23:38 The Independent newspaper is quoting reports of tens of thousands of people missing. That's many times the official police estimates.
23:12 What appeared to be a relatively controllable problem at the Fukushima facility is starting to look more serious. Mark Hibbs, of the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace, said if the cooling systems were not repaired within 24 hours, the plant risked a “definite danger of a core meltdown", with the “ultimate worst-case” was a “Chernobyl scenario” with explosions destroying the reactor.
22:42 Second power plant at Fukushima starting to lose its cooling systems, according to Japanese officials.
22:10 Fukushima plant is still partly submerged in the floodwater.
22:03 Radiation at Fukushima nuclear power station rising to 1,000 times normal levels, according to unconfirmed reports.
An oil refinery in Chiba, near Tokyo, burns after the earthquake
21:39 Experts say the No1 Reactor at the nuclear plant is 40 years old.
21:37 Reports suggest possibility of radiation leak at nuclear power station at Fukushima. Evacuatino zone extended to six miles. Radiation said to be at eight times normal levels.
21:30 Japan's waking up to the devastation of yesterday. A pretty grim morning.
21:01 More reports of missing trains: four now declared missing, one derailed.
20:23 The earthquake ruptured a section of the Earth's crust 150 miles long and 50 miles wide, according to the US Geological Survey.
20:17 An estimated 3,000 ships were at sea within 500 miles of the epicentre of the earthquake when it hit, according to a spokesman for Lloyd's of London, the shipping insurer, but almost all appear to have ridden out the waves unscathed.
20:02 Officials in Crescent City, California, say one person has died and three have been swept out to sea after waves from the earthquake hit the US.
19:58 Over 35 boats have been crushed and destroyed by waves hitting the Californian coast in Crescent City, 350 miles north of San Francisco, according to Cindy Henderson, the area's emergency services manager. The cost of the damage is estimated at over $2m.
19:41 BBC's science correspondent, Pallab Ghosh, claims the fishing boat trapped in what appeared to be a whirlpool would have been dragged to the centre and "pushed to the bottom of the sea" unless it could power away. Didn't look that powerful to me, but maybe that's why I'm not a science correspondent. Or perhaps he was getting a bit carried away.
19:40 The tsunami alert in Indonesia has now been dropped, according to the BBC's Kate McGeown in Jakarta. It appears that the Pacific Rim is being less badly affected than we had feared, happily.
Gridlock in Tokyo as residents try to get to loved ones or leave the city. Picture: Alfie Goodrich
19:31 Early estimates suggest the disaster could cost insurance companies in Japan £9.3billion.
19:21 Japan has requested the help of international search and rescue teams, according to the UN.
19:19 Strong aftershock estimated at magnitude 6.6 felt in western Japan, according to the state broadcaster NHK.
19:14 Pope Benedict XVI has said he is "deeply saddened" by today's events.
19:01Felipe Calderon, the President of Mexico, tweets that the tsunami has reached his shores, but pushed no higher than the high water mark.
18:40 Radioactive "vapour" will be intentionally released from the Fukushima nuclear power station to lower the pressure inside No1 reactor, authorities in Japan say.
18:36 Ocean surges being reported in Oregon on the US coast, described as similar to the changes from high to low tide but in just 30 minutes.
18:32 The Red Cross has set up a website for people who've lost touch with relatives and friends in Japan. Click here to access it.
18:30 US report suggests the earthquake and tsunami could have been created by the Moon as it approaches its closest point to Earth in 18 years, in what they call a "supermoon", pointing out that the 2005 tsunami was two weeks before another "supermoon".
18:19 Japanese minister says radiation leak "could occur" at Fukushima nuclear plant. However, must be stated that there's no apparent evidence of this yet.
18:15 Captain of USS Blue Ridge, the flagship of the US Navy's Seventh Fleet, which is based in Japan, tells Sky News the vessel is stocking up with humanitarian aid in Singapore ready to head for northern Japan in a few days.
17:59 "Millions" of people on the streets of Tokyo as rail services cancelled despite advice to stay at home. Traffic in gridlock across the city with CNN correspondent Kyung Lah tweeting: "I've gone 3 miles in 3 hours. Seriously. This is how bad it is in Tokyo right now."
17:50 A webcam of the Californian coast can be seen here.
17:47 Californians have been ordered to evacuate in five counties on the west coast.
Waves of the tsunami hit homes after the largest earthquake in Japan's recorded history slammed the eastern coast Picture: AP
17:34 President Obama tells White House press conference that the earthquake has "reminded us just how fragile life can be", adding that: a ship has been sent to evacuate US citizens from the Marianas Islands; US military personnel in Japan are still being accounted for; embassy staff have been moved "to an off-site location"; the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) has been "fully activated"; and that people told to evacuate should "do as you are told".
17:29 Geologists warning that "large earthquakes could continue for many months".
17:27 Five of the top 10 worldwide Twitter trends are now Japan-related. The site appears to be struggling to cope with the vast volume of comments and support for those affected.
17:24 Over 400 people have already called the Foreign Office helpline (number is above).
17:21 Rather jarring advert on Sky News between rolling coverage of tsunami: "Lesson 24; how to ride a wave" - ad for British Airways flights to Barbados. Awful coincidence or terrible attempt at marketing?
17:15 Japanese news agencies are saying the death toll has exceeded 1,000.
17:14 A second train has been declared missing, AFP reports. One has the feeling that this is only the beginning of the horrible unravelling of how people have been affected by this tragedy.
17:12 The earthquake is the biggest in Japan's history and one of the five strongest on Earth in over 100 years. They're listed by recency here:
-March 11, 2011: magnitude 8.9 off the northeast coast of Japan, final devastation as yet uncalculated
-December 2004: Indian Ocean tsunami, triggered by magnitude 9.0 earthquake, kills 230,000 people
-March 1964: 9.2 magnitude earthquake in Prince William Sound, Alaska, resulting tsunami kill 131
-May 1960: magnitude 9.5 earthquake in southern Chile and ensuing tsunami kill over 1,716
-November 1952: magnitude 9.0 quake in Kamchatka, Russia, causes damage but no reported deaths despite 30ft waves
17:00 Millions of people across Japan are without power, it's been reported.
16:58 Over 68 emergency response teams from 45 countries are ready to help deal with the aftermath of the quake, according to a spokeswoman for the UN Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs.
16:54 A bullet train carrying hundreds of passengers through the Miyagi region has been reported missing.
16:50 It's not just the Pacific Rim south of Japan that's affected - Canada has just issued a tsunami warning for the coast of British Columbia.
16:46 It appears that the rest of the world has been pretty powerless to help Japan, other than a US Air Force flight which delivered emergency coolant to one of the nuclear power stations affected.
16:40 Tsunami alerts lifted for Australia, NZ, Guam, Taiwan, Indonesia & Phillipines, reports Channel 4 News.
16:34 At least 137 killed, 539 injured and 351 missing after quake, according to Kyodo News.
A man walks past burning rubble, Iwaki city, following the earthquake in Japan. (Picture: AP)
15.50: A dam in Japan's northeast Fukushima prefecture broke and homes were washed away, Kyodo news reported.
15.47: The World Nuclear Industry Association says it understands water is being pumped back into the cooling system at Fukushima and is "under control", Reuters reports. It adds Hillary Clinton says the U.S. Air Force has delivered coolant to the plant.
15.45: The Telegraph TV team has produced this powerful montage of videos of the Japan quake.
15.41: NHK says the the death toll has risen above 300 with "several hundred missing".
15.40: The London Evening Standard's splash simply says: "Wave of Death".
15.35: The National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration has this very detailed explainer about what is a Tsunami. If you click the top right hand image there is a video.
15.30: George Helffrich, prof of seismology at Bristol University, tells the BBC that the tsunami was travelling at speed "around a kilometre every four seconds".
A worker inspects a caved-in section of the Joban Motorway near Mito, Ibaraki, following the earthquake in Japan. (Picture: AP)
15.27: Bill Daley, the White House chief of staff, says fears about the tsunami hitting Hawaii and heading towards California "seem to have passed".
He told a meeting of the President's Export Council:
The tsunami wave has gone through Hawaii and there does not seem to be any enormous impact, which is extremely encouraging.
