The death toll from a powerful New Year's Day earthquake that struck Ishikawa Prefecture and surrounding areas in central Japan has surpassed 200, with over 100 people still missing, as a large-scale search operation started at a severely hit area, local authorities said Tuesday.

Local police will conduct the operation for several days, deploying around 100 personnel around a gutted market in Wajima, where a major blaze broke out following the magnitude-7.6 quake.

As of Tuesday afternoon, 202 people were confirmed dead with 102 unaccounted for, the prefectural government said. The figure includes six people who died after being evacuated and due to other disaster-related causes.

With over 26,000 people still sheltering in evacuation centers in Ishikawa Prefecture, concerns about the spread of infectious diseases have risen following reports of around a dozen infections with the novel coronavirus at three locations in the town of Shika, they said.

Police officers inspect the site of a famous market in Wajima in Ishikawa Prefecture on Jan. 9, 2024, that burned down following a strong earthquake in the central Japan prefecture and surrounding areas on Jan. 1. (Kyodo) ==Kyodo

At least 3,100 people, primarily in Wajima and the adjacent city of Suzu, are cut off due to severed roads and heavy snowfall, with the recovery of electricity, water supply, and other services still uncertain, they said.

While more than 250 elementary, junior high, and high schools in the prefecture resumed after winter break on Tuesday, over 90 schools, including those in Wajima and Suzu, could not start classes due to damaged facilities.

Aftershocks also continue to jolt the region, including a magnitude-6.0 quake registering lower 5 on Japan's seismic intensity scale of 7 in Nagaoka, Niigata Prefecture, around 6 p.m. Tuesday.

Defense Minister Minoru Kihara said Tuesday that the number of Self-Defense Forces personnel taking part in rescue operations had increased by around 200 to roughly 6,300.

At the Wajima market, around 200 buildings spanning some 48,000 square meters were destroyed in the fire, according to the municipal government and firefighters.

There were many wooden buildings in the over 1,000-year-old morning market that was popular with tourists.

Deaths from the quake, which registered a maximum 7 on the country's seismic intensity scale, were concentrated in Wajima and Suzu in the Noto Peninsula, while the number of people unaccounted for has fluctuated due to conflicting information.

People warm themselves in an elementary school gymnasium used as an evacuation center in Nanao in Ishikawa Prefecture on Jan. 9, 2024, following a strong earthquake in the central Japan prefecture and surrounding areas on Jan. 1. (Kyodo) ==Kyodo

The country's Geospatial Information Authority said Tuesday a reference station in Wajima shifted approximately 2 meters southwestward due to crustal deformation caused by the quake, surpassing the 1.2-meter westward movement observed at a different location in the city and thought to be the maximum when the authority announced it on Jan. 2.

Prime Minister Fumio Kishida is planning to make a visit to Ishikawa, his first since the quake, possibly on Saturday to assess the situation, a government source said.

On Tuesday, his Cabinet agreed to extend 4.74 billion yen ($33 million) from reserve funds under the fiscal 2023 budget to help finance relief measures such as steps for those affected to withstand the cold weather in the region.

The government also plans to increase reserve funds earmarked in the draft budget for the next fiscal year starting April from the current 500 billion yen to fund disaster recovery efforts, Kishida told a government task force meeting discussing emergency countermeasures.

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