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Pope Francis offers prayers for first responders, survivors, at least 48 killed after massive earthquake in Japan

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Road cracks caused by an earthquake are seen in Wajima, Japan, Jan. 1, 2024. Aftershocks continued to shake Ishikawa prefecture and nearby areas after the magnitude 7.6 temblor slammed the area. (OSV News photo/Kyodo via Reuters) EDITORS: MANDATORY CREDIT. JAPAN OUT. NO ARCHIVES. MUST DISCARD 30 DAYS AFTER DOWNLOAD.

Pope Francis prayed for all those affected by a devastating earthquake in Japan, offering encouragement to emergency crews who were assisting victims and searching for survivors under the rubble.

As the official death toll from the quake reached 48 people, the pope prayed for the people of Japan’s Ishikawa prefecture, expressing his sadness and “blessings of consolation and strength” in a telegram sent by Cardinal Pietro Parolin, Vatican secretary of state, Jan. 2.

“He assures everyone affected by this disaster of his heartfelt solidarity and spiritual closeness, and prays especially for the dead, those who mourn their loss and for the rescue of any persons still missing,” the telegram said.

“The Holy Father offers encouragement to the civil authorities and emergency personnel as they assist the victims of this tragedy,” it said.

Officials said at least 48 people were killed after an earthquake with a magnitude of 7.6 struck Japan’s western coast near the Noto Peninsula Jan. 1 around 4 p.m. local time. Dozens of aftershocks continued to be reported Jan. 2 and could pose additional dangers, according to seismologists.

Rescue workers searched for survivors under collapsed and burnt buildings. Many roads were severely damaged or obstructed by landslides, affecting rescue, aid and evacuation efforts. Five coast guard personnel were killed after their aircraft carrying aid collided with a Japan Airlines passenger jet at Tokyo’s Haneda airport Jan. 2. All 379 people on board the commercial plane survived.

Prime Minister Fumio Kishida said emergency rescue teams were doing their “utmost to save lives and rescue victims and survivors, but we have received reports that there are still many people waiting to be rescued under collapsed buildings,” according to Reuters Jan. 2.