15.25: Japan's defence ministry is ready to deploy 300 military planes and 40 vessels for post-quake and tsunami relief, Defence Minister Toshimi Kitazawa said, according to Kyodo News agency.
15.22: President Obama is due to hold a news conference at 1730 GMT, the White House says. He has delayed it because he is getting a briefing about the crisis in Japan. He is calling Japanese Prime Minister Naoto Kan to offer help.
15.19: The nuclear plant with the failing cooling system is expected to have its system return to normal shortly, the local Jiji Press agency has reported.
15.15: British Ambassador to Japan, David Warren, tells Sky News that there are no British casaulties "at this stage" but he says that there may be Britons up in the ravaged north-east of the country. It is too early to tell, he adds.
He said that the embassy "has had contact" from people all over the country.
A tsunami approaches Natori city, Miyagi Prefecture following the enormous earthquake off the coast of Japan. (Picture: REUTERS)
15.05: Reuters have filed a "snapshot" about developments after Japan earthquake.
15.00: American airlines United, Delta and American Airlines are waiving fees for passengers to rebook flights to Japan for at least a week, Bloomberg reports.
United and Delta have offered waivers for flights planned through to March 15, while American won’t charge fees on trips through to March 14. Hawaiian Airlines is offering a waiver until March 18.
14.55: Further to our post at 08:56 our tech correspondent Chris Williams reports that Google has broken with its minimalist homepage design policy to warn users in Pacific countries of coming tsunamis.
14.50: Jeremy Warner, assistant editor of The Daily Telegraph, blogs that Japan will "bounce back from this terrible disaster".
Tim Collard, a retired British diplomat who spent most of his career in China and Germany, says that another terrifying tsunami on the Pacific Rim. But this time it has hit Japan. He asks "does this make a difference?"
14.45: Virgin Atlantic said its daily London-Tokyo service would not operate tomorrow or on Sunday and that a decision on when its flights to Japan would resume would be made over the weekend.
British Airways was scheduled to operate one flight to Narita and one to Haneda tomorrow. A decision on whether those services would operate was expected later today.
Extraordinary map showing energy of Tsunami as it crosses the Pacific from Japan after the earthquake. (Picture: US TSUNAMI WARNING CENTRE)
14.40: Reuters have filed a couple of interesting factboxes on the quake:
Warnings, reefs lessen tsunamis, storms impact
Aid and rescue offers for Japan quake
Factories located near Japan quake-hit region
Tsunami waves could be 6 feet in California
14.31: Almost all of the about 1,200 households in part of the tsunami hit Pacific coast town of Sendai, have been left homeless, police said. The armed forces say 60,000-70,000 people in Sendai were evacuated to shelters.
Sendai, the capital of Miyagi prefecture, has a population of about one million. Up to 300 bodies have been discovered in the area.
Fishing boats and vehicles are carried by a tsunami wave at Onahama port in Iwaki city after an earthquake shook Japan. (Picture: AFP/GETTY IMAGES.)
14.26: Ban Ki-moon, the UN chief, has said the global body will "do anything and everything" to help Japan after a devastating 8.9-magnitude earthquake hit the country unleashing a Pacific-wide tsunami.
Japan is the most generous and strongest benefactors coming to the assistance of in need of the world over.
The world is shocked and saddened by the images coming out of Japan this morning. The UN stands by the people of Japan, we will do anything and everything we can at this very difficult time.
14.24: Bloomberg reports that more than 5800 residents have now been evacuated from the Fukushima Daiichi nuclear power plant.
14.15: Authorities in the French Pacific territory of New Caledonia have ordered residents to evacuate coastal areas for fear of waves caused by a huge earthquake in Japan.
Local authorities urged residents in northern parts of the main island and along the whole east coast of the nearby Loyalty Islands "to evacuate their homes and reach high ground".
Residents look on in horror at factory building that collapsed in Sukagawa city, Fukushima prefecture (Picture AFP/ GETTY IMAGES)
14.11: Japan coast guard searching for another ship with 80 on board washed away by tsunami.
The ship was carrying 80 dock workers when it was swept away when a tsunami struck the northeastern coast, AP reports.
The vessel was washed away from a shipbuilding site in Miyagi prefecture (state). That's the area most affected by a massive offshore earthquake on Friday. The quake triggered the tsunami.
14.05: Here is a dramatic dispatch from a Telegraph correspondent in Tokyo. Martin Foster says in more than 30 years in Japan, today's quake was the "biggest I have ever experienced at first hand".
14.03 A six foot surge has been reported in Kahului Harbor, Hawaii, says Gerard Fryer from the Pacific Tsunami Warning Centre (PTWC).
He told reporters: "This is not going to be a major damaging event."
14.02: Andrew Mitchell, the International Development Secretary, says British rescue teams are on four hours' notice to fly to the disaster zone.
He told BBC Radio 4's World at One:
It is clear Japan has some of the most sophisticated search and rescue people in the world, but if we are asked for any technical or additional support, then of course we will give it.
The British search and rescue team are on four hours' notice if that is required.
More widely we are watching carefully what is happening to this wall of water and tsunami spreading across the Pacific Ocean. As we see the scale of what develops, we will continue to hope for the best and prepare for the worst.
Britain will be engaged in giving any support we can to those affected.
Residents look at a damaged house and road in Sukagawa city, Fukushima prefecture (Picture AFP/GETTY IMAGES)
14.00: At least 12 powerful aftershocks, seven of them of a magnitude of at least 6.3 - the size of the quake which struck Christchurch - have hit Japan.
13.56: Apparently rock band Iron Maiden's flight was diverted as they headed to Japan to play a pair of shows in Tokyo.
13.53: Dozens of Japanese companies have suspended their operations.
Nissan said it suspended operations at a plant in Kanagawa prefecture, west of Tokyo, that produces lithium-ion batteries for electric cars after an earthquake in Japan. The suspension adds to the four other Nissan factories.
Other companies including Sony and Toyota have halted output. Sony halted and evacuated six factories in northeastern Japan. A spokesman said the company was assessing the impact of power outages and damage to its facilities in the region, which make Blu-ray discs, magnetic heads and batteries.
13.50: Tokyo's Narita airport has partially resumed flights after closing following a huge 8.9 magnitude earthquake that hit Japan on Friday and triggered a devastating tsunami.
Officials from the airport said some departing flights were now taking off from the airport, but that it was not accepting arrivals following the worst quake in Japanese history.
At Tokyo's Haneda airport, some flights were departing and arriving but a number had been cancelled.
Hotel guests from the Moana Surfrider evacuate early on Friday, March 11, 2011 in Honolulu, Hawaii (Picture: AP)
13.46: The IAEA has said it had received information from its International Seismic Safety Centre that a second earthquake of magnitude 6.5 had struck Japan near the coast of Honshu, near the country's Tokai plant. Reuters said it gave no further details.
13.44: A major explosion hit a petrochemical complex in the northeast Japan city of Sendai hours after the biggest earthquake in Japanese history triggered a devastating tsunami, local media have reported.
13.38: California residents could be soon evacuated amid tsunami fears, a state emergency agency spokesman told Reuters.
A screen grab shows a tsunami simulation with a prediction of possible spots that could be hit by giant waves after the Japan earthquake. (Picture: EPA)
13.36: Local news agencies in Japan report that between 200-300 bodies have been discovered on tsunami-hit Sendai, AFP reports.
13.35: The Bank of Japan has announced that the two-day Policy Board meeting scheduled for next week is to be cut short.
Analysts say the Bank wants to bring forward the policy announcement to "accommodate additional measures in response to today’s earthquake".
The Bank has already promised “to do its utmost, including the provision of liquidity, to ensure the stability in financial markets and to secure the smooth settlement of funds, in the coming week”, according to Julian Jessop, Capital Economic's Chief International Economist.
Bloomberg reported the Bank had asked banks, securities firms and insurance companies to help clients and depositors in areas affected by the quake.
Financial institutions should honor deposits and withdrawals for customers whose documentation has been lost or damaged because of the disaster, the central bank and Financial Services Agency said.
13.34: Bloomberg reports that Indonesia has lifted a tsunami warning, the Meteorology, Climatology and Geophysics Agency said. Meanwhile Reuters reports a tsunami alert for Guam has been lifted after it was triggered by a massive earthquake off Japan, the U.S. Pacific territory's governor said.
