Friday, March 11, 2011
Hundreds dead after massive quake slams Japan
Hundreds dead after massive quake slams Japan
TOKYO — A magnitude 8.9 earthquake — the biggest in modern Japanese history — slammed the island nation's eastern coast Friday, unleashing a 23-foot tsunami that swept boats, cars, buildings and tons of debris miles inland and prompting a "nuclear emergency."
Hours later, the tsunami hit Hawaii and warnings blanketed the Pacific, putting areas on alert as far away as South America, Canada, Alaska and the entire U.S. West Coast.
According to police, 200 to 300 bodies were found in the northeastern coastal city of Sendai. The death toll was likely to continue climbing given the scale of Friday's disaster.
TV footage taken from a military plane showed fires engulfing a large waterfront area in northeastern Japan. Houses and other buildings were ablaze across large swathes of land in Kesennuma city in Miyagi prefecture, near Sendai city, public broadcaster NHK showed. The city, with a population of 74,000, has residential, light industry and fishing areas.
According to reports, police told the Kyodo news agency that a passenger train with an unknown number of people aboard was missing in one coastal area.
The government ordered thousands of residents near a nuclear power plant in Onahama city to evacuate because the plant's system was unable to cool the reactor. The reactor was not leaking radiation but its core remained hot even after a shutdown. The plant is 170 miles northeast of Tokyo.
'Major damage in broad areas'
Overall, dozens of cities and villages along a 1,300-mile stretch of coastline were shaken by violent tremors that reached as far away as Tokyo, hundreds of miles from the epicenter.
Advertise | AdChoices"The earthquake has caused major damage in broad areas in northern Japan," Prime Minister Naoto Kan said at a news conference.
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Even for a country used to earthquakes, this one was of horrific proportions because of the tsunami that crashed ashore, swallowing everything in its path as it surged several miles inland before retreating. The apocalyptic images of surging water broadcast by Japanese TV networks resembled scenes from a Hollywood disaster movie.
Large fishing boats and other sea vessels rode high waves into the cities, slamming against overpasses or scraping under them and snapping power lines along the way. Upturned and partially submerged vehicles were seen bobbing in the water. Ships anchored in ports crashed against each other.
The highways to the worst-hit coastal areas were severely damaged and communications, including telephone lines, were snapped. Train services in northeastern Japan and in Tokyo, which normally serve 10 million people a day, were also suspended, leaving untold numbers stranded in stations or roaming the streets. Tokyo's Narita airport was closed indefinitely.
Tomoko Koga, a 34-year-old translator and interpreter, tells msnbc.com she couldn’t see any damage from her house in Chiba, outside of Tokyo, but was watching reports of devastation on the news. “I don’t even know what to say. I feel sorry that I’m safe and OK because there are so many people affected by this disaster.”
Koga was waiting to hear back from her father, who was stranded in his office in Tokyo. “He texted us right after the earthquake that there wouldn’t be any way for him to come back home. But after that, we didn’t hear from him. It’s really nerve-wracking.”
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Austrian Lukas Schlatter says he saw houses and cars moving when the quake struck Japan, and it was even hard for him to stand, “like I was a little bit drunk.”
Schlatter, a 22-year-old intern in the commercial section of the Austrian embassy in Tokyo, said there was a lot of shaking and books fell off shelves in their office.
“My Japanese co-workers were also scared because they said they had not experienced that strong of an earthquake in a long time,” he told msnbc.com in a Skype interview.
Houses washed away
Waves of muddy waters flowed over farmland near the city of Sendai, carrying buildings, some on fire, inland as cars attempted to drive away. Sendai airport, north of Tokyo, was inundated with cars, trucks, buses and thick mud deposited over its runways.
Advertise | AdChoicesMore than 300 houses were washed away in Ofunato City alone. Television footage showed mangled debris, uprooted trees, upturned cars and shattered timber littering streets.
The tsunami roared over embankments, washing anything in its path inland before reversing directions and carrying the cars, homes and other debris out to sea. Flames shot from some of the houses, probably because of burst gas pipes.
"Our initial assessment indicates that there has already been enormous damage," Chief Cabinet Secretary Yukio Edano said. "We will make maximum relief effort based on that assessment."
He said the defense ministry was sending troops to the quake-hit region. A utility aircraft and several helicopters were on the way.