At least 91 dead, scores missing after quake, tsunamis devastate Japan

March 11th, 2011 - 8:18 pm ICT by BNO News  

TOKYO (BNO NEWS) — A series of enormous earthquakes struck off the Pacific coast of northeastern Japan on early Friday afternoon, seismologists said, generating huge tsunamis that devastated coastlines and has prompted tsunami warnings for dozens of countries.

The initial 8.9-magnitude earthquake at 2.46 p.m. local time (0546 GMT) was centered about 130 kilometers (80 miles) east of Sendai in Japan, on the nation’s main island of Honshu. It struck about 24.4 kilometers (15.2 miles) deep, making it a shallow earthquake, according to the United States Geological Survey (USGS).

The USGS estimated that approximately 2.1 million people would have felt severe shaking, which could result in heavy damage. Another 50 million could have felt strong to very strong shaking. It is one of the largest earthquakes in recorded history.

Numerous large aftershocks struck soon after, the largest being a 7.1 on the Richter scale. One of the aftershocks, which had a 6.8 magnitude, struck only 67 kilometers (42 miles) northeast of the capital of Tokyo.

The Japan Meteorological Agency (JMA) immediately issued a tsunami warning, and large tsunamis could be seen hitting northeastern coastlines and regions near Tokyo, submerging entire cities and villages. In Tokyo, where people fled from buildings, fires were seen burning and clouds of black smoke were rising above the city’s skyline.

Below are the latest updates:

CASUALTIES AND INCIDENTS — JAPAN

At 3.50 p.m. local time, a tsunami surging higher than 7.3 meters (24 feet) struck Soma Port in Fukushima Prefecture of Japan, sweeping away houses and cars, broadcaster NHK reported. It said similar tsunamis struck other regions, swallowing cars and buildings.

Shinkansen bullet trains remain out of operation across most of the country, NHK said, while the Kyodo news agency said a train is missing in the Miyagi area. Narita Airport in airport has partially reopened after it was closed for hours, but more than 13,000 people remain stranded. Other airports remain closed.

According to broadcaster NHK, at least 91 people have died and dozens more are missing. Miyagi police also told the Kyodo news agency that a ship carrying more than 100 people was washed away by a tsunami, without providing more details.

Japan has also issued a ’state of atomic power emergency’ and ordered nearly 3,000 people near the Fukushima No. 1 power plant to evacuate, although officials said there are no radiation leaks. Officials said the plant suffered a mechanical failure in its backup power generation system to supply water needed to cool down the reactor.

Meanwhile, Japan has formally requested help from the U.S. military. It is expected that other nations will also be called in to assist.

INTERNATIONAL TSUNAMI WARNINGS/INFORMATION

The Pacific Tsunami Warning Center has issued a tsunami warning for Japan, Russia, the Marcus Island, Taiwan, Yap, the Philippines, the Marshall Islands, Belau, Pohnpei, Chuuk, Kosrae, Indonesia, Papua New Guinea, Nauru, the Solomon Islands, Kiribati, Tuvalu, Vanuatu, Tokelau, Wallis and Futuna Islands, Samoa, Cook Islands, Niue, Australia (1), Fiji, New Caledonia, Tonga, Mexico, Kermadec Islands, French Polynesia, New Zealand (2), Pitcairn, Guatemala, El Salvador, Costa Rica, Nicaragua, Antarctica, Panama, Honduras, Chile, Ecuador, Colombia and Peru.

(1) = The Joint Australian Tsunami Warning Center itself has not issued a tsunami warning, saying there is no threat.

(2) = The New Zealand Tsunami Expert Panel has issued a tsunami marine warning only, saying there is a threat of strong and unusual currents with unusual wave activity possible at the beach. There is no land threat.

The Hong Kong Observatory said there was no threat to its region. “The earthquake has generated a tsunami which affects the Pacific. However, it is unlikely that Hong Kong and the neighboring coastal areas will be significantly affected,” the Observatory said in a statement. “The rise in the local sea level is expected to be less than half a meter, which is much lower than the normal day-to-day tidal variation of about one meter.”

U.S. AND CANADA TSUNAMI WARNINGS/WATCHES

The West Coast and Alaska Tsunami Warning Center has issued a tsunami warning for the U.S. states of California and Oregon from Point Concepcion in California to the Oregon-Washington border. A tsunami warning is also in effect for the coastal areas of Alaska from Amchitka Pass to Attu.

The West Coast and Alaska Tsunami Warning Center has issued a tsunami advisory for the coastal areas of California from the California-Mexico border to Point Concepcion, California. A tsunami advisory is also in effect for the coastal areas of Washington, British Columbia and Alaska from the Oregon-Washington border to Amchitka Pass, Alaska.