Residents walk between grid locked vehicles on their way home among chaotic traffic in central Tokyo, after the earthquake off the coast of northern Japan (PIcture: REUTERS)
13.32: Millions of people in greater Tokyo are stranded far from home after Japan's biggest earthquake on record shut down the capital's massive subway system.
13.31: The Prince of Wales has sent a personal message of support to the Emperor of Japan.
It was with the greatest shock and sadness that my wife and I heard the terrible news this morning of a massive earthquake in North East Japan.
I can only begin to imagine the horrifying situation with which local communities and your Emergency Services are having to deal.
We have been following reports closely and I wanted Your Majesty to know how much our hearts go out to the families and friends of all those who have lost their lives, have been injured or have seen their property destroyed.
You are constantly in our thoughts and prayers at this most dreadful and challenging of times.
13.29: Ecuador President Rafael Correa invoked emergency powers and ordered the evacuation of the Galapagos Islands and coastal areas as the country braces for a tsunami, Bloomberg reports.
Mr Correa has signed an emergency powers decree, which lasts for 60 days from today, and gives the armed forces and police control of coastal areas.
13.26: 48 reported are missing, including 23 students, in tsunami-hit Japan town, AFP reports.
13.20: Japan's massive earthquake and tsunami has knocked already jittery global stock markets, with Europe following Asia lower and Wall Street expected to open down.
13.13: Tsunami waves have slammed into Hawaii, sweeping through islands after massive earthquake in Japan. There are no initial reports of any damage.
13.10: The Queen has sent of message of sympathy to the people of Japan expressing her sadness at the "tragic loss of life" caused by the earthquake, Buckingham Palace said.
I was saddened to hear of the tragic loss of life caused by the earthquake which has struck north east Japan today.
Prince Philip joins me in extending our heartfelt sympathy to your Majesty and the people of Japan
Our prayers and thoughts are with everyone who has been affected by the dreadful disaster.
The earthquake-induced tsumani waves sweeping into shore in Iwanuma (Picture: AP)
13.07: Britons living in Japan have spoken of their terror.
Ellie Moe, 30, a mother of two originally from Hertford, was at home in Tokyo with her young daughters when the earthquake hit.
She initially couldn't contact her New Zealand-born husband Steven, 34, who had only this week returned from Christchurch where he had been visiting his parents in the wake of their earthquake.
Mrs Moe said:
Earthquakes have been on my mind a lot, and I've been really wondering when one will hit Tokyo. We have little ones fairly infrequently here, but this was the first that I was actually doubting if our building would hold up.
Thankfully I was at home with my two girls, aged three-and-a-half and 18 months, and when it started I thought it would be over with soon, but it got bigger and bigger.
I grabbed them and we sat in the hallway, away from the windows and anything that might fall. It just went on and on.
Everything was shaking and banging, doors were opening and closing and I could hear lots of things falling over, but thankfully no furniture fell down.
Afterwards we sat there glued to the ground, praying for my husband who works in the city in an older building with 5,000 people. Then the second one came, it seemed right away, just as big although not for as long.
My elder daughter Shanna was pretty scared but deals with situations like this by going to sleep and the baby, Ayala, I think thought it was a ride.
I wondered if we were meant to go outside somewhere in an event like this but i didn't know where.
Also I couldn't find any English information on our radio nor much on the internet so had to guess at the Japanese announcements.
It was certainly terrifying. My mouth was dry for hours afterwards and I felt nauseous. But I just keep thinking how much worse it would have been if it was centred under Tokyo. Only now are we realising the extent of the horror further north.
A tsumani triggered by a powerful earthquake makes its way to sweep part of Sendai airport in northern Japan (Picture: AP)
Richard O'Shea, 25, originally from Neath, South Wales, is also currently living in Tokyo, where he works as a teacher.
I was at school when it hit. First we got the children to go under the table, that was just standard procedure, but the force just continued to grow, it felt like the world was going to end.
The children were very well behaved when the quake was at its peak and I was quite scared.
I looked under the desk and there was a three-year-old boy playing with a toy banana as if everything was normal - I don't know why, but it really calmed me down.
Matthew Holmes, a 27-year-old from Nottingham, was at work in Shimokitazawa, west central Tokyo, when he felt the earthquake, which he described as being "like many shocks, joined up by a feeling of being on a wave".
Mr Holmes, who is teaching English after studying for a journalism MA at Sheffield University, said:
I was teaching a class at the time and it's the first time I've been under the table. People were genuinely worried when they told me to get down.
We're only on the second floor, and I thought they were looking after the uninitiated foreigner, but then they really seemed to hit a strange auto-pilot panic.
I have been in Tokyo for three years but never felt something like that. People in their 50s are telling me that neither have they.
13.05: Oil has fallen below $100 a barrel in New York for the first time in more than a week, Bloomberg reports.
13.02: The AP is now saying that Japan's nuclear safety agency has issued an evacuation order to more than 2,800 residents living near the nuclear plant.
13.00: More dramatic video from the Telegraph TV team
Footage of a whirlpool created by currents after tsunami:
Moment muddy wave engulfs Sendai airport:
Waves batter coast and large ships washed ashore in Hachinohe and Miyako Port.
12.57: Death toll now at 116, AFP reports.
12.55: The Tsunami is due to hit Hawaii in less than half an hour.
Japanese police direct traffic on a highway destroyed during the earthquake in Fukushima prefecture (Picture: EPA)
12.50: William Hague has just emerged from the COBRA crisis meeting.
He admitted the Japan quake will "stretch resources" but he will ensure the "necessary" funds. He said the British government will pledge "whatever assistance" was required from the Japanese government
He told reporters in Whitehall:
It does stretch our resources. That is why we are co-ordinating across all government departments.
We will make sure that the necessary resources are there.
12.42:Japan has told the U.N. nuclear wathchdog that a heightened state of alert has been declared at the Fukushima Daiichi nuclear power plant after Friday's major earthquake, the Vienna-based agency said.
Reuters reported that the International Atomic Energy Agency also said it had been told that the plant had been shut down and that no release of radiation had been detected.
Japanese media have reported separately that a leak was possible at the plant as water levels fell.
The World Meteorological Organisation says prevailing winds are blowing eastwards, away from the Japanese coast.
The IAEA is seeking further details on the situation at Fukushima Daiichi and other nuclear power plants and research reactors, including information on off-site and on-site electrical power supplies, cooling systems and the condition of the reactor buildings.
Nuclear fuel requires continued cooling even after a plant is shut down.
Buildings burn after an earthquake near Sendai Airport (Picture: REUTERS)
12.40: Nucler power stations reactors are set up to withstand quakes because of the constant threat in the area, according to experts.
Ian Hore-Lacy, of the London-based World Nuclear Association, said:
They are programmed to shut down as soon as the ground shakes above a certain level and that happened this time.
There are three nuclear plants in the affected area and they all stopped operating at once.
The Japan Atomic Industry Forum (JAIF) issued a notice saying all reactors in the north-eastern part of Japan had shut down automatically.
There was no damage reported to nuclear power plants and there was no indication of any radioactive release.
12.42: Broadcaster NHK says death toll at least 60. Some reports have said that dozens of people trapped in hotel on outskirts of Tokyo. With 56 more missing, officials have braced country that death toll was likely to continue climbing given the scale of the disaster.
12.40: William Hague to give statement shortly after COBRA meeting.
A man looks for supplies in a store in Tokyo that has almost sold out of food and drink as people are unable to return home after an earthquake (Picture: REUTERS)
12.33: A train is unaccounted for in one coastal area, Kyodo reports. The East Japan Railway Co. train was running near Nobiru Station on the Senseki Line connecting Sendai to Ishinomaki when a massive quake hit.
12.31: The Music editor at The Japan Times newspaper has posted this on Twitter:
Reporters in The Japan Times newsroom are standing while they type their stories into the system... just in case they have to evacuate!
12.26: At least 50 people killed in the quake and ensuing tsunami, Japanese TV broadcaster NHK reports.
12.22: Authorities have urged 2,000 residents living within a mile radius of a nuclear plant in Fukushima to evacuate. A radoactive leak was possible at the nuclear plant in a prefecture, north of Tokyo.
