Japan's Tsunami Death Toll Seen Reaching 1,000

  • VOA News

    March 12, 2011 08:52

    Japan's central island of Honshu is waking up to scenes of widespread death and devastation from a massive earthquake and tsunami that hit its Pacific coast Friday, with local media saying as many as 1,000 people may have been killed.

    Japanese geologists have long forecasted a huge earthquake in Japan, and the country has been preparing for the "big one" for decades. But the 8.9 magnitude quake that struck Friday off the coast of Honshu was far bigger than anticipated.

    The 8.9 magnitude quake struck waters east of Honshu early Friday afternoon, shaking buildings in Tokyo and sending waves up to 10 meters high into coastal areas northeast of the capital. It was the most powerful earthquake on record to hit Japan and the world's fifth largest in more than a century.

    Japanese officials said radiation levels surged outside a nuclear power plant in the city of Fukushima, after the reactor's cooling system failed and caused pressure to rise inside the facility. Authorities ordered about 3,000 people to evacuate areas within several kilometers of the Fukushima Daiichi plant.

    Buildings burn in Yamada town, Iwate Prefecture, northeastern Japan, following an 8.9 magnitude earthquake that triggered a 10-meter tsunami on March 11, 2011. /Reuters

    Television footage showed a muddy torrent of water sweeping across farmland near the city of Sendai, carrying vehicles and buildings, some of them on fire. Japanese authorities said 200 to 300 bodies have been found in Sendai, the city closest to the quake.

    Japan's National Police Agency reported at least 150 other deaths from the disaster and said more than 500 people were missing. Damage to highways was making it difficult for rescuers to reach the worst-affected areas and determine more accurate casualty figures.

    Northeast of Sendai, fires raged through the night in Kesennuma, a town of 70,000 people. A large fire also erupted at an oil refinery in Ichihara, near Tokyo. Japanese media say a ship carrying 100 people also was carried away by the tsunami. The quake halted all train services between Tokyo and neighboring towns, leaving thousands of people stranded in the capital, unable to get home.

    The tsunami flooded beaches in the U.S. island chain of Hawaii and damaged harbors in the West Coast state of California while prompting alerts as far away as Chile. The U.S. Coast Guard was searching for a man swept out to sea while taking pictures of the waves on the coast of northern California.

    Addressing the nation, Japanese Prime Minister Naoto Kan said his government will do everything it can to minimize the effects of the disaster. He warned the public to stay alert for further notices and said additional tsunamis could strike over the next one or two days.

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