Tsunami devastates Japan following massive 8.9 earthquake
(Reuters) – The biggest earthquake on record to hit Japan struck the northeast coast on Friday, triggering a 10-meter tsunami that swept away everything in its path, including houses, ships, cars and farm buildings.
The Red Cross in Geneva said the wall of water was higher than some Pacific islands and a tsunami warning was issued for almost the entire Pacific basin, though alerts were lifted for some countries in the region, including Taiwan, Australia and New Zealand.
At least 59 people had been killed in the quake and tsunami in Japan, broadcaster NHK said, adding that many were missing. The extent of the destruction along a lengthy stretch of Japan’s coastline suggested the death toll could rise significantly.
The 8.9 magnitude quake, the most powerful since Japan started keeping records 140 years ago, caused many injuries and sparked fires while the tsunami prompted warnings to people to move to higher ground in coastal areas.
Domestic news agencies said a radoactive leak was possible at a nuclear plant in Fukushima prefecture, north of Tokyo, and some 2,000 residents had been told to evacuate the area. Some nuclear power plants and oil refineries were shut down and a refinery was ablaze.
Prime Minister Naoto Kan told politicians they needed to “save the country” after the disaster which he said had caused widespread damage to swathes of the country’s north.
The quake split a highway near Tokyo and flattened several buildings in the northeast and a train was unaccounted in a coastal area hit by the tsunami.
A ship carrying 100 people had been swept away by the tsunami, Kyodo news agency said, and TV footage showed the roiling waters, blackened with debris, some of it ablaze, sweeping away homes, cars and bringing ships inland.
There were reports of at least 80 locations on fire after the quake, Kyodo said.
Around 4.4 million homes were without power in northern Japan, media said. A hotel collapsed in the city of Sendai and people were feared buried in the rubble.
Electronics giant Sony Corp, one of the country’s biggest exporters, shut six factories, as air force jets raced toward the northeast coast to determine the extent of the damage.
The Bank of Japan, which has been struggling to boost the anemic economy, said it would do its utmost to ensure financial market stability as the yen and Japanese shares fell.
“I was terrified and I’m still frightened,” said Hidekatsu Hata, 36, manager of a Chinese noodle restaurant in Tokyo, where buildings shook violently. “I’ve never experienced such a big quake before.”
The Philippine and Indonesia issued tsunami alerts, reviving memories of the giant tsunami which struck Asia in 2004. The Pacific Tsunami Warning Center issued alerts for countries to the west and across the Pacific as far away as Colombia and Peru.
The earthquake was the fifth most powerful to hit the world in the past century.