The Fukushima prefectural government issued the advice for residents near the No. 2 reactor of the Fukushima No. 1 plant operated by Tokyo Electric Power Co.
12.21: Fire at Onagawa nuclear plant has been extinguished, the IEA says. It says it has received information from Japan of heightened state of alert at Fukushima Daiichi nuclear plant: Reuters snaps.
12.18: Reports in Hawaii say that dozens of people who do not have "acute medical problems" are arriving at hospital emergency departments to seek shelter from the approaching tsunami.
Hospital resources are not sufficient to accommodate those looking for shelter. The influx of people is straining resources to care for people having medical emergencies.
12.13: EU to mobilise "all appropriate assistance" for Japan, AFP reports.
Vehicles are crushed by a collapsed road at a carpark in Yabuki, in southern Fukushima Prefecture (Picture: AFP/GETTY IMAGES)
12.10: Pacific Latin American nations from Mexico to Chile have issued tsunami warnings and Ecuador has ordered preventive coastal evacuations.
12.09: The U.S. State Department has moved its embassy operations in Japan to an alternate location and stands ready to provide any assistance needed for earthquake victims.
The State Department said in Washington said:
Our embassy has been in touch with the Japanese government and stands ready to provide any assistance in response to this horrible tragedy.
12.06: Yacoub Al-Slaise, a teacher has posted on Twitter:
Stadiums and Uni campuses are now open in Tokyo and Yokohama for those unable to get home due to stopped trains/transportation.
11.59: Five Australian MPs are trapped on a bullet train that ground to a halt, the Australian Aassociated Press reports.
11.56: Latest reports are at least 44 people dead and 39 more missing. The National Police Agency said almost 250 people were injured.
11.50: William Hague to chair COBRA crisis meeting at midday.
11.30: A ship carrying 100 people was swept away by the tsunami which smashed into northeastern Japan, the Kyodo news agency has reported.
Tsunami waves hit residences after a powerful earthquake in Natori, Miyagi prefecture (Picture: AP)
11.20: The Japan earthquake was 8,000 times bigger than the one that rocked Christchurch last month, experts say
It is the biggest since records began 140 years ago in a country that is is used to such disasters because of its position on the boundary of the Pacific and Eurasian tectonic plates.
Dr Brian Baptie, of the British Geological Survey's Worldwide Earthquake Locator at Edinburgh University, said it surpasses the Great Kanto quake of September 1, 1923, which had a magnitude of 7.9 and killed more than 140,000 people in the Tokyo area.
A Seismic Monitor from Friday showing the Japan earthquake (Picture: IRIS)
11.17: Tokyo reporter posts on Twitter:
Tokyo might have something of a food problem tomorrow. Shelves are now emptying and transport is not going to be predictable
11.16: US President Barack Obama and his wife Michelle have offered his "condolences" to the people of Japan and said his country stood ready to help them after a massive earthquake and tsunami, AFP reports.
Michelle and I send our 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.
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.
I have instructed FEMA (the Federal Emergency Management Agency) to be ready to assist Hawaii and the rest of the US states and territories that could be affected.
11.15: Public phone use in northern, eastern Japan has been offered free of charge, the Japanese Times quotes the Kyodo news agency
Cars and other debris swept away by tsunami tidal waves are seen in Kesennuma in Miyagi Prefecture, northern Japan (Picture: AP)
11.10: Stocks all round the world have been hit but the yen proved resilient to one of the bigger tremors the country has suffered. The FTSE is set for its worst ever week for almost a year.
Shares in European insurers fell sharply on Friday morning after the massive earthquake.
The quake, which struck towards the end of the Asian trading session, prompted a renewed bout of selling in stock markets and a kneejerk sell-off in the yen. But the Japanese currency recovered somewhat, thanks to its status as a safe haven for international traders.
With tsunami alerts in place all round the Pacific Rim, from Australia all the way up to the west coast of the U.S, investors are clearly on edge over the potential fallout.
11.06: Further to our 10.54 post, Japan issues state of emergency at the nuclear plant after cooling system failure. There have been no radiation leaks so far.
Chief Cabinet Secretary Yukio Edano said:
We have declared a nuclear emergency state to take every possible precaution.
Let me repeat that there is no radiation leak, nor will there be a leak.
We ask residents in the areas near power plants to act calmly.
Houses swept out to sea burn following a tsunami and earthquake in Natori City in northeastern Japan (Picture: REUTERS)
11.03: Marshall Islands disaster management officials have downgraded an earlier tsunami alert to a "tsunami watch".
11.00: Nikki Zywina, 22, from Bicester, Oxon, is an assistant language teacher in Yokote on the JET scheme.
She told The Daily Telegraph via Skype that she was "quite close" to where the quake hit:
We were in school, talking to the kids when suddenly the entire school was swaying for 3 minutes. We noticed this one. There have been constant aftershocks ever since. The power went out with second or third.
There have been two aftershocks in the last thirty minutes. They're big. Crazy. We got off pretty lightly I think. Haven't heard from anyone in Miyagi, but it's meant to be much worse there.
Everywhere in our prefecture the power is out. Possibly all over Northern Japan. We have got no news but on the radio.
The phone network is still up - at least on 3G anyway - but we can't really call each other. Gas and water are still fine. The news here is there might be aftershocks for the next month.
Everyone is coping. There's no damage. The teachers say it's the biggest they've ever felt, but they're pretty calm. The big problem is the snow has come back. There's a full on blizzard and no traffic lights.
None of the shops have power. They're all chock full of people buying up food. No idea when power is going to come back.
It was meant to be graduation tomorrow but it isn't going to go ahead as planned. I am probably going to sleep under my table
Nikki Zywina has been caught up in the earthquake in Japan
10.54: Further to our post at 0946, Japanese officials have admitted that a key cooling system at a nuclear reactor are "not working".
Chief Cabinet Secretary Yukio Edano told reporters that the nuclear power plant in Fukushima developed a mechanical failure in the system needed to cool the reactor.
The reactor needs to have water pumped into it.
The pumping function for the cooler cannot be operated at this moment. The colling process to cool down the reactor is not going as planned."
10.51: Japanese officials have told residents to not use their phones unless absolutely "necessary".
10.46: A 4.5-magnitude earthquake has struck Hawaii as residents brace for a tsunami after a massive earthquake in Japan, the AP reports. There are no reports of damage.
Vehicles are crushed by a collapsed wall at a carpark in Mito city in Ibaraki prefecture (Picture: AP)
10.45: The BBC's Philharmonic Orchestra has been caught up in the quake as members travelled by coach from Tokyo to a concert in Yokohama.
Nobody was hurt and officials ere communicating with the orchestra via text and monitoring their updates on Twitter, a spokeswoman said.
10.41: Chile’s government has issued a tsunami warning after Japan suffered an 8.9-magnitude earthquake, President Sebastian Pinera told reporters.
The government does not rule out evacuating Easter Island if necessary, he added.
10.31: New Zealand civil defence officials have issued a tsunami warning for the country and warned people to stay clear of beaches, AFP reports.
Houses are swallowed by the tsunami in Sendai, Miyagi Prefecture (Picture: AP)
10.30: The AP now saying death toll is 32, quoting Japan's Fire and Disaster Management Agency.
10.25: David Cameron said the Japanese earthquake was a "terrible reminder of the destructive power of nature", our Brusels correspondent Bruno Waterfield reports.
The Prime Minister, who put emergency teams on standby, told reporters:
We send our sympathies and condolences to the Japanese people.
We've had a terrible reminder of the destructive power of nature and everyone should be thinking of that country and its people and I've asked immediately that our government should look at what we can do to help.'
10.20: Taiwan reports that waves that were supposed to hit haven't yet, the BBC reports. Locals have not enforced evacuations from coast amid hopes impact will not be as bad as feared.
10.15: Two astonishing pictures on Twitter about the Japan quake:
One from odyssey:
And another from mitsu_1024
Dan Okimoto, along with thousands of other Oahu residents are evacuated to higher ground due to the tsunami warning for the state of Hawaii (Picture: AP)
10.10: William Hague, the Foreign Secretary, says the British govenment has set up a crisis centre to co-ordinate its response. There are no reports of British casaulties at this stage.
