BY MARTYN WILLIAMS – TOKYO
A massive 8.9 magnitude earthquake has struck off Japan’s northeastern coast, triggering a 10 meter tsunami that swept away boats, homes and cars along the coastline. At least 200 people were killed but officials warn the toll is expected to rise.
Video images from coastal areas struck by the tsunami showed widespread destruction as mud waves carried tons of debris over farmland in Sendai, the capital of Miyagi prefecture.
Hundreds of cars and houses in the area were completely washed away, and police later found more than 200 bodies washed up on a nearby beach.
Tidal waves continue to flood communities along Japan’s eastern coast and most of the country remains under a major tsunami warning. The waves were expected to reach Pacific nations as far away as South America.
Friday evening, about 7 hours after the quake, Chief Cabinet Secretary Yukio Edano said homes near a nuclear power plant have been ordered evacuated.
Edano said the evacuation around the Fukushima Daiichi Nuclear Power Plant is being ordered as a precaution and there has been no radiation leak. He also residents living up to 10 kilometers from the plant have been ordered to stay indoors.
The earthquake also sparked fires at two large petrochemical facilities. Japanese television showed whole neighborhoods in flames.
The U.S. Geological Survey lists the quake as the world’s fifth most powerful since 1900 and the most powerful ever to hit Japan. it struck Friday about 125 kilometers off the eastern coast at a depth of 10 kilometers.
The death toll is expected to rise further.
A boat that had more than 100 people on board is missing, as is a train. TV pictures from a Self Defense Forces helicopter show a huge fire has engulfed most of Kesennuma, in Miyagi prefecture, a city of more than 70,000 people.
In Tokyo, hundreds of kilometers away, buildings shook violently and items fell from shelves.
The quake has disrupted rail services and thousands of people have been stranded in offices, unable to get home. Services aren’t expected to begin running until Saturday.