At least 73 people were killed in the powerful earthquake that jolted the Noto Peninsula and surrounding areas in central Japan on New Year's Day as rescuers raced against time to find and pull more survivors from collapsed buildings, amid chilling temperatures.

Two days have passed since the magnitude-7.6 quake caused extensive structural damage and fires in the city of Wajima in Ishikawa Prefecture on the Sea of Japan coast, but the full extent of the disaster remains unknown.

Late Wednesday, the prefectural government released the identities of 15 people who are still unaccounted for in Wajima and the nearby town of Anamizu, saying the list could grow.

Rescuers work at a collapsed building in Wajima in the central Japan prefecture of Ishikawa, on Jan. 3, 2024, following a strong earthquake that jolted a wide area on the Sea of Japan coast on Jan. 1. (Kyodo) ==Kyodo

Rain added to the difficulty of the rescue operations already impeded by debris and severed roads.

Japan's Self-Defense Forces were set to use helicopters to deliver supplies to cut-off areas, with local authorities asking the central government to send SDF personnel for a disaster relief mission.

Prime Minister Fumio Kishida said at a press conference on Wednesday that the government had decided to increase the number of SDF members working in the stricken region from 1,000 at present to 2,000.

Kishida met the press a day after a Japan Airlines Co. plane and a Japan Coast Guard aircraft carrying relief goods collided at Tokyo's Haneda airport, fanning concern that the accident could hamper the swift delivery of supplies to the Noto Peninsula and its vicinity.

But Kishida said, "Overall, we believe that there is no impact from the accident. Transportation of relief supplies to the areas has been progressing steadily."

He later said 2,000 firefighters and 740 police officers will newly join the search and rescue efforts.

Japanese Prime Minister Fumio Kishida meets the press at his office in Tokyo on Jan. 3, 2024, commenting mainly on a strong earthquake that jolted the Sea of Japan coastal area on New Year's Day. (Kyodo) ==Kyodo

Municipal authorities, meanwhile, said they had received information about several cases of people being buried alive or trapped under collapsed homes in the quake-hit areas that have continued to experience strong earthquakes.

In Ishikawa alone, 33,000 people remained as evacuees and over 30,000 homes were without power. In Ishikawa and two neighboring prefectures of Toyama and Niigata, 110,000 homes were without water supply.

The New Year's Day earthquake was centered around 30 kilometers east-northeast of Wajima with a provisional depth of 16 km and registered the highest level of 7 on Japan's seismic intensity scale in the town of Shika, according to the agency. In Wajima, a seven-story building toppled over sideways.

A level-7 quake is described as rendering it impossible for people to remain standing. Such a temblor was last recorded in 2018 in Hokkaido, the weather agency said.

Photo taken on Jan. 3, 2024, shows a boat that was washed ashore in Suzu, in the central Japan prefecture of Ishikawa, apparently due to a tsunami triggered by a strong earthquake that jolted the Sea of Japan coastal area on New Year's Day. (Kyodo) ==Kyodo

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