He said British Embassies and Consulates are "preparing to provide assistance" and Rapid Deployment Teams are also "ready to travel immediately to the areas of most need".
Officials are urgently establishing a helpline for family and friends in the UK concerned about the safety of relatives. This will be activated very shortly.
Cars and airplanes swept by a tsunami are pictured among debris at Sendai Airport, northeastern Japan. (Picture: REUTERS)
My thoughts are with the people of Japan at this time. We are in contact with the Japanese government and I have asked our Ambassador in Tokyo to offer all assistance we can as Japan responds to this terrible disaster.
We are also working urgently to provide consular assistance to British Nationals. 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.
Our advice to those in Japan is to check immediate surroundings for fire, gas leaks, broken glass and other hazards, and open doors and windows to avoid being locked in if there are after-shocks.
British Nationals should also make contact with the British Embassy in Tokyo on +(81) 3 5211 1100 or the Consulate-General in Osaka +(81) 6 6120 5600 and monitor local TV and radio for evacuation information.
Radio stations in the Tokyo area that have emergency information in English include the US Armed Forces station at 810AM and InterFM (76.1FM).
British Nationals at evacuation sites should cooperate with the Japanese authorities and clearly identify themselves as British. Those connected with larger organisations such as companies, schools or church groups should also try to let these organisations know of their situation if possible.
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.
10.00: Sean Gallagher, a China based photographer, has posted this on Twitter:
Earthquake Approximate TNT for Seismic Energy Yield - Sichuan, China 2008 = 15.0 megatons - Sendai, Japan 2011 = 336 megatons.
09.55: Two-thirds of the water supply was cut in Inagi-city, west of Tokyo, the Bureau of Waterworks of Tokyo Metropolitan Government has said.
A tsunami hitting the shores of Sendai following an earthquake-triggered tsumani in Japan. (Picture: AFP/GETTY IMAGES).
09.52: The four Japanese nuclear power plants closest to the quake have been safely shut down, the International Atomic Energy Agency said.
The IAEA, the Vienna-based U.N. nuclear watchdog, said it was seeking more information on which countries and nuclear facilities might be at risk from the tsunami unleashed by the quake, Reuters reports.
09.49: Death toll now 26, AFP snaps.
09.48: Tsunami warning expands to entire US West Coast, AP snaps. It has also reached Alaska.
09.46: A fire broke out at Tohoku Electric Power's Onagawa nuclear plant in northeastern Japan, Kyodo news agency has reported.
Reuters reports that prior to the Kyodo report, the company had said it had not received information on whether there had been any problems at the nuclear power plant after the disaster.
Meanwhile, Fukushima Prefecture, the site of a Tokyo Electric Power nuclear power plant, said the plant's reactor cooling system was functioning, denying an earlier report that it was malfunctioning.
09.45: The US Pacific territory of Guam cleared its shore areas after a massive earthquake hit off Japan Friday, sparking a tsunami alert, officials have told AFP.
09.44: Reuters reports death toll has risen to 22.
09.43: Taiwan’s eastern counties of Taitung, Yilan, Hualien and north eastern Keelung city shut schools and businesses after the Central Weather Bureau issued a tsunami alert, Bloomberg quotes the Central Personnel Administration.
Cars on a flooded street following an earthquake-triggered tsumani in Miyagi prefecture, a fire burns at a natural gas storage facility in Chiba (Picture: AFP/ REUTERS)
09.35: Further to our posts at 08.14 UK airlines have now cancelled flights to Tokyo, PA reports.
A British Airways plane heading for Tokyo's Hareda airport had pushed back off the stand at Heathrow when the airline decided it would not be leaving. BA also cancelled its daily Heathrow service to Tokyo's Narita airport.
But London-bound BA flights from Hareda and Narita were due to land safely back in the UK later today having left before the earthquake struck.
Virgin Atlantic, which operates daily services to Narita from Heathrow, also cancelled its Tokyo flight today.
A Virgin spokeswoman said:
Narita is about one hour from central Tokyo and we've cancelled our flight VS900 and the return flight VS901 today.
We do have a flight from Tokyo that left before the earthquake and that will arrive back this evening.
A BA spokesman added:
We decided that we would not operate the Haneda-bound flight (BA007) as a precaution and have also cancelled our flight to Narita."
There are fears that the tsunami could reach as far as Australia, Mexico and Hawaii. Both BA and Virgin said they were closely monitoring the situation.
09.33: Japanese officials downgrade Tsunami to 8.8.
09.27: Nat Sakimura, trustee, Kantara Initiative, has posted this on Twitter:
Fukushima Nuclear Power Plant's cooling system not working. Emergency state announced
A fire in an oil plant in Chiba prefecture, east of Tokyo as massive 8.8-magnitude earthquake shook Japan (Picture: AFP/GETTY IMAGES).
09.18: Police in Hawaii are telling people over loud speakers to evacuate and it was "not a drill". Sky have broadcast footage showing traffic jams in the island. Warning sirens are constantly going off.
09.16: Steve Herman, the Voice of America correspondent, based in Seoul, reports on Twitter:
US Embassy Tokyo: Ready to mobilize US forces in Japan for quake/tsunami relief.
09.13: The Telegraph TV team have produced several videos of the Japan quake.
A huge fire has broken outat an oil refinery in Ichihara following an earthquake in Japan:
Waves up to 13-foot highengulf the port city of Sendai:
Cars and boats are swept away by a huge surge of water in port city of Kamaishi:
Tokyo rocked by 8.9 magnitude earthquake(footage of parliament and inside an office)
09.10: The Japanese earthquake is 1000 times more powerful than the Christchurch earthquake, Sky News reports. But it was 125 miles off the coast compared to near a major city.
09.07: The first tsunami waves reached the Kuril Islands chain on Friday after a powerful quake struck off Japan, prompting Russia to evacuate 11,000 people, officials have said.
Along with Iturup and Habomai, Kunashir and Shikotan are the Kuril chain's southernmost islands that are at the heart of Russia's territorial dispute with Japan.
09.05: AFP reports that Japan quake toll rises to 19 dead.
This graphic provided by the US National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration shows estimated tsunami travel times following the massive 8.9-magnitude earthquake that hit Japan (PIcture: AFP/NOAA)
09.00: Japanese Times says all Tokyo highways jam-packed.
08:58: Japanese Meteorological Society says quake is biggest ever to strike country.
08.56: Google has launched its "people finder". It currently is tracking 1000 records.
Also on its home page it has listed Tsunami alerts.
08.55: Chief Cabinet secretary Edano says Tokyo train system not expected to be resumed soon; asks people not to go home immediately, the Japan Times reports.
08.52: The Red Cross says tsunami waves are 'higher' than some Pacific islands.
The International Federation of Red Cross and Red Crescent Societies warned the tsunami set off by Japan's major could wash over some Pacific islands.
Spokesman Paul Conneally said:
Our biggest concern is the Asia and Pacific region, where developing countries are far more vulnerable to this type of unfolding disaster.
The tsunami is a major threat. At the moment, it is higher than some islands and could go right over them.
Natural gas storage tanks burn at a facility in Chiba Prefecture, near Tokyo (Picture: REUTERS).
08.49: A tsunami warning has been extended to the whole of the Pacific basin, except for mainland United States and Canada, following the earthquake in Japan, the NOAA's National Weather Service said.
The warning includes Mexico and Central and South American countries on the Pacific, its Pacific Tsunami Warning Center said, according to Reuters.
It said that among the countries for which a tsunami warning is in effect are: Russia, Taiwan, the Philippines, Indonesia, Papua New Guinea, Australia, New Zealand, Fiji, Mexico, Guatemala, El Salvador, Costa Rica, Nicaragua, Panama, Honduras, Chile, Ecuador, Colombia and Peru.
08.47: The Japan quake is stronger than the one that struck Haiti, CNN has reported.
A man sits wrapped in a blanket after he was evacuated from a building in Tokyo's financial district (Picture: REUTERS)
08.46: The Philippine government on Friday strongly urged residents of its Pacific coast to "go farther inland" amid a tsunami threat following a huge earthquake off Japan, the civil defence office said.
