An earthquake with a preliminary magnitude of 7.6 rocked a wide area on the Sea of Japan coast Monday, killing at least four people and triggering tsunami and fires in the central prefecture of Ishikawa, and dampening the festive mood of New Year celebrations nationwide.

Details about the damage caused by the 4:10 p.m. quake and aftershocks remain unknown. Authorities received information on six cases in which people had been buried alive or trapped under collapsed houses in the quake-hit area.

No significant abnormalities were reported at nuclear plants in Ishikawa's Shika, where the quake registered a maximum 7 on the country's seismic intensity scale, or in nearby Niigata or Fukui prefectures after the quake, according to the Secretariat of the Nuclear Regulation Authority.

Large cracks are seen on the ground in Wajima, Ishikawa Prefecture, on Jan. 1, 2024, after a strong earthquake rocked a wide area on the Sea of Japan coast in central Japan. (Kyodo)

The Japan Meteorological Agency issued a special warning for a potential tsunami measuring 3 meters or higher in Ishikawa's Noto Peninsula, and downgraded it hours later. A tsunami measuring 1.2 meters or higher reached Wajima Port in the prefecture, it said.

It was the first time such a special warning had been issued since the 2011 magnitude-9.0 earthquake and tsunami that devastated areas of northeastern Japan and triggered the Fukushima nuclear crisis.

The deaths of four people were confirmed by the Ishikawa prefectural government early Tuesday.

A fire broke out in an old town with wooden houses in Wajima. There were reports of a building and multiple houses collapsing in the city, local firefighters said.

"It looked as if more than 10 buildings were on fire," a man living in Wajima said, adding that he could see a black plume of smoke rising from a marketplace around 500 meters away.

"I was unable to remain standing from the shaking. It was an intensity I had never experienced before," he said.

Another resident saw black smoke and heard explosions near the Wajima Asaichi food market district.

Supplied photo taken on Jan. 1, 2024, shows a house in Shika, a town in Ishikawa Prefecture, that collapsed in an earthquake earlier in the day. (Kyodo)

Some 30 people were injured due to the earthquake in Ishikawa and other prefectures, local authorities said. The ceiling collapsed at a pachinko parlor in Toyama Prefecture, injuring eight people, two of them seriously, the prefectural government said.

In Ishikawa, approximately 32,500 homes lost power.

The quake was felt in a wide area from Hokkaido in northern Japan to Kyushu in the country's southwest. Tsunami warnings and advisories were issued for prefectures on the Sea of Japan side.

The earthquake's focus was around 30 kilometers east-northeast of Wajima, with a provisional depth of 16 km, according to the weather agency.

Photo taken on Jan. 1, 2024, shows a collapsed gateway at the entrance to a shinto shrine in Kanazawa in the central Japan prefecture of Ishikawa after an earthquake with a preliminary magnitude of 7.6 rocked a wide area on the Sea of Japan coast. (Kyodo) 

A quake at the maximum level of 7 on the Japanese intensity scale is described as making it impossible for people to remain standing. Such a temblor was last observed in 2018 in Hokkaido, the weather agency said.

The quake and aftershocks disrupted public transportation to and from the affected areas, with JR East temporarily suspending the operations of all shinkansen bullet trains on the Tohoku, Joetsu and Hokuriku lines, while All Nippon Airways and Japan Airlines canceled 25 flights.

Prime Minister Fumio Kishida told reporters his government will gather information swiftly while continuing to work overnight.

The agency warned that earthquakes with a seismic intensity of around 7 could occur in Monday's hard-hit areas over the next week, especially over the next few days.

A total of more than 97,000 people in nine prefectures were instructed to evacuate, according to the Fire and Disaster Management Agency.

About 1,000 people evacuated to an Air Self-Defense Force base in Wajima, and the Self-Defense Forces are distributing blankets, water and food, the Defense Ministry said.

The SDF sent members on a disaster relief mission in response to a request by Ishikawa Gov. Hiroshi Hase.

Services on JR Central's Tokaido Shinkansen line, which connects Tokyo and Osaka, were also briefly halted in some sections after its system detected an earthquake and powered down, causing delays that affected about 100,000 people, the company said.

Photo taken from a Kyodo News airplane shows a fire in Wajima, Ishikawa Prefecture, on Jan. 1, 2024, after a strong earthquake rocked a wide area on the Sea of Japan coast in central Japan. (Kyodo)

North and South Korea both issued similar alerts for their eastern coastal areas, according to local media and authorities.

The Russian government issued a tsunami warning for the western coastal region of Sakhalin in the Far East following the Japanese earthquake, the Interfax news agency said.

A garage is seen collapsed at a house in Kahoku in the central Japan prefecture of Ishikawa on Jan. 1, 2024, after a strong earthquake rocked a wide area on the Sea of Japan coast earlier in the day. (Kyodo) 

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