11 Mar 2011

Tsunami hits Japan after 8.9 magnitude Pacific quake

Up to 1,000 people are feared dead following the biggest earthquake to hit Japan since records began. Offers of aid have been coming in from around the world. Channel 4 News speaks to eyewitnesses.

The actual number of casualties is still unclear but agency reports in Japan say the number of dead may reach 1,000. The earthquake struck mid-afternoon local time 120km off the north-eastern Japanese coastline. The quake, which measured 8.9 in magnitude, generated a major tsunami which caused extensive damage in Japan. The Japanese authorities have issued a warning for people to stay away from low-lying coastal areas.

The quake, recorded at 1415 local time (0546 GMT), generated waves of up to 10m in height and hit the north-eastern coastline at the Miyagi prefecture within minutes. The tsunami has reached Hawaii but so far no damage has been reported.

People were under their desks shouting and screaming Chris Kimber eyewitness

The capital of Miyagi region, Sendai, was hit by the waters, with pictures showing the waters completely engulfing the city airport with people in the building seen racing to the roof.

Pictures showed the waters sweeping across the country taking buildings and moving traffic along with it. Aftershocks as high as 7.1 magnitude continued in the immediate aftermath raising fears of yet more tsunamis.

The Pacific Tsunami Warning Centre in Hawaii issued a tsunami warning for the entire Pacific basin however several, including Indonesia, have now been stepped down and other countries in the region have so far been relatively only mildly affected. In the US, the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) predicts the tsunami threat there will be over in 2-5 hours.

Nuclear plant

Meanwhile, Tokyo Electric Power Co (TEPCO) said pressure inside the No.1 reactor at its Fukushima-Daiichi nuclear plant has been rising, with the risk of a radiation leak, Jiji News reported.

TEPCO plans to take measures to release the pressure, the report added. The plant’s cooling system malfunctioned after today’s strong earthquake struck.

Houses were flattened following the earthquake in Japan which measured 8.9 in magnitude (Reuters)

Eyewitness: “buildings were visibly swaying”

Anthony Walker was at work in Tokyo when the quake struck. He told Channel 4 News: “I was on the sixth floor of a building in central Tokyo near the Imperial Palace having a normal day up until that point. We have an office of about 30-40 people and at first it felt like a standard earthquake like we have had over the last few days.

“However this time it continued to build to the point where everyone rushed to the exit. On the way down the stairs we were all clinging to the handrails to try and avoid falling down and outside it was possible to see the buildings visibly swaying.

“I have been in Japan for six years and this was far beyond anything I have experienced, particularly in terms of length and aggression.”

Houses are damaged by water following a tsunami and earthquake in Ibaraki city Japan (Reuters)

Another eyewitness Chris Kimber, who is in Tokyo told Channel 4 News what he could see from his flat in Tokyo: “Out of my window I can see buildings and factories on fire, at first I thought my flat was on fire as I was returning from work.

“We get quakes all the time but the one today was really strong, people were under their desks shouting and screaming and the Japanese people in the office said it was the worst they have ever seen. It lasted probably a minute to 90 seconds and then there were some really strong after-shocks following that.

Read more from people who experienced the disaster who have spoken to Channel 4 News

It is nearly one hundred times more powerful than the 2010 Haiti earthquake Prof Bob Holdsworth

“I am now at home and I live quite high up, on the 40th floor and the building is still shaking. The advice I am getting though is to stay indoors as my building is safe.”

Dan Pratt, a teacher in Inzaimakinohara east of Tokyo told Channel 4 News: “The room moved off centre by about a foot in each direction. Lots of books fell off the shelf and in my wife’s shop all the booze came crashing down. It lasted for ages.”

The shocks felt in Tokyo hit in the mid-afternoon and pictures showed a high rise business building on fire. The magnitude of the quake was so great that it was felt in Beijing in China, 1500 miles away.

Japan quake: “100 times stronger Haiti quake”

Bob Holdsworth, professor of structural geology, in the department of earth sciences at Durham University said: “The magnitude of this event is staggering: it is nearly one hundred times more powerful that the 2010 Haiti earthquake.

“It is slightly smaller than the Sumatra earthquake of 2004, a magnitude 9.1 event. These two events combined killed over 500,000 people.”

Not all earthquakes produce tsunamis. And the power of a seismic wave as it hits land depends on a whole range of factors. Read about how it all happened - Tsunami science: a wall of water
Tsunami photo gallery (Getty)

See more astonishing images in a photo gallery from the Japan earthquake and tsunami here

Japan earthquake and tsunami: what happened

- A large waterfront area near Sendai city is on fire, TV reports say.
- One train is derailed and another missing in Miyagi prefecture, Kyodo says. - Up to 300 bodies found in Sendai city, domestic news agency Jiji says.
- Some 3,000 residents living near a nuclear plant in Fukushima prefecture, north of Tokyo, have been told to evacuate the area, Chief Cabinet Secretary Yukio Edano tells reporters.
- Government says no radiation leaking; evacuation is precaution after reactor cooling malfunction.
- First signs of tsunami begin to appear on shores of Hawaii. Local television shows waves steadily rising over southern beaches on Oahu island.
- A ship carrying 100 people was swept away by the tsunami, Kyodo news agency reports.
- A train is unaccounted for in one coastal area, Kyodo says.
A road is blocked by a landslide near Iwaki City in northeastern Japan following the 8.8 magnitude earthquake

Japan relief

In a statement, the Japanese Prime Minister, Naoto Kan, said he was heading up an emergency disaster response headquarters, which had been set up to deal with the aftermath.

He asked the Japanese people to remain vigilant and calm, and to stay tuned to radio and TV reports.

Quake waves

The earthquake in Japan has set off shockwaves across the globe, with, at one point, one third of the globe’s countries being on tsunami watch. The tsunami waves passed through Hawaii, some 3,800 miles (6,200 km) from Japan, without any enormous impact and the United States appeared to be out of any major danger, White House chief of staff Bill Daley said.

Although many warnings have now been stepped down, areas of northern Japan are still on a state of high alert according to the Pacific Tsunami Warning Center.

Tsunami flood impact graphic