Massive quake hits Japan; triggers Tsunami

-- At 2.46 pm Japan time, an earthquake measuring 8.9 on the Richter scale struck at a depth of 24.4 km below the ocean's surface, 130 km (80 miles) from the coastal city of Honshu and 373 km (231 miles) from Tokyo
-- The resulting tsunami, with waves in excess of 10 meters in height, struck the port of Sendai and devastated a large part of North East Japan
-- This is reported to be the worst earthquake in 140 years


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-- All public transport, rail, air, port and mobile services were shut down. Schools are providing shelter to stranded commuters
-- Nuclear power emergency declared. Five plants shut down. A fire broke out at Oganawa nuclear plant in NE Japan and has since been extinguished
-- The Yen dropped, Nikkei closed at a five-week low and all other world markets are trading lower than usual.
-- Honda has suspended operations at its assembly plant in Saitama, near Tokyo
-- As many as 80 buildings, many of them in Tokyo, burst into flames as a result of the quake
-- 4 million households hav e been deprived of electricity
-- Tsunami alert along the Pacific Coast; Hawaii experiences a 4.9 magnitude quake; Taiwan, Russia, Chile still on high alert
--Hawaii, Russia and Taiwan have evacuated people from the danger areas


US, Britain and India have offered to help the Japanese

government. The Indian embassy has also assured that 25,000 Indians in Japan are safe

--The official toll stands at 59; true figures are expected only once communications are restored

The shocking, stunning images and news from quake-hit Japan continue. The video above shows Kesennuma city, located in the extreme north-west of Miyagi prefecture, in flames.

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With the tsunami having fizzled out without doing major damage along its path, the focus shifts back to the north-eastern coast of Japan, where rescue and relief efforts will continue through the night and, given the extent of damage, for the next several days. Meanwhile, we are halting the live updates; spare a thought, as you read this, for the many thousands in Japan struggling to survive against the furies of nature.

9:50 pm: Responding to the problem at the Fukushima nuclear plant, the United States has despatched emergency supplies of coolant to Japan. Reporting this, Reuters quotes Secretary of State Hillary Clinton saying "We just had our Air Force assets in Japan transport some really important coolant to one of the nuclear plants. You know Japan is very reliant on nuclear power and they have very high engineering standards but one of their plants came under a lot of stress with the earthquake and didn't have enough coolant."

9:15 pm:

US appears to be out of major danger from the tsunami, White House Chief of Staff Bill Daley said, according to a BBC report

9:13 pm:

Two more aftershocks measuring 5.1 magnitude shake Japan's east coast, reports the US Geological Survey

9:04 pm:

Indonesia has lifted its tsunami warning after only small waves reached its eastern coastline and caused no damage, Japan's Kyodo news agency reports

9:03 pm:

The reactor cooling system that failed after the quake at the Fukushima Daiichi nuclear plant is expected to return to normal soon, according to the Jiji Press news agency, reports BBC

8:57 pm:

Quoting officials of the California Emergency Management Agency, Associated Press reports evacuations in the Del Norte and San Mateo counties in coastal California.

8:56 pm:

Canada has issued tsunami advisories for parts of British Columbia on the coast: Guardian reports.

8:48 pm:

Kyodo News reports that between 60,000-70,000 people have been evacuated from Sendai, a historic city that came into existence around 1600. It is the capital of Miyagi prefecture and one of the areas worst affected by the quake-triggered tsunami. Japanese TV meanwhile has been showing images of large parts of Miyagi engulfed in flames.

8:43 pm:

The Chiba prefecture, in the Greater Tokyo area, reports major problems at industrial installations. Major fires are being reported at the Chiba refinery run by Tokyo giant Cosmo Oil, while another fire is reportedly raging at JFE Holdings' Chiba steel plant.

8:41 pm:

Oregon emergency management has advised coastal residents to evacuate before 7:00 am PT due to tsunami risk: Huffington Post

8:37 pm:

Narita International airport, which had shut down in the immediate aftermath of the quake in order to inspect runways and other facilities, has begun a gradual restoration of services, Japanese news agencies report.

8:36 pm:

Prime Minister Manmohan Singh condoled the loss of lives in the earthquake in Japan and offered help. In a message to Japanese Prime Minister Naoto Kan, Dr. Singh said that India stands in solidarity with the people of Japan and is ready to help in any way required and our resources are at your disposal.

8:30 pm:
Five more powerful aftershocks measuring around 5.5 magnitude have rattled the eastern coast of Japan: US Geological Survey reports

7:50 pm: 

Follow live coverage of the tsunami as it hits Hawaii, here

7:48 pm:

Light planes and vehicles sit among debris at Sendai airport, northern Japan.
Houses are in flame in Natori city, Miyagi Prefecture, Japan after strong earthquakes hit the area.