The Pacific Tsunami Warning Center has issued a tsunami warning for Hawaii, Wake Island, the Northern Marianas, Guam, Midway Atol, Johnston Atol, Howland and Baker Islands, Palmyra Atol, Jarvis Island, and American Samoa.

“A tsunami has been generated that could cause damage along coastlines of all islands in the state of Hawaii,” the Pacific Tsunami Warning Center in Honolulu said in a bulletin. “Urgent action should be taken to protest lives and property.” It said the first tsunamis can reach Hawaii by 3.07 a.m. local time.

The Provincial Emergency Program of British Columbia, Canada said it believed a “low level tsunami” could affect its coastlines. “[It] could impact marinas and other coastal infrastructure or create strong currents in harbors and isolated coastal areas. Local governments in these zones are advised to activate their emergency plans and to immediately evacuate marinas, beaches and other areas that are below the normal high tide mark,” a statement said.

LIST OF MAJOR AFTERSHOCKS

The following is a list of major aftershocks, above 6.0 on the Richter scale: 6.4 (0606 GMT), 6.4 (0607 GMT), 6.8 (0615 GMT), 7.1 (0625 GMT), 6.3 (0648 GMT), 6.3 (0657 GMT), 6.3 (0714 GMT), 6.1 (0725 GMT), 6.1 (0728 GMT), 6.2 (0812 GMT), 6.2 (0815 GMT), 6.5 (0819 GMT), 6.1 (0831 GMT), 6.0 (1010 GMT), 6.5 (1136 GMT).

INTERNATIONAL RESPONSE — UNITED STATES

U.S. President Barack Obama offered his and his wife Michelle’s “deepest condolences” to the people of Japan, particularly those who have lost loved ones in the earthquake and tsunamis. “The United States stands ready to help the Japanese people in this time of great trial. The friendship and alliance between our two nations is unshakeable, and only strengthens our resolve to stand with the people of Japan as they overcome this tragedy,” he said.

He added: “We will continue to closely monitor tsunamis around Japan and the Pacific going forward and we are asking all our citizens in the affected region to listen to their state and local officials as I have instructed FEMA to be ready to assist Hawaii and the rest of the US states and territories that could be affected.”

Meanwhile, in the European country of Moldova, U.S. Vice President Joe Biden said America’s thoughts and prayers are with “our friends in Japan” who suffered a “mega-earthquake.” “We, the United States, stand ready to do anything we can to help our Japanese friends as they deal with the aftermath of this tragedy,” he added.

In addition, the U.S. State Department has issued a travel alert for Japan in wake of the earthquake. “The Department of State strongly urges U.S. citizens to avoid tourism and non-essential travel to Japan at this time,” the alert said. “Tokyo airports are currently closed; other airports in Japan may be closed or have restricted access. Public transportation, including trains and subways are closed in the Tokyo area, and service has been interrupted in other areas. Many roads have been damaged in the Tokyo area and in northern Japan.”

INTERNATIONAL RESPONSE — UNITED KINGDOM

British Foreign Secretary William Hague said the UK government is in contact with the Japanese government. “I have asked our Ambassador in Tokyo to offer all assistance we can as Japan responds to this terrible disaster,” Hague said in a statement,

“Our Embassy and Consulates-General across Japan are in touch with local authorities and making contact with British Nationals to provide consular assistance. We have set up a crisis centre in the Foreign Office to co-ordinate our response and offer advice to anyone concerned about relatives or friends in Japan. We are not aware of any British casualties at this time,” he said.

He added: “Following tsunami warnings across the region our Embassies and Consulates are preparing to provide assistance. Rapid Deployment Teams are ready to travel immediately to the areas of most need.”

Meanwhile, UK Prime Minister David Cameron has asked the British Government to look at how it can help those affected by the earthquake in Japan. “Everyone should be thinking of the country and its people and I have asked immediately that our Government look at what we can do to help,” Cameron said in Brussels where he was attending an emergency summit of EU leaders to discuss the crisis in Libya.

INTERNATIONAL RESPONSE — EUROPE

European Parliament President Jerzy Buzek offered his “deepest condolences” to the people of Japan and to the families and friends of the victims. “We stand by the Japanese people and government,” Buzek said, calling it an “unimaginable tragedy.”

He added: “I am convinced that thanks to the high standards of buildings and infrastructure as well as the preparedness of the Japanese people damages and casualties have been minimized.”

The European Council also expressed its “great concern” upon learning about the earthquake. “We express our condolences and support to the governments and the people affected. In addition to national responses, we have asked the High Representative and the Commission to mobilize all appropriate assistance,” it added.

