Aerial shot shows houses in flames after being hit by a tsunami at Natori city in Miyagi prefecture, northern Japan on Friday. A massive 8.9-magnitude earthquake shook Japan, unleashing a powerful tsunami that sent ships crashing into the shore and carried cars through the streets of coastal towns. (Yomiuri Shimbun)
TOKYO: A massive tsunami triggered by Japan’s most powerful earthquake in nearly a century Friday wrought devastation in northeast coastal Japan, sweeping away houses, ships and cars and setting ablaze several buildings, killing over 360 people.
Around 200-300 bodies were found in Wakabayashi area of Sendai city, close to the epicentre of the 8.9 magnitude quake as the tidal waves carried debris of buildings, overturned ships, cars and vehicles that came their way deep into the mainland, Kyodo news agency said.
At least 60 people were killed in Iwate prefecture and other places. A 67-year-old man was killed after being hit by a crumbling wall in Chiba prefecture, while a woman in her 50s died after a portion of a roof of a hall collapsed in Tokyo. The National Police Agency said 531 people were reported missing and 627 others were injured in the quake and the 33-foot tidal waves in the country’s northeast coast. The toll could go up significantly as reports of damage trickled in.
Television images showed fires raging in several building complexes as also a major petrochemical complex in Sendai. The tsunami also flooded the Sendai airport. A ship carrying about 100 people was washed away by the huge tidal waves in Japan’s northeast coast and its fate was not known, public broadcaster NHK reported, citing Miyagi prefecture police. A passenger train with an unknown number of people aboard, running near Nobiru station on the Senseki Line connecting Sendai to Ishinomaki, was unaccounted for, the Japanese new agency said, quoting the police.
A wall of water several kilometres wide triggered by the earthquake, the most powerful since the 1923 tremor in Great Kanto area in Tokyo and its vicinity which was 7.9 on Richter scale and had killed more than 1,40,000 people, carried all that it destroyed deep into the mainland. Buildings, even in far away Tokyo, shook vigorously and live footage by NHK showed a wide, muddy stream moving rapidly across a residential area near Natori River in Miyagi, levelling everything in its path.
The quake struck at 2:46 p.m. local time and alerts were issued across the Pacific, including areas as far away as South America, US west coast, Canada and Alaska. Kyodo quoting the fire and disaster management agency said more than 80 fires were reported from Iwate, Miyagi, Akita, Fukushima, Ibaradi, Chiba and Kanagawa prefectures. Over 600 people, many of them students, were seen stranded atop a school rooftop in Sendai after a fire broke out nearby. Tokyo tower, a landmark structure in the capital, suffered minor damage in the quake, the agency said.
Japan declared a state of atomic power emergency after the earthquake, while saying that no radiation leaks had been detected at or near any nuclear power plants so far. Residents in the vicinity of the nuclear plants have been asked to leave. The International Atomic Energy Agency was scrambling for details from contacts with Japan’s industry ministry as it said in a statement that at least four nuclear power plants “closest to the quake have been safely shut down.” According to the ministry, a total of 11 nuclear reactors shut down automatically at the Onagawa plant, Fukushima No 1 and No 2 plants and Tokai No 2 plant after the biggest-magnitude quake in the country’s modern history. A fire broke out in one of the nuclear facilities but authorities claimed they had detected no abnormalities such as radiation leakage.
Australia, Philippines, Taiwan and Indonesia also issued tsunami alerts reviving the memories of the 2004 tsunami and the disaster that it wrought in Asia. For Japan, used to frequent earthquakes of powerful proportions, this one seemed to be devastating that the tidal waves swept fishing boats, cars and buildings that were seen bobbing in the water. Several other boats and ships were lying on their sides. Stunning TV footage showed the tsunami carrying the debris and fires across Sendai, home to more than 10 lakh people. The disaster also left the entire region in dark without power while nuclear power stations shut automatically. In Tokyo, subway system stopped following the quake, sirens wailed and people rushed out of the buildings. But cold conditions outside forced people to go back into homes for warmth. The quake sparked fires in several areas including Tokyo and there had also been powerful aftershocks. Tsunami waves that hit Japan’s Miyagi and Fukushima prefectures caused “tremendous damage,” officials said.
Japan’s Prime Minister, Mr Naoto Kan said the quake caused “major damage in broad areas” but nuclear power plants were not affected. “Our government will make all-out efforts to minimise the damage caused by the earthquake,” he told a hurriedly-called press conference. Tokyo stocks fell sharply, with the Nikkei hitting a five-week closing low following the quake.