UN Secretary General Ban-ki Moon, speaking to the media in

New York, expressed his sympathies for those affected by the Japan quake, and

said various UN agencies were mobilising to help the victims.

7:46 pm:

As Oregon and Western California brace for the tsunami to

hit, Associated Press reports that the Hawaiian island of Kauai was the to be

hit by the tsunami. Unusually high waves estimated at three meters or

thereabouts swamped the beach at the famed resort of Waikiki, but stopped short

of the star resorts where the rich and famous play. Officials have warned that

waves of similar or greater magnitude will keep coming in on Hawaiian beaches.

7:15 pm:

In a statement issued to the media, Japanese Prime Minister Naoto Kan speaks of "tremendous damage" across a wide area "centered on the Tohuku district." While extending his sympathies to the victims, Kan says "As for our nuclear power facilities, a portion of them stopped their operations automatically.  At present we have no reports of any radioactive materials or otherwise affecting the surrounding areas."

7:09 pm: Update:

At least 60 dead, numerous others missing, injured after quake: Kyodo

7:04 pm:

Between 200 and 300 bodies have been found on a beach near Sendai: BBC reports

6:58 pm:

India offered help after a devastating earthquake and tsunami hit Japan, and added that the 25,000 Indians living in that country were safe.

6:56 pm:

Thousands -- still scarred by memories of the 2004 tsunami that left over 240,000 of their people dead -- living along the eastern Indonesian coast had fled to high ground following the quake and resultant tsunami warning.

6:54 pm:

Waves raised by the Japan quake have hit the north east of Indonesia, but the BBC reports that they are less than half a meter in height and hence not expected to cause any significant damage.

6:48 pm: Japanese news agency Kyodo reports that 700 or more flights from Japan have been cancelled in the wake of the quake. An estimated 12,500 people are reported stranded at Narita International airport and another 10,000 or more at Haneda airport, both of which collectively serve the Greater Tokyo region.

6:43 pm:

Britain's Foreign Secretary William Hague has said, following a meeting of the emergency committee, that rapid response units attached to the British armed forces have been placed in a state of alert and are in ready-to-go status in response to the Japanese quake. Hague said Britain is committed to provide any assistance sought by the Japanese government.

6:33 pm:

In a statement expressing his, and First Lady Michelle Obama's, condolences for the victims of the Japan quake, US President Barack Obama said the US is standing by and ready to help in any way required. The Japanese government, which has already alerted its own military to help with rescue and relief efforts, has indicated that it needs help from the US military to deal with the aftermath of the quake and the resulting tsunami.

6:30 pm:

The International Atomic Energy Agency reports that the fire that broke out at the Onagawa nuclear plant, in the Oshika district of Miyagi prefecture, has been extinguished. Onagawa-3 is reputed as the most modern, state of the art reactor in Japan. The reactor had also been affected by the 2005 Miyagi earthquake. In May 2006, officials found a leaking pipe; the damage was caused by debris that resulted from the quake.

6:25 pm: Japanese agency Sankei reports that authorities have asked people living within 2 km of the Fukushima nuclear plant to evacuate immediately. The report says this is a precautionary measure, while authorites work to cool off the nuclear reactor which, when shut down following the quake, was discovered to have a defect in the main cooling system.

6:11 pm: Update:

Kyodo News reports that the official toll has been revised upwards to 59.

5:32 pm:

No matter how many pictures and videos you see, or stories you read, the awesome forces of nature continue to defy the imagination, to beggar description. Here's an example: a BBC video of an enormous whirlpool triggered by the Japan quake

5:22 pm:

An emergency cooling unit has been activated at the Fukushima nuclear plant, where the cooling system's malfunction had led to the declaration of a state of nuclear emergency (See update of 5.16 pm). Kyodo News Agency, meanwhile, reports a fire in the turbine building of the Onagawa nuclear plant, which is located in Miyagi prefecture, one of the regions worst hit by the tsunami..

5:16 pm:

Associated Press reports that the 'nuclear emergency' declared by Japan is non-lethal. Quoting chief cabinet secretary Yukio Edano, AP reports that the nuclear in Fukushima prefecture, located on the island of Honshu, developed mechanical failure of the systems needed to cool it down after it was shut in the wake of the quake. The declaration of emergency, Edano said, was a precaution; there was no immediate danger, and no leak, at the plant, the cabinet official confirmed.

5:15 pm: 
Ship carrying 100 people carried away by tsunami, says Japanese news agency Kyodo.

