Breaking News: 8.9-magnitude quake triggers devastating Japan tsunami

3/11/2011 5:27:21 AM

A magnitude 8.9 earthquake slammed Japan's northeastern coast Friday, unleashing a 13-foot tsunami that swept boats, cars, buildings and tons of debris miles inland. Fires triggered by the quake burned out of control up and down the coast.
At least 32 people were killed and there were reports of several injuries in Tokyo, hundreds of miles away, where buildings shook violently through the main quake and the series of massive aftershocks that followed.

Prime Minister Naoto Kan said the quake caused "major damage" in northeastern Japan, but that nuclear power facilities in the area were not damaged and there was no radiation leakage.

However, The Associated Press later reported that a fire was burning in a turbine building at a nuclear power plant.

Officials were still trying to assess the extent of destruction. The government's top spokesman, Yukio Edano, said that the country was sending troops to the quake-hit area to join relief efforts.

A tsunami warning was also issued for Hawaii and the coasts of Oregon and northern and central California and parts of Alaska. A tsunami advisory was in effect for southern California.

"A tsunami has been generated that could cause damage along the coastlines of all islands in the state of Hawaii," the Pacific Tsunami Warning Center's bulletin said. "Urgent action should be taken to protect lives and property."

The first tsunami wave was expected to hit Hawaii at 2:59 a.m. local time (7:59 a.m. ET), officials said.

Even for a country used to earthquakes, this one was of horrific proportions.

Large fishing boats and other sea vessels rode high waves into the cities, slamming against overpasses. Upturned and partially submerged vehicles were seen bobbing in the water.
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Waves of muddy waters swept 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. Fires spread through a section of the city, public broadcaster NHK reported.

'Enormous damage'
A large fire erupted at the Cosmo oil refinery in Ichihara city in Chiba prefecture near Tokyo and was burning out of control.

The tsunami roared over embankments, washing cars, houses and farm equipment inland before reversing directions and carrying them out to sea. Flames shot from some of the houses, probably because of burst gas pipes.

"Our initial assessment indicate that there has already been enormous damage," Edano added. "We will make maximum relief effort based on that assessment."

Tremors were felt as far away as Beijing, China, about 1,300 miles west of Tokyo.

The quake struck at 2:46 p.m. local time (12:46 a.m. ET) and was followed by five powerful aftershocks within about an hour, the strongest measuring 7.1. The U.S. Geological Survey (USGS) upgraded the strength of the first quake to a magnitude 8.9, while Japan's meteorological agency measured it at 8.4.

Citing USGS data, NBC News reported that if the 8.9 reading is verified, it would be the fifth-strongest earthquake since 1900.

The quake struck at a depth of six miles, about 80 miles off the eastern coast. The area is 240 miles northeast of Tokyo.
In downtown Tokyo, large buildings shook violently and workers poured into the streets for safety. TV footage showed a large building on fire and bellowing smoke in the Odaiba district of Tokyo.

Trains were stopped and passengers walked along the tracks to platforms. NHK said more than 4 million buildings without power in Tokyo and its suburbs.

The ceiling of Kudan Kaikan, a large hall in Tokyo, collapsed, injuring an unknown number of people, NHK said.
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Osamu Akiya, 46, was working in Tokyo at his office in a trading company when the quake hit.
It sent bookshelves and computers crashing to the floor, and cracks appeared in the walls.

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