2011: Japan quake, tsunami huge

March 12, Tokyo: The biggest earthquake to hit Japan since records began 140 years ago struck the northeast coast yesterday, triggering a 10m tsunami that swept away everything in its path, including houses, ships, cars and farm buildings on fire.

The Red Cross in Geneva said the wall of water was higher than some Pacific islands and a tsunami warning was issued for the whole of the Pacific basin, except for the United States and Canada, but Hawaii ordered the evacuation of coastal areas.

At least 32 people had been killed in the quake and tsunami, Kyodo news agency said, and with the extent of the destruction the death toll will rise significantly.

An estimated 100 New Zealanders are in the northeastern part of Japan worst affected by the quake and tsunami, a Ministry of Foreign Affairs and Trade spokeswoman said.

The number was an estimate because not all travellers registered with the embassy. There were 756 New Zealand registered as travelling or living in the whole of Japan.

Foreign Minister Murray McCully last night expressed concern and sympathy for Japan following the quake and tsunami, which struck at 2.46pm local time (6.46pm NZ time).

"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," he said.

Some nuclear power plants and oil refineries were shut down and a refinery and a major steel plant was ablaze. About 4.4 million homes were without power in northern Japan, media said.

There were several strong aftershocks. In Tokyo, buildings shook violently. An oil refinery and storage tanks near the city were on fire. Stunning TV footage showed the tsunami carrying debris and fires across a large swath of coastal farmland near the city of Sendai, which has a population of one million.

Ships were lifted from the sea into a harbour, where they lay on their sides. Waves carried cars across the Sendai airport. Sendai is 300km northeast of Tokyo and the epicentre at sea was not far away.

TV footage showed boats, cars and trucks tossed around like toys in the water after a small tsunami hit the town of Kamaichi in northern Japan.

March 16, Soma: Japan's nuclear crisis has taken a frightening turn for the worse.

Dangerous levels of radiation leaking from a crippled nuclear plant forced Japan to order 140,000 people to seal themselves indoors yesterday after an explosion and a fire dramatically escalated the crisis spawned by the deadly tsunami.

And as Japan met other Group of Eight (G8) powers, France's foreign minister warned in Paris that the risk from one of the nuclear reactors damaged by Japan's huge earthquake was "extremely high".

The nuclear crisis escalated yesterday as two more blasts and a fire rocked the quake-stricken Fukushima atomic power plant, sending radiation up to dangerous levels. Japanese Prime Minister Naoto Kan said radiation had spread from four reactors of the Fukushima Daiichi nuclear plant in Fukushima state, one of the hardest-hit in Friday's 9-magnitude earthquake.

Though Mr Kan urged calm, yesterday's developments fuelled a growing panic in Japan and around the world about what would happen next.

The crisis is the most grave nuclear threat in the world since a nuclear power plant in Chernobyl, Ukraine exploded in 1986.

Workers were desperately trying to stabilise three reactors at the power plant that exploded after losing their ability to cool and releasing some radiation.


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