5:05 pm:

Trains and buses remain shut down, and stranded commuters in Tokyo report a huge dearth of taxis. On Twitter, Makiko Itoh (@makiwi) reports that various schools and universities in the area are opening up their classrooms for the benefit of the stranded commuters.

5:04 pm:

Japan has declared a state of 'nuclear emergency'. Government broadcaster NHK reports that attempts to cool one reactor has not "gone as planned". All reactors were shut down, as a safety measure, in the immediate aftermath of the quake.

4:54 pm:

Japan has declared a state of emergency because of the failure of the cooling system at one nuclear plant, according to the Associated Press.

4:36 pm:

"People were very frightened. Very rare since people in Japan are used to quakes. Today was very different" -- Reactions, as quake-prone Japan trembles to the biggest quake in 140 years. Read the story

Look at earthquakes that triggered major tsunamis

Disaster management operations on: Japan PM

Recent major earthquakes to hit Japan

Asia stocks drop on Japan quake, bonds jump

4:30 pm: Update:
At least 32 people have been killed and numerous others injured, says Japanese news agency Kyodo.

4:27 pm:
All Indians in Tokyo reported to be safe: Sources

4:25 pm:

IAEA says four nuclear power plants closest to the earthquake's epicentre have been shut down safely.

4:15 pm:

Yahoo! Australia reports, quoting International Red Cross officials, that the tsunami now racing across the ocean is high enough to wash over some entire Pacific islands. More

4:13 pm:
4.6-magnitude quake hits Hawaii; state is still under tsunami warning from Japan quake: NBC News reports

4:07 pm:

The National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration has published an updated Tsunami alert, giving places likely to be hit and the concerned timings. The full list

4:06 pm:
Honda suspends operations at assembly plant in Saitama, near Tokyo: Japanese news agency Kyodo reports.

4:00 pm:
Government authorities in Taiwan says there has been small evacuations: BBC reports.

3:58 pm:

The website Earthquake Report has listed over 30 aftershocks consequent on the Japan quake. More

3:56 pm:

Government and police raise death toll from Japan quake to 29: AP reports

3:37 pm:

The Japan Meteorological Agency estimates that the city of Kurihara, located in the north-western part of Japan's Miyagi Prefecture, has been completely destroyed. Kurihara is known for the quality and quantity of rice it produces, and also as a tourist destination thanks to a large number of hot springs, many of them located at the foot of the dormant volcano Mt Kurikoma.

3:31 pm: 
In a sadly ironic twist, Japanese quake experts were elsewhere when the quake hit earlier today. Some of the country's leading experts on earthquakes had, at the initiative of the Japanese government and the request of the New Zealand government, flown to Christchurch to help in the aftermath of the disastrous February 22, 2011 quake in that city that left over 300 dead and caused untold damage.

3:27 pm:

The official death toll has now climbed to 19. Those confirmed dead include two in the wider Tokyo area due to a wall collapse and the fall of a roof; three in the Ibaraki prefecture north-east of Tokyo due to house collapses; five in the Fukushima provine and three in the Kanto province. On-ground reports indicate that the actual toll could be fearsome, and that it will take days for the full magnitude to be measured. Many dozens meanwhile are trapped in the rubble following a hotel collapse in the city of Sendai.

3:12 pm: 

Little things make a big difference. The Japanese government, currently battling the worst earthquake to hit the quake-prone country in 140 years, found the time and sensitivity to do the little things: reports say that with cellphone services out of whack, the government has made all pay phones free of charge to enable people to stay connected at a time of considerable chaos.

3:07 pm:

Residents in the Phillippines have been warned to evacuate and move to high ground, with weather experts predicting the first waves of the tsunami to strike around 6 PM local time. The Coast Guard has been put on high alert, and rescue teams have been placed in a state of emergency alert.

3:05 pm:
Authorities in Taiwan have warned that tidal waves triggered by the Japan quake could reach the eastern coast of the Island at around 5.30 PM local time, and also possibly hit the north-eastern port of Keelung by 6:00 pm.

3:03 pm:
The US Geological Society meanwhile has reported a secondary quake,  timed at 5.12 PM Japan time, of magnitude 6.2, also near the eastern coast of Honshu. More

3:00 pm:

In another illustration of how social media is supplementing, even exceeding, the work of news agencies, the CitizenTube initiative features videos of the Japan quake shot by the people themselves. Watch video

2:41 pm: Within half an hour of the quake, the Twitter monitoring service Tweet-O-Meter indicated that tweets out of Tokyo were streaming in at the rate of over 1,200 per minute.

2:40 pm:
Tsunami alert issued across US West Coast; evacuation on in Hawaii.

