Powerful earthquakes struck central Japan on Monday, January 1, prompting authorities to issue a tsunami alert and order the population of the affected area to take refuge on higher ground.

“All residents should evacuate to higher ground immediately,” national broadcaster NHK said after the earthquake hit Ishikawa Prefecture’s Noto Peninsula at around 4:10 p.m. local time (8:10 a.m. from Paris). “We realize that your homes and possessions are dear to you, but your lives are more important than anything else. Run to the highest areas possible,” an NHK presenter added.

Waves more than five meters high could sweep through the area, according to the Japan Meteorological Agency (JMA). “Dangerous tsunami waves (…) are possible along the coast of Japan within a radius of 300 kilometers around the epicenter,” warned the Pacific Tsunami Warning Center (PTWC). According to the JMA, smaller waves have already started to hit the Japanese coast.

No anomalies have yet been reported in Japanese nuclear power plants. “It has been confirmed that there are no anomalies at the Shika nuclear power plant [located in Ishikawa Prefecture] or other sites at this time,” the government spokesperson said , Yoshimasa Hayashi.

Series of earthquakes

The largest earthquake in this series, occurring at 4:10 p.m. local time (8:10 a.m. Paris time), at the northeastern tip of the peninsula, was initially recorded at magnitude 7.4, before the -this is revised upwards: 7.5 according to the United States Institute of Geophysics (USGS); 7.6 according to the JMA.

Other earthquakes struck a little before or just after the same peninsula: a first, of magnitude 5.7, at 4:06 p.m. local time (8:06 a.m. Paris time) inland; another, magnitude 6.1, at 4:18 p.m. (8:18 a.m. Paris time); then three more, of magnitudes between 4.5 and 4.8 until 4:32 p.m. (8:32 a.m. Paris time).

Located on the Pacific Ring of Fire, Japan is one of the countries where earthquakes are most frequent. The Archipelago therefore applies extremely strict construction standards, so that buildings are generally resistant to powerful earthquakes. Residents are used to this type of situation, for which they prepare regularly.

But Japan is haunted by the memory of the terrible 9.0 magnitude earthquake, followed by a giant tsunami, which occurred in March 2011 on the northeast coast of the country, a disaster which left some 20,000 people dead or missing. This disaster also led to the Fukushima nuclear accident, the worst since Chernobyl in 1986.