08.43: Taiwan's Coast Guard Administration has begun evacuating some residents from the island's east coast following a tsunami alert issued after a major earthquake in Japan.
08:41: Hawaii has ordered the evacuation of low-lying coastal areas, officials on the US Pacific island state said.
08.40: Australia and its islands and territories are not under threat from a tsunami at this stage after an earthquake rocked Japan earlier today, the Sydney-based Joint Australian Tsunami Warning Center said, according to Bloomberg.
08.38: The Japanese government said it was coordinating an emergency and rescue plan on the assumption the quake had caused "tremendous damage".
Chief Cabinet Secretary Yukio Edano said the government was doing its utmost to rescue victims "on the assumption there has been tremendous damage", AFP reports.
08.37: A Twitter user called Tokyo Reporter has posted on Twitter:
If you are trying to call people in Tokyo use (03) numbers. Mobile networks still down.
08.35: The tsunami caused by the earthquake in Japan will start to reach coastal areas near Guangdong and Fujian provinces in southeastern China from 8:30 p.m. local time, the official Xinhua News Agency reported.
Citing the National Marine Environmental Forecasting Center it said the tsunami won’t have a significant effect on those regions.
08.33: A tsunami warning has been issued for areas across East Asia and the western coast of South America following a huge earthquake that hit Japan on Friday, the Pacific Tsunami Warning Center said.
Among the countries for which a tsunami warning is in effect are: Russia, Taiwan, the Philippines, Indonesia, Papua New Guinea, Australia, New Zealand, Fiji, Mexico, Guatemala, El Salvador, Costa Rica, Nicaragua, Panama, Honduras, Chile, Ecuador, Colombia and Peru.
By 0800 GMT there had been no reports of a serious tsunami hitting anywhere beyond Japan, Reuters reported.
08.31: The UN in Geneva says at least 30 international search and rescue teams are on "alert", and ready to help in Japan after earthquake, Reuters reports.
08.29: Reports that Tokyo Disneyland has been flooded. Here is a twit pic of people waitng to be evacuated.
The car park at Tokyo Disneyland was drenched with water-logged segments from the ground. It was earlier reported that a tsunami might have caused the inundation but police said the phenomenon was due to liquefaction of soil caused by the intense shaking of the tremor.
There were 69,000 people at the Disneyland and the adjacent Tokyo Disney Sea, built on a landfill in Tokyo Bay, when the quake occurred, a spokesman at the local Urawa police station said.
There were no injuries or property damage reported at the theme parks.
08.25: Japan quake's 8.9 magnitude makes it the 5th-strongest in the world since 1900,says the US Geological society.
08.23: Strong quake aftershock felt in Tokyo, AFP reports.
08.21: Amazing footage has emerged of the quake, with the walls violently shaking after being recorded on videoas a family evacuates their Sendai home in Japan.
08.19: The Australian Science Centre has sent out a couple of expert comments. Kevin McCue is a seismologist and adjunct professor at CQUniversity. He is based in Canberra.
This is the largest earthquake known in Japan. There have been seven earthquakes in Japan over magnitude 8 since 1891.
In 1923 in the great Kanto earthquake which measured 7.9, 147,000 people died so our expectation is that many people will be killed and there will be extensive damage. Fortunately for Tokyo it’s a bit further north than the great Kanto earthquake was, which means the damage in Tokyo is likely to be much less.
A Pacific wide tsunami has been generated, so that will be impacting other countries in the north Pacific in the coming hours.
The wreckage of homes in Kobe, Japan following an earthquake measuring 7.2 on the Richter scale, 1995 (Picture: REUTERS).
Prof James Goff is Co-Director of the Australian Tsunami Research Centre and Natural Hazards Research Lab at the University of NSW:
This Japanese event was considerably larger, only 10 km deep [now revised by the USGS to 24km] and so we should expect a tsunami to have been generated by this.
Not surprisingly warnings and watches are in place. It would highly unlikely for a tsunami to NOT be generated.
Japan has a rigourous earthquake building code and excellent tsunami warning system and evacuation plans - this event will likely provide a severe test for all of them.
08.17: Shares in the German re-insurance giant Munich Re have plunged by 4.93 percent to 111 euros, and Allianz was down by 2.35 percent to 99.6 euros in opening trade following the massive earthquake in Japan.
The DAX index of German blue chips was off by 1.25 percent overall, AFP reports.
The owner of a ceramic shop checks his damaged wares following the massive 8.9-magnitude earthquake in Tokyo, Japan (Picture: AFP/ GETTY IMAGES)
08.14: Number of airlines have suspended flights to Japan.
Korean Air and Asiana Airlines have suspended flights.
Malaysian Airlines has diverted its Tokyo-bound flight MH070 to Taipei.
Qantas is reviewing whether a flight from Sydney to Tokyo would depart while Beijing Capital International Airport may have to delay flight departures.
Korean Air delayed flights scheduled to depart South Korea after the closure of Tokyo’s two main airports, at Narita and Haneda, due to the earthquake.
Jason Kim, a spokesman for Asiana, said it was unclear when flights may be able to resume.
08.13: The AP is reporting that Philippine officials are ordering an evacuation of coastal communities along the country's eastern seaboard in expectation of a tsunami following a 8.9-magnitude earthquake in Japan.
Philippine Volcanology and Seismology Institute director Renato Solidum says the first 3-foot high waves are expected to hit the northernmost Batanes islands by 5 p.m. (09:00 GMT) Friday.
Disaster management officials in Albay province southeast of Manila say they have ordered residents to move to designated evacuation sites that are at least 15 feet (5 meters) above sea level.
08.12: Television pictures shows fierman trying to put out massive fires at oil refineries.
08.10: Japanese spokesman confirms Army have been sent in to affected areas.
08.04: AFP reports that three people are reported killed. The dead included a 67-year-old man crushed by a wall and an elderly woman killed by a fallen roof, both in the wider Tokyo area.
Sendai in Japan has been hit by a major tsunami following a huge earthquake off the coast.
07:57 Trains are down in much of Japan, according to various sources. The Telegraph's Julian Ryall emails:
We've had a pretty big earthquake here and I'm stuck on a bullet train with the lights out, and a group of rather alarmed Japanese OAPs. Kids walking down the street after being evacuated from their school with earthquake helmets on.
07:55 Prime minister Naoto Kan is on television again. He says that while many nuclear power stations have shut down, there have been no reports of nuclear material escaping, but that it is a concern and they will confirm.
07:53 Huge fire at an oil refinery in Ichihara:
07:46 The US tsunami monitoring center has widened its tsunami warning to virtually the entire Pacific coast, including Australia, South America, Hawaii and the rest of the Pacific, after a massive earthquake in Japan - more via BBC Breaking on Twitter:
West coast of US and Hawaii placed on #tsunami 'watch'; western Alaskan islands on tsunami 'advisory' after huge #Japan #earthquake
07:42 Some Japanese nuclear power plants and oil refineries have been shut down and a major steel plant is ablaze, according to Reuters.
Al Jazeera grab showing the aftermath of the tsunami in Japan.
07:37 Sky News has shown the Japanese prime minister Naoto Kan talking to the nation, saying that people need to act fast to help each other and to minimise damage.
07:35 Taiwan and Indonesia become the latest country to issue tsunami alerts, according to Reuters and AFP respectively.
07:30 Key points so far, via Reuters:
- Quake triggers tsunami up to 10 metres (30 feet), waves sweep across farmland, sweeping away homes, crops, vehicles, triggering fires. Tsunami warnings up to 10 metres (30 feet)
- Several people buried in landslide. One person reported killed.
- Power cut to four million homes in and around Tokyo
- Many sections of Tohoku expressway serving northern Japan damaged. Major fire at Chiba refinery near Tokyo.
- Bullet trains to the north of the country stopped
- Tokyo's Narita airport closed, flights halted, passengers evacuated. Tokyo underground, suburban trains halted.
- Eight military planes scrambled to survey damage. Prime Minsiter Naoto Kan orders militaty to do utmost to act in response to quake. Cabinet to meet. The government says more tsunami possible.
- Central bank vows to do utmost to ensure financial market stability
- Several nuclear power plants shut down automatically. At least one station operating normally.
