The death toll from a New Year's Day earthquake in central Japan rose to 168 on Monday, with more than 300 unaccounted for, authorities said, as snow and rain hamper rescue operations and efforts to relocate survivors to hotels amid fears of COVID-19 spreading in evacuation centers.

The number of people unable to be contacted increased by more than 100 from Sunday to 323, including 281 in Wajima, Ishikawa Prefecture, according to the prefectural government.

Firefighters are seen working in snow-covered Suzu, Ishikawa Prefecture, on Jan. 8, 2024. (Kyodo)

As many people are still believed to be trapped under rubble in the city where a major marketplace caught fire and burned down, a large-scale search operation will be carried out Tuesday, the prefecture said.

A magnitude-7.6 quake rocked the Noto Peninsula in the prefecture and other areas on the Sea of Japan coast on the evening of Jan. 1.

Snow has been accumulating in many parts of Ishikawa since Sunday, affecting rescue and relief efforts for nearly 29,000 evacuees.

In the peninsula, 13 centimeters of snow had accumulated in Suzu, 12 cm in Nanao and 9 cm in Wajima as of 8 a.m. on Monday, the Japan Meteorological Agency said. The cities also observed minimum temperatures of below freezing.

At least 2,300 people in the prefecture remained cut off, mainly in Wajima and Suzu, due to severed roads, the prefectural government said.

A man receives water bottles in the snow at an evacuation center in Nanao in Ishikawa Prefecture following a strong earthquake in the central Japan prefecture and surrounding areas on Jan. 1. (Kyodo) ==Kyodo

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