Japan’s Fire and Disaster Management Agency said at least 32 people were killed.
In various locations along Japan’s coast, TV footage showed massive damage from the tsunami, with dozens of cars, boats and even buildings being carried along by waters. A large ship swept away by the tsunami rammed directly into a breakwater in Kesennuma city in Miyagi prefecture, according to footage on public broadcaster NHK.
Japanese Prime Minister Naoto Kan appeared on national television hours after the quake, urging residents to help each other where possible but to remain calm and cautious as the damage was assessed. He said the country’s northeast coast had sustained “major damage”.
Kan said some of Japan’s nuclear power facilities in the northeast shut down automatically during quake, but that there were no indications of leaks. A utility company in northeastern Japan reported a fire in a turbine building of nuclear power plant. The plant’s electrical cooling system was not working, which prompted authorities to declare a state of emergency at the plant, but officials said no leaks were detected.
The government’s top spokesman, Yukio Edano, said that the country was sending troops to the quake-hit area to join relief efforts.
“The government will make an all-out effort to ensure the safety of all the people and contain the damage to the minimum,” Kan said.
The quake was the most powerful ever to hit Japan in recorded history.
The quake that struck at 2:46 p.m. was followed by a series of powerful aftershocks, including a 7.4-magnitude one about 30 minutes later. The U.S. Geological Survey upgraded the strength of the first quake to a magnitude 8.9, while Japan’s meteorological agency measured it at 7.9.
The meteorological agency issued a tsunami warning for the entire Pacific coast of Japan. NHK was warning those near the coast to get to safer ground.
The Pacific Tsunami Warning Center in Hawaii said a tsunami warning was in effect for Japan, Russia, Marcus Island and the Northern Marianas. A tsunami watch has been issued for Guam, Taiwan, the Philippines, Indonesia and the U.S. state of Hawaii.
The quake struck at a depth of six miles, about 80 miles off the eastern coast, the agency said. The area is 240 miles northeast of Tokyo.
In downtown Tokyo, large buildings shook violently and workers poured into the street for safety. TV footage showed a large building on fire and bellowing smoke in the Odaiba district of Tokyo.
“This is really scary,” one Tokyo resident told CBSNews.com in an email. Adam Ezard, a British expat, said he and his colleagues were rushing out of their office building with each after shock. Ezard and other witnesses said telephone lines were down or overloaded and attempts to reach loved ones were unsuccessful.
Ezard said colleagues in his office had been out to local shops to stock up on food, as it seemed unlikely they would make it back home Friday evening, only to find shelves largely emptied of essential items.
In central Tokyo, trains were stopped and passengers walked along the tracks to platforms.
The ceiling in Kudan Kaikan, a large hall in Tokyo, collapsed, injuring an unknown number of people, NHK said.
Footage on NHK from their Sendai office showed employees stumbling around and books and papers crashing from desks. It also showed a glass shelter at a bus stop in Tokyo completely smashed by the quake and a weeping woman nearby being comforted by another woman.
Several quakes had hit the same region in recent days, including a 7.3 magnitude one on Wednesday.
Thirty minutes after the quake, tall buildings were still swaying in Tokyo and mobile phone networks were not working. Japan’s Coast Guard has set up task force and officials are standing by for emergency contingencies, Coast Guard official Yosuke Oi said.
“I’m afraid we’ll soon find out about damages, since the quake was so strong,” he said.
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