earthquake Japan
Damaged buildings along a street in the Japanese city of Wajima. Image: Yomiuri Shimbun via AFP / Yusuke FUKUHARA

The authorities in Japan are battling against time to rescue people after a series of earthquakes wreaked havoc in the country. At least 30 people have been killed after a strong earthquake with a magnitude of 7.6 hit Japan on New Year's Day.

The earthquake forced residents of coastal areas to flee to higher ground as tsunami waves hit Japan's west coast. Thousands of rescuers, army personnel, and firefighters have been working round the clock in the worst-affected areas of the Noto Peninsula in Ishikawa prefecture.

"Very extensive damage has been confirmed, including numerous casualties, building collapses, and fires," Prime Minister Fumio Kishida said.

Images shared on social media show houses and cars wobbling violently as people scramble to seek shelter.

Aerial footage from the disaster-hit areas showed the extensive damage. Several areas have been cut off due to landslides and wrecked roads. Rail, ferry, and air travel have been suspended in several regions, per CNN.

As many as 1,000 houses might have been destroyed in Suzu, a coastal town which is very close to the quake's epicentre. The Japanese city of Wajima was hit by a tsunami of at least 1.2 metres (4 feet) after the earthquakes. According to local authorities, more than 100 buildings around the city have been destroyed by fire.

More than 140 tremors have been reported since Monday, according to the Japan Meteorological Agency. The authorities have warned of more such tremors in the coming days. However, all tsunami warnings along portions of the country's western coast have been lifted.

Tsunami warnings have also been issued in North Korea, South Korea, and Russia's far eastern cities of Vladivostok and Nakhodka.

The big picture:

The country is hit by quakes regularly as it sits on top of three tectonic plates: North America, the Pacific, and the Philippine Sea. It experiences around 20% of the world's most powerful earthquakes every year.

Devastating earthquakes have struck Japan in the past, claiming tens of thousands of lives. The magnitude 9.0 March 2011 earthquake that hit the Tohoku region triggered a tsunami that killed more than 18,500 people.

Japan lies on the Pacific "Ring of Fire" and has more than 100 active volcanoes. It is a horseshoe-shaped belt of fault lines and volcanoes that runs for some 40,000 kilometres. Many of the volcanoes in Japan are monitored 24/7 by its meteorological agency.

The seismically active Ring of Fire covers the South Pacific islands, up through Indonesia and Japan, across to Alaska, and down the west coast of the United States and Central and South America.