Photos: Tsunami damages northern Japan

2:30 pm: 11,000 evacuated in Russia in the wake of Japanese tsunami

2:29 pm:

With a massive electricity and communications blackout impacting the quake-hit area, estimates of the toll and damages will take a considerable time to be collated. For now, the Japanese government is officially reporting five dead, AP reports.

2:27 pm:
Though the Sensex fell over 200 points in reaction to the news of the quake, no lasting impact on the economy is expected, say experts. More

2:24 pm:
The United States Geological Survey, which has been tracking the quake and its aftermath, has pegged the Japan quake at 8.9 on the Richter scale. That makes this the 5th biggest earthquake in history, ahead of the February 2010 quake in Chile. See chart

2:22 pm: 

Four million homes in Japan have no power supply.

2:21 pm:

Sendai airport in northern Japan flooded.

2:17 pm: 

Japanese news agency Kyodo reports that as many as 14 public structures are on fire in Tokyo.

2:15 pm: 
The Japan Meteorological Agency in a press statement warned that aftershocks of a possible magnitude of 7 and above on the Richter scale could happen in a month, consequent on today's quake.

2:15 pm:
AP reports that Russian authorities have evacuated over 12,000 residents of the far-eastern Sakhalin Island and its neighborhood as a consequence of the tsunami warning.

2:05 pm:
Biggest quake since 1995, say Japanese met officials.

2 pm:
Blaze continues at major oil refinery. Fires break out in Tokyo as well. Aftershocks continue in Tokyo. Casualty numbers trickling in.

1:55 pm: Kudan Kaikan auditorium collapses: 600 had gathered for a graduation ceremony, 30 seriously injured.

1:53 pm: Television studio cameras shake as aftershocks continue.

1:52 pm: Tsunami warnings for Australia, New Zealand.

1:45 pm: Japan's disaster management team is headed by its prime minister Naoto Kan. One of the biggest earthquakes ever to hit the country, says met office.

Tsunami may hit Indonesia, Hawaii next.

1:26 pm: Japan has swung into disaster control mode following a tsunami and massive earthquake on Friday.

The country has shut down all its ports, airports and nuclear installations.

The early story

The biggest ever earthquake to strike Japan in recorded history has resulted in hundreds of deaths and millions, possibly billions, worth of damages.

The quake struck at 2.46 pm Japan time, with an epicenter located approximately six miles below sea level in the Pacific Ocean. The city nearest the epicenter is the coastal city of Honshu (130 km or around 80 miles), while Tokyo, 373 km (231 miles) away reported tremblors lasting for many minutes.
As Japanese Prime Minister Naoto Kan put his nation on emergency alert and pressed the coast guard and military into service, officials battled to cope with massive blackouts not only in Honshu but even as far away as Tokyo. Rail services and buses were stopped, and reports indicated that thousands of passengers were stranded when the trains halted midway. One entire passenger train is still unaccounted for.
Both of Tokyo's airports suspended services, and thousands of commuters were stranded as area schools and universities opened up their classrooms to provide temporary shelter. An estimated four million households were left without power; communications became difficult with cellphones going out of operation; the government in response threw open the public call booths for free.
It is way too early to estimate either the toll or the extent of damages, authorities said, adding that they were focused on relief and rescue operations. Stretching their efforts further are the 90-odd fires that are reported to have broken out in Honshu and Tokyo, including in a still plant and an oil refinery in the Chiba region of Greater Tokyo.
It is being anticipated that the toll will be very high - reports have come in of three hundred or more bodies found in Sendai city, Honshu; the toll is expected to mount rapidly as relief workers move from rescue operations on the surface and start digging under the debris. Meanwhile, Japanese news agencies report that a ship carrying over 100 people have been washed away by the tsunami.
The Japanese government declared a state of 'nuclear emergency' after it was found that the cooling system of the Fukushima nuclear plant had failed to kick in. The four major nuclear reactors in the region were automatically shut down when the quake hit, but the cooling system at Fukushima failed to kick in. Over 3000 people, living within a 3 km radius of the plant, were evacuated, and officials were working on the stand by system. Officials said there have been no reports of radiation.
Even as waves of aftershocks struck the area (postings on Twitter from the Sendai region spoke of tremblors every 15 minutes or thereabouts and larger shocks, some measured close to 7, at occasional intervals), tsunami warnings went out to countries as far apart as Russia, Australia, New Zealand, Guam, Taiwan, Indonesia, the Philippines, and the western coast of the United States. The warnings were later lifted for Australia and New Zealand.

The quake is one in a series to have hit Japan this week, with a 7.3 magnitude quake having hit the region two days earlier, on Wednesday. Japan is one of the most seismically active countries in the world, accounting for about 20 per cent of the world's earthquakes of magnitude 6 or greater.

With Reuters/Agencies