclear regulators said no rises in radiation levels were detected at the monitoring posts in the region.
The Associated Press contributed to this report.