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Teams in Japan assess the impact of earthquakes and powerful aftershocks

STEVE INSKEEP, HOST:

Now let's report on that New Year's Day earthquake in Japan. It was a magnitude 7.6 quake along Japan's western coast, and the death toll is up to at least 48. NPR's Anthony Kuhn reports.

ANTHONY KUHN, BYLINE: The quake struck Monday, shortly before dusk. Prime Minister Fumio Kishida said police, firefighters and military personnel worked through the night to rescue residents trapped in collapsed buildings.

(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED RECORDING)

PRIME MINISTER FUMIO KISHIDA: (Non-English language spoken).

KUHN: "Saving disaster victims' lives is a race against time," he told reporters before chairing an emergency government meeting. As Tuesday dawned, Japanese media helicopters flew over Wajima, a city near the quake's epicenter in Ishikawa prefecture on the country's west coast. A swath of mostly wooden homes in a centuries-old market area could be seen from the air still smoldering after burning through the night. Residents began to head home from evacuation centers in the morning as teams worked to restore damaged utilities and transportation infrastructure. Prime Minister Kishida said getting responders and equipment into areas near the epicenter was difficult.

(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED RECORDING)

KISHIDA: (Non-English language spoken).

KUHN: "Many people are working tirelessly to secure routes to deliver heavy machinery," he said. "They're working hard to clear broken roads and checking port safety to establish sea transport routes." Japan's government lifted tsunami warnings for most of the country's west coast. They were the first such warnings since a magnitude 9 quake hit Japan's east coast in 2011, killing nearly 20,000 people and triggering a nuclear disaster.

Several nuclear plants near Monday's quake's epicenter were inspected, but nothing abnormal was found. It's not clear whether this quake reveals anything about bigger quakes that experts believe could hit Japan in the coming decades, but seismic activity continues to rattle the area near the epicenter, with over a hundred aftershocks so far. Prime Minister Kishida said residents need to watch out for magnitude 7 or bigger aftershocks in the coming days.

Anthony Kuhn, NPR News, Seoul. 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.