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At least 57 people were killed in the powerful earthquake that struck the Noto Peninsula and surrounding areas in central Japan on New Year's Day, as more reports of damage came in and rescuers raced to find survivors amid continuing aftershocks on Tuesday.

The magnitude-7.6 quake destroyed houses in Suzu on the tip of the peninsula and caused fires in the city of Wajima in Ishikawa Prefecture. But the full extent of the damage remains unknown, with rubble and severed roads hampering aid supplies and rescue operations.

Tsunami warnings covering extensive areas along the Sea of Japan were lifted Tuesday morning, after the highest wave of at least 1.2 meters reached Wajima Port on Monday following the 4:10 p.m. quake.

In Wajima, a seven-story building toppled over sideways while a central area known for its morning market was gutted by a large blaze that broke out Monday.

Fires engulfed over 200 structures in the central Wajima area but have been brought under control, Ishikawa prefectural officials said.

The quake has also caused injuries and structural damage in Niigata, Toyama, Fukui and Gifu prefectures.

According to JR West, some 1,400 shinkansen bullet train passengers were stranded for around 11 hours as the company halted operations for four trains on the Hokuriku line between Toyama and Kanazawa stations to inspect tracks and other facilities following the earthquake. The service resumed late Tuesday afternoon.

The powerful temblor was likely triggered by recent seismic swarms rattling the central Japan peninsula due to ascending fluid, most likely groundwater, from deep underground which led to fault line slips, according to seismic experts.

Seismic activity has frequently been observed around the peninsula in Ishikawa Prefecture since around December 2020, the Japan Meteorological Agency pointed out. The area recorded a quake in September 2021 that reached level 5 of a maximum 7 on Japan's seismic intensity scale, followed by level-6 temblors in June 2022 and May 2023.

It is also known that there are active fault lines off the Noto Peninsula.

The New Year's Day quake was centered around 30 kilometers east-northeast of Wajima with a provisional depth of 16 km, registering a maximum 7 on the intensity scale, according to the agency.

Kyodo news