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Huge Japan Earthquake causes Tsunami

Source CTV.ca

CTV.ca News Staff

Date: Fri. Mar. 11 2011 2:29 PM ET

The largest earthquake in Japan’s recorded history struck offshore Friday, leaving officials scrambling to restore services, put out fires and search for survivors after an ensuing tsunami washed away homes, roads, cars and ships.

Police said Friday they’ve found between 200 and 300 bodies in the coastal city of Sendai, in addition to another 137 people that have been confirmed dead. More than 500 people are missing, with the toll expected to rise as officials get a better assessment of the damage.

The earthquake struck at 2:46 p.m. local time on Friday afternoon, at a depth of 10 kilometres about 125 kilometres off the eastern coast, and was followed by at least 50 powerful aftershocks.

Japan’s meteorological agency said the initial earthquake registered at a magnitude of 8.8, while the U.S. Geological Survey said it measured a magnitude 8.9 — enough to rank it fifth among all quakes registered in the past 111 years.

Most of the aftershocks registered at 6.0, with one reaching 7.1. A separate 6.6 magnitude earthquake also struck central Japan early Saturday morning, rattling buildings in Tokyo.

By comparison, the recent quake that claimed more than 160 lives in New Zealand was measured at 6.3.

Christian Cote, a Canadian working in Fukushima, about an hour southwest of Sendai, said the aftershocks were strongest in the hours immediately following the afternoon quake.

“Since then — this was more than 12 hours ago — we’ve been experiencing repeated aftershocks,” Cote told CTV News Channel by telephone.

Prime Minister Naoto Kan has appeared on television, urging all Japanese to remain calm.

“The earthquake has caused major damage in broad areas in northern Japan,” Kan said, asking people along Japan’s 2,100-kilometre east coast to move to higher ground in advance of more devastating waves that experts warn could hit nations throughout southeast Asia and reach as far away as South America, Alaska, the U.S. West Coast and British Columbia.

Several waves, including one estimated at seven metres high, sent crushing walls of water littered with boats and buildings over cities and coastal farmland as well as the airport near the region’s largest city, Sendai.

Japan’s public broadcaster NHK reports that fires, likely triggered by gas pipes ruptured in the crush of tons of debris-packed water, are spreading throughout sections of the city.

More than 300 houses were washed away in Ofunato City, and a large fire erupted at the Cosmo oil refinery in Ichihara city in Chiba prefecture.

Dozens of fires were also reported across the northern prefectures of Fukushima, Iwate and Ibaraki. Collapsed homes and landslides were also reported in Miyagi, of which the million-strong city of Sendai is the capital.

Evacuation ordered

A fire was also reported in the turbine building of a nuclear power plant in the hard-hit Miyagi prefecture. Tohoku Electric Power Co. said the fire has been extinguished and the cause is under investigation.

Another plant at Onagawa is also experiencing a water leak.

Japan’s chief cabinet secretary Yukio Edano said a state of emergency had been declared as a precaution at another nuclear facility in Fukushima prefecture, just south of the worst-hit region in northeastern Japan.

Although Edano said the plant was not leaking radiation, Japan’s nuclear safety agency nevertheless ordered more than 2,800 residents living near the Fukushima No. 1 plant in Onahama city to evacuate the area.

Workers there were scrambling to restore the water supply to the reactor’s cooling system that suffered a mechanical failure when the quake cut power to the plant and a backup generator subsequently failed.

Officials say there there were no reports of injuries or leaks at any of the affected nuclear facilities.

“Our initial assessment indicates that there has already been enormous damage,” the government’s chief spokesperson told reporters earlier Friday. “We will make maximum relief effort based on that assessment.”

Japan’s Defence Ministry has already dispatched troops to the quake-hit region, as well as a utility aircraft and several helicopters.

Journalist Chris Johnson said the quake’s enormity was evident, even in the capital area where NHK reported that 4 million buildings were without power.

“It felt like the big one that everyone’s been expecting here in Tokyo. But, in fact, it was more than 300 kilometres away,” Johnson told CTV in a telephone interview from Tokyo.

Although initial reports suggest no major damage in Tokyo, the train and subway service that typically carries more than 10 million travellers every day has been halted, stranding countless rush hour commuters. Service has also been halted indefinitely at the city’s Narita airport.

‘Ring of Fire’

Several quakes had hit the same northeast region of Japan in recent days, including a 7.3-magnitude tremor on Wednesday.

Because it is situated in the earthquake and volcano-prone region of the Pacific known as the “Ring of Fire”, Japan is among the countries best prepared for such devastating events.

Even so, Osama Akiya told the AP that this one was exceptional.

“I’ve been through many earthquakes, but I’ve never felt anything like this,” Akiya said, describing his experience as the quake shook his downtown Tokyo office.

Japan’s worst earthquake claimed 143,000 lives when it struck Kanto in 1923. The magnitude 7.2 temblor that devastated Kobe in 1996 killed 6,400 people.

  • Friday’s quake, which struck near the east coast of Honshu, Japan, shook the earth for more than 2 minutes
  • According to the U.S. Geological Service, the temblor was caused by “thrust faulting on or near the subduction zone interface plate boundary between the Pacific and North America plates”
  • The quake triggered tsunami warnings in at least 80 locations worldwide, from Alaska to Kenya to Indonesia
  • Each year, approximately one-in-five of the world’s earthquakes measuring magnitude 6 or greater occurs in Japan
  • The Tokyo-Yokohoma metropolitan area, which is home to some 35 million people, topped the list of the world’s most “at risk” cities in a 2004 German insurer’s report on the threat of natural disasters
  • Japan has enacted a series of earthquake preparedness laws that lay out strict guidelines for evacuation routes, strengthening building structures and shoring coastal embankments against tsunamis

The tsunami has now hit Hawaii and the west coast of Canada and the United States, with little to no damage.

My prayers go out to Japan in this time of crisis. One can only wish for the best in a time of such need and destruction.

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