INTERNATIONAL RESPONSE — RUSSIA

Russian President Dmitry Medvedev has declared a state of emergency for the Kuril Islands and the Sakhalin Region of Russia and said in a statement that “we are ready to come to the aid of our neighbors and assist them in the disaster relief effort following this major earthquake.”

He added: “The authorities there must take all necessary measures to prevent damage and, above all, protect people’s lives, because we know that large tsunamis have already struck and in part have reached our shores too, and so we all must be as prepared and united as possible now. I instruct the Emergencies Minister to file for my approval the disaster relief assistance proposals.”

Medvedev also sent a telegram to Japanese Prime Minister Naoto Kan, saying he was saddened to hear about “the natural disaster that has befallen upon Japan.” “Please convey my sincere condolences to the bereaved families and my words of support to the victims. Russia is ready to render any necessary assistance to Japan in overcoming the consequences of this tragedy,” the Russian President said in his telegram.

INTERNATIONAL RESPONSE — AUSTRALIA

The Australian Government has expressed its deep sadness and condolences to the Government and people of Japan. “Australia stands ready to provide Japan with whatever assistance required,” the Australian Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade (FAT) said in a statement.

DFAT said there is no major damage to the Australian Embassy in Tokyo or the Australian consulate in Sapporo. “We can confirm that all embassy and consulate staff have been accounted for and are safe,” DFAT said.

It added: “There are 45 Australians in these regions who are registered with the embassy but the actual number of Australians in the area is likely to be substantially higher. We are attempting to reach registered Australians to confirm their well-being.”

The DFAT crisis center has been activated in Canberra and the embassy in Japan has activated its crisis plan.

Australians who have concerns for the welfare of family and friends can call the Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade’s 24-hour Consular Emergency Centre on 1300 555 135 or +61 2 6261 3305 from abroad.

INTERNATIONAL RESPONSE — CHINA

Chinese Foreign Ministry spokeswoman Jiang Yu said the country is ready to send rescue and medical teams to Japan, the state-run Xinhua news agency reported.

INTERNATIONAL RESPONSE — IRELAND

The Irish Department of Foreign Affairs has activated its Consular Crisis Centre to deal with public queries relating to the earthquake in Japan and associated tsunami. The dedicated call line is 01-418 0233.

INTERNATIONAL RESPONSE — NEW ZEALAND

New Zealand Foreign Minister Murray McCully has expressed deep concern and sympathy to the people of Japan following the earthquake. All New Zealanders are concerned to learn of this major quake which has caused extensive damage. Our thoughts are with the people of Japan at this moment as they endeavour to respond to this disaster,” Mr McCully said.

He added: “Japan has stood by our side in our time of need in the weeks following our tragedy in Christchurch. Our hearts go out to our friends in Japan.”

The New Zealand Embassy in Tokyo said it is checking the whereabouts and safety of New Zealanders thought to be in the four most affected prefectures of northeast Japan. New Zealanders who have concerns about family in northeastern Japan can contact the New Zealand Ministry of Foreign Affairs and Trade on 0800 432 111 or overseas from +64 439 8000.

INTERNATIONAL RESPONSE — THE PHILIPPINES

Philippines President Benigno Aquino III sent a letter to Japanese Prime Minister Naoto Kan to express his condolences. “It is with great sadness that we learned of the massive earthquake and tsunami that devastated Japan a few hours ago, causing a great deal of loss and damages,” the letter read. “The Government of the Republic of the Philippines and the entire Filipino nation join me in expressing both our most profound condolences and sympathies, as well as our solidarity with Your Excellency and the people of Japan, as you strive to cope with this tragedy whose devastation, it pains us, are still unfolding.”

Aquino said the Philippine Government is standing ready to extend any support and assistance within its capability. “Please accept, Excellency, the renewed assurances of my highest esteem and consideration,” he added.

Meanwhile, Rear Admiral Alexander P. Pama, the Flag Officer in Command of the Philippine Navy, said that it has put its Disaster Response and Rescue Teams (DRRT) on alert status. The DRRTs are prepositioned around the country and can be deployed to help the Japanese government.

INTERNATIONAL RESPONSE — CHILE

Chilean President Sebastián Piñera appealed to people to stay calm while Chile remains on a tsunami warning. He added that the priority is people’s safety and to maintain the normal functioning of society.

“President Piñera has expressed his solidarity with the Japanese authorities and the Japanese people, noting that the Chilean government will provide all possible assistance as Japan did for our country in the aftermath of the earthquake on February 27 last year,” a government statement said.

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