The death toll from the earthquake in Japan has risen to 55

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Japan has sent 10,000 of its military forces to rescue and relief efforts after a powerful earthquake struck the west coast on New Year's Day, killing at least 55 people and injuring dozens.

Prime Minister Fumio Kishida said on Tuesday that authorities were in a “war against time” to respond to the emergency, as tsunami warnings from the day and the previous night were lifted to allow a more complete picture of the disaster.

“We are going to continue our efforts overnight to ensure that we can get the necessary supplies and personnel to those areas by fully mobilizing not only ground transportation, but also air and sea,” Kishida said.

Rescuers searched for survivors in the seven-story building that collapsed on its side, as well as the remains of more than 100 houses that caught fire after the earthquake and its aftermath.

Their efforts have been hampered by significant damage to roads and other infrastructure, particularly in the worst-hit area of ​​the Noto Peninsula in central Japan.

Authorities on Tuesday warned people to evacuate their homes in some areas due to the risk of continued tremors. © Kyoto/AP

Officials said 55 people had died in the worst-hit Ishikawa prefecture. 20 of them died in the city of Suzu, 24 in the city of Wajima, where a large fire broke out at a market popular with tourists.

“Our city is in a state of disaster,” said Suzu's mayor, Masahiro Izumiya. “Water and electricity have been cut off in the entire area and we are worried that the situation will continue for a long time.”

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Aerial footage from Japanese media showed large landslides, collapsed coastal roads, fallen trees and a long defensive sea wall in a port city that appeared to have collapsed during Monday's tsunami.

Other images showed smoke billowing from flattened wooden houses, flooded streets and dozens of overturned boats across an area that is largely unindustrialized but has a significant fishing fleet.

The first earthquake, measuring 7.6 on the Richter scale, struck Noto in Ishikawa Prefecture on Monday afternoon. It caused tsunami waves about 1 meter high along Japan's west coast, prompting residents to flee to higher ground and leave their homes without access to electricity, water and mobile service.

GM030104_24X Japan earthquake map

Nearly 200 aftershocks further complicated efforts to restore power and other infrastructure. Tens of thousands of residents in Ishikawa are housed in school gymnasiums and other public buildings.

The earthquake struck during Japan's busy holiday season, when families celebrate the New Year with large family gatherings. Train service has been disrupted and Noto Airport, near the epicenter, will remain closed until at least Thursday, officials said.

More than 33,000 homes in the prefecture were without power on Tuesday, according to the Hokuriku Electric Power Company. As many were left without water, people relied on water trucks and emergency tanks.

Ishikawa has a population of 1.1 million, with a high proportion of elderly people. Many of its cities and villages are surrounded by Japan's estimated 10 million vacant homes, many of which are in severe disrepair and at risk of further collapse.

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