A ‘once in one hundred year’ earthquake has hit Japan, the most powerful since records began struck the north-east coast on Friday, triggering a massive tsunami.
Ships, cars, even a bullet train are missing, swept away by a wall of water after the 8.9 magnitude tremor took hold of north-east Tokyo.
A state of emergency has been declared at a nuclear power plant, where pressure went over the normal levels.
Thousands of people living near the Fukushima nuclear power plant have been ordered to evacuate.
The death toll has been predicted to reach over 10,000 -thousands are still missing, but it is feared they many not be found.
Japan’s ground self-defence forces have been deployed, and the government has asked the US military based in the country for help. The scale of destruction from the biggest quake ever recorded in Japan will become clear only at first light.
US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton had earlier said the US Air Force had flown emergency coolant to the site.
But US officials later said no coolant had been handed over because the Japanese had decided to handle the situation themselves.
The UN’s nuclear agency said four nuclear power plants had shut down safely.
The tsunami rolled across the Pacific at 800km/h (500mph) – as fast as a jetliner – before hitting Hawaii and the US West Coast, but there were no reports of major damage from those regions.
In other developments:
- Four trains are missing along the coast, says Japan Railways; and a ship carrying 100 people was swept away
- Fire has engulfed swathes of the coast in Miyagi prefecture’s Kesennuma city, one-third of which is reportedly under water
- A major explosion hit a petrochemical plant in Sendai; further south a huge blaze swept an oil refinery in Ichihara city, Chiba prefecture
- Some 1,800 homes are reported to have been destroyed in the city of Minamisoma, Fukushima prefecture
- A dam burst in north-eastern Fukushima prefecture, sweeping away homes, Kyodo news agency reports
- At least 20 people were injured in Tokyo when the roof of a hall collapsed on to a graduation ceremony