07:29 The first death has been reported, in Takahagi, Ibaraki Prefecture, east of Tokyo, according to AFP.
07:25 Russia's emergency ministry has issued a tsunami warning for the Kuril Island chain, a small group of islands to the north-east of Japan. "A potential tsunami warning is declared" for the Kuril chain that includes four islands claimed by Japan, a spokeswoman for regional emergencies ministry told AFP.
"People are being evacuated," spokeswoman Yekaterina Potvorova said, adding that ships had been ordered to leave ports.
07:22 So far there have been no reports of any deaths, but dozens of people have been reported injured. Trains have been stopped across the country - the Telegraph's own correspondent Julian Ryall is stuck on a bullet train - and there have been fires, while at least one large building in the capital Tokyo, the Kudan Kaikan, has collapsed, with an unknown number of casualties.
07:00 A massive earthquake off the coast of Japan has sent two major tsunamis towards the coast. Harrowing footage of the devastation in the coastal city of Sendai has been shown on Sky News. Follow here for the latest news.
The earthquake that struck Japan on Friday 11 March 2011 was the fourth most powerful in the history of seismology. It knocked the Earth six and a half inches off its axis; it moved Japan four metres closer to America. In the tsunami that followed, more than 18,000 people were killed. At its peak, the water was 40 metres high. Half a million people were driven out of their homes. Three reactors in the Fukushima Daiichi power station melted down, spilling their radioactivity across the countryside, the world’s worst nuclear accident since Chernobyl. The earthquake and tsunami caused more than $210bn of damage, making it the most costly natural disaster ever.
Pain and anxiety proliferated in ways that are still difficult to measure, even among people remote from the destructive events. Farmers, suddenly unable to sell their produce, killed themselves. Blameless workers in electricity companies found themselves the object of abuse and discrimination. A generalised dread took hold, the fear of an invisible poison spread through air, through water – even, it was said, through mothers’ milk.
Those who work in zones of war and disaster acquire, after a time, the knack of detachment. This is professional necessity: no doctor, aid worker or reporter can do their job if they are crushed by the spectacle of death and suffering. The trick is to preserve compassion without bearing each individual tragedy as your own; and as a foreign correspondent and sometime war reporter, I had mastered this technique. I knew the facts of what had happened, and I knew they were appalling. But at my core, I was not appalled.
“All at once … something we could only have imagined was upon us – and we could still only imagine it,” the journalist Philip Gourevitch once wrote. “That is what fascinates me most in existence: the peculiar necessity of imagining what is, in fact, real.”
The events that constituted the disaster were so diverse, and so vast in their implications, that I never felt that I was doing the story justice. In the weeks afterwards, I felt wonder, pity and sadness. But for much of the time I experienced a numb detachment, and the troubling sense of having completely missed the point.
It was quite late on, the summer after the tsunami, when I heard about a small community on the coast that had suffered an exceptional tragedy. Its name was Okawa; it lay in a forgotten fold of Japan, below hills and among rice fields. In the years that followed, I encountered many survivors and stories of the tsunami, but it was to Okawa that I returned time and again. And it was there, at the school, that I eventually became able to imagine.
Okawa elementary school was more than 200 miles north of Tokyo in a village called Kamaya, which stands on the bank of a great river, the Kitakami, two miles inland of the point where it flows into the Pacific Ocean. In ancient times, this region of Japan, known as Tōhoku, was a notorious frontier realm of barbarians, goblins and bitter cold. Even today, it remains a remote, marginal, faintly melancholy place, the symbol of a rural tradition that, for city-dwellers, is no more than a folk memory.
One of the pupils at Okawa elementary, Tetsuya Tadano, was a stocky boy of 11, with close-cropped hair and an air of mild, amused mischief. Every morning he made the 20-minute walk from his house to school with his nine-year-old sister, Mina, along the embankment of the river. On the day of the earthquake, it was the 40th birthday of their mother, Shiroe; a small celebration was planned at home that evening. But otherwise it was an unremarkable Friday afternoon.
At lunchtime, the children rode on unicycles in the courtyard and foraged for four-leafed clovers. It was cold, and a piercing wind came off the river – Tetsuya and his friends stood in a row with their hands in their pockets, and turned their backs on it to keep the chill off their faces.
Lessons at Okawa elementary school finished at 2.30pm. At 2.45pm, the school bus was waiting in the car park with its engine running; a few of the younger pupils had already climbed in. But most of the children were still in their classrooms, finishing up the last school business of the week. A minute later, the sixth-year class were singing Happy Birthday to one of their number, a girl named Manno. It was in the middle of this song that the earthquake struck.
The room was shaking very slowly from side to side, said Soma Sato, one of the sixth-year boys. “They weren’t small, fast shakes – it felt gigantic. The teachers were running up and down, saying, ‘Hold on to your desks.’”
In the library, a man named Shinichi Suzukiwas waiting for his son, who was in the sick room, having being taken ill earlier in the day. Hewatched as the water in the school fish tank slopped over its sides in waves. In Tetsuya’s class, the fifth year were getting ready to go home for the day. “When the earthquake first hit, we all took cover under our desks,” he said. “As the shaking got stronger, everyone was saying things like, ‘Whoa! This is big. You OK?’ When it stopped, the teacher said, right away: ‘Follow me outside.’ So we all put on our helmets and went out.”
The school building was evacuated with exemplary speed. Scarcely five minutes after they had been crouching under their desks, the children were in the playground, lined up by class, wearing the hard plastic helmets that were stored in each child’s locker.
Much later, the city authorities would compile a minute- by-minute log of the events of that afternoon, based on interviews with surviving witnesses. It conveys something of the atmosphere after a big earthquake, of excitement and resignation, light-heartedness and dread:
Child: Everyone sat down and the register was taken. The lower-grade girls were crying, and Miss Shirota and Miss Konno were stroking their heads and saying, “It’s fine.” One of the sixth-grade boys was saying, “I wonder if my game console at home is OK.”
Child: It must have been a kind of “earthquake sickness”, because there were little kids throwing up.
Child: My friend said: “I wonder if there’ll be a tsunami.”
The alarm of the younger children was renewed by repeated, jolting aftershocks. At 2.49pm, while the vibrations of the mother quake were still jangling outwards across northern and eastern Japan, the Meteorological Agency issued a warning: a six metre-high tsunami was expected; everyone on the coast of north-east Japan should evacuate to higher ground.
There were more aftershocks at 3.03pm, at 3.06pm and at 3.12pm. At 3.14pm, the Meteorological Agency updated its warning: the tsunami was expected to come in at a height of 10 metres. The teachers in the playground formed a huddle beneath the cherry trees and engaged in a discussion in low voices.
Like many Japanese institutions, the operations of Okawa elementary school were governed by a manual. The Education Plan, as it was called, covered everything from ethical principles to the protocol for graduation ceremonies. One section was devoted to emergencies, including fire, flood and epidemic.
The Education Plan was based on a national template, which was adjusted according to the circumstances of each school. Immediately after the earthquake, in the villages by the sea, teachers and children were following instructions to ascend up steep paths and cliff steps. At Okawa, the deputy headmaster, Toshiya Ishizaka, had been responsible for revising the Education Plan, but he had left unchanged the generic wording of the template.
As Ishizaka stood in the playground, he found only these vague words to puzzle over: “Primary evacuation place: school grounds. Secondary evacuation place, in case of tsunami: vacant land near school, or park, etc.”
The vagueness of this language was unhelpful. The reference to “park, etc” made little sense out here in the countryside, where there were fields and hills, but no parks as such. As for “vacant land”, there was an abundance of that – the question was: where?
There was an obvious place of safety. The school was immediately in front of a forested hill, 220 metres high at its highest point. Until a few years ago, the children had gone up there as part of their science lessons, to cultivate a patch of shiitake mushrooms. This was a climb that the smallest among the children could have easily managed. Within five minutes – the time it had taken them to evacuate their classrooms – the entire school could have ascended high above sea level, beyond the reach of any conceivable tsunami.
One senior teacher, Junji Endo, later recalled one brief conversation with Ishizaka, after checking for stragglers inside the school. “I asked: ‘What should we do? Should we run to the hill?’ I was told that it was impossible with the shaking.”
But one of the survivors from the sixth year recalled a much more dramatic intervention. Endo, she said, had emerged from the school, calling out loudly, “To the hill! The hill! Run to the hill!”
His alarm was picked up by one of the students, Daisuke Konno, and his friend, Yuki Sato, who made their own appeals to their sixth-year teacher, Takashi Sasaki: “We should climb the hill, sir. If we stay here, the ground might split open and swallow us up. We’ll die if we stay here!”
The boys began to run in the direction of the mushroom patch. But Endo was overruled, the boys were ordered to come back and shut up, and they returned obediently to their class.
Two distinct groups of people were beginning to gather at the school. The first were parents and grandparents, arriving by car and on foot to pick up children. The second were local people from the village – to complicate matters further, Okawa elementary was itself designated an official place of evacuation for the village of Kamaya. And a drastic difference of opinion, verging at times on open conflict, was manifesting itself in the attitudes of the two groups.
The parents, by and large, wanted to get their children out and away as soon as possible. From the education board’s log:
Child: My mum came to pick me up, and we told Mr Takashi that I was going home. We were told, “It’s dangerous to go home now, so better stay in the school.”
Parent: I told Mr Takashi, “The radio says that there’s a 10-metre tsunami coming.” I said, “Run up the hill!” and pointed to the hill. I was told, “Calm down, ma’am.”
The local people, by and large, wanted to stay put. Most of the parents who came to the school were full-time mothers and housewives; most of the villagers offering their opinions were retired, elderly and male. It was another enactment of the ancient dialogue, its lines written centuries ago, between the entreating voices of women, and the oblivious, overbearing dismissiveness of old men.
When the earthquake struck, Toshinobu Oikawa – a grey-suited man in his late 50s who worked in the local branch of the Ishinomaki town government – was in his office, not far from Okawa elementary school. Within five minutes, the first tsunami warning was received from the Meteorological Agency. Within 15 minutes, Oikawa and five of his colleagues were climbing into three cars mounted with rooftop speakers of their own, and setting out to deliver the warning in person.
They were driving through the outer margins of Kamaya when Oikawa became aware of something extraordinary taking place two miles ahead of them, at the point where the sea met the land. The place was Matsubara, the spit of fields and sand where a ribbon of pine forest grew alongside the beach. The trees were a century old. Many of them were around 20 metres high. And now, as Oikawa watched, the sea was overwhelming them, swallowing up their pointed green peaks and tearing up the forest in a frothing surge.
“I could see the white of the wave, foaming over the top of the trees,” he said. “It was coming down over them like a waterfall. And there were cars coming in the other direction, and the drivers were shouting at us: ‘The tsunami is coming. Get out! Get out!’ So immediately we made a U-turn and went back the way we’d come.”
Within seconds they were driving through Kamaya again. More aftershocks were taking place. But it was as if the entire village had fallen under a spell. One of Oikawa’s colleagues was shouting through the car’s loudspeaker: “A super-tsunami has reached Matsubara. Evacuate! Evacuate to higher ground!”
“There were seven or eight people standing around the street, chatting,” Oikawa remembered. “They paid us no attention. I saw the patrol car parked in front of the village police box. But the policeman wasn’t passing on the warning, and he wasn’t trying to escape, either. We passed the school. We were driving fast, we didn’t stop, and we couldn’t clearly see the playground. But they must have heard our message too. The school bus was just standing there.”
In Kamaya, people were doing what they always did after an earthquake: tidying up. Among them was a farmer in his 60s named Waichi Nagano, who lived in a big house out in the fields. “I heard all the warnings,” he said. “There was the loudspeaker car from the town hall going up and down, saying, ‘Super-tsunami imminent: evacuate, evacuate!’ There were a lot of sirens, too. Everyone in the village must have heard them. But we didn’t take it seriously.”
In the playground, the children were becoming restless. A mood of bored resignation had established itself. It was cold. People shared blankets and hand-warmers. There was no sense of anything much happening, or that anything was likely to happen very soon.
At 3.25pm Oikawa and the three loudspeaker vans drove past, blaring their desperate warning. In the school playground, the teachers were preparing to burn wood in oil drums to keep the children warm.
At 3.30pm, an elderly man named Kazuo Takahashi fled his home next to the river. He too had ignored the warnings, until he became abruptly aware of the sea streaming over the embankment beside his house. It seemed to be coming from below the earth, as well as across it: metal manhole covers in the road were being lifted upwards by rising water; mud was oozing up between the cracks that the earthquake had opened in the road.
Takahashi directed his car towards the closest place of evacuation, the hill behind the school. On the main street of Kamaya he saw friends and acquaintances standing and chatting. He rolled down his window and called to them, “There’s a tsunami coming. Get out!” He passed his cousin and his wife and delivered the same warning. They waved, smiled and ignored him.
Takahashi parked his car next to the school. As he climbed out and made for the hill, he became aware of a large number of children issuing forth from the school in a hurry.
Among them was Tetsuya Tadano, who had remained in the playground with his class. Mr Ishizaka, the deputy head, was absent from the playground. He reappeared suddenly. “A tsunami seems to be coming,” he called. “Quickly. We’re going to the traffic island. Get into line, and don’t run.”
Tetsuya and his friend Daisuke Konno were at the front of the group. The traffic island was less than 400 metres away, just outside the village, at the point where the road met the New Kitakami Great Bridge. It was as he approached this junction that he saw a black mass of water rushing along the main road ahead of him.
Barely a minute had passed since he had left the playground. He was conscious of a roaring sound, and a sheet of white spray above the black. It was streaming in from the river, the direction in which the children had been ordered to move.
Some of those at the front of the line froze in the face of the wave. Others, including Tetsuya and Daisuke, turned at once and ran back the way they had come. The rest of the children were continuing to hurry towards the main road; the little ones towards the back were visibly puzzled by the sight of the older children pelting in the opposite direction.
Soon, Tetsuya and Daisuke found themselves at the foot of the hill, at the steepest and most thickly forested section of the slope. At some point, Tetsuya became aware that Daisuke had fallen, and he tried, and failed, to pull his friend up. Then Tetsuya was scrambling up the hill. As he did so, he looked back over his shoulder and saw the darkness of the tsunami rising behind him. Soon it was at his feet, his calves, his buttocks, his back.
“It felt like the huge force of gravity when it hit me,” he said. “It was as if someone with great strength was pushing. I couldn’t breathe, I was struggling for breath.” He became aware of a rock and a tree, and found himself trapped between them, with the water rising about him.
Then darkness overcame him.
Everyone who experienced the tsunamisaw, heard and smelled something subtly different. Much depended upon where you were, and the obstacles that the water had to overcome to reach you. Some described a waterfall, cascading over sea wall and embankment. For others, it was a fast-rising flood between houses, deceptively slight at first, tugging trippingly at the feet and ankles, but quickly sucking and battering at legs and chests and shoulders. In colour, it was described as brown, grey, black, white.
The one thing it did not resemble in the least was a conventional ocean wave, the wave from the famous woodblock print by Hokusai: blue-green and cresting elegantly in tentacles of foam. The tsunami was a thing of a different order: darker, stranger, massively more powerful and violent, without kindness or cruelty, beauty or ugliness, wholly alien. It was the sea coming on to land, the ocean itself picking up its feet and charging at you with a roar in its throat.
It stank of brine, mud and seaweed. Most disturbing of all were the sounds it generated as it collided with, and digested, the stuff of the human world: the crunch and squeal of wood and concrete, metal and tile. In places, a mysterious dust billowed above it, like the cloud of pulverised matter that floats above a demolished building. It was as if neighbourhoods, villages, whole towns were being placed inside the jaws of a giant compressor and crushed.
From the hillside that overlooked Kamaya, where they had narrowly escaped to safety, Waichi Nagano and his wife, Hideko, could see the whole scene spread out below them, as the water swept in pulsing surges over the embankment and across the village and the fields. “It was a huge black mountain of water, which came on all at once and destroyed the houses,” he said. “It was like a solid thing. And there was this strange sound, difficult to describe. It wasn’t like the sound of the sea. It was more like the roaring of the earth, mixed with a kind of crumpling, groaning noise, which was the houses breaking up.”
There was another fainter noise. “It was the voices of children,” said Hideko. “They were crying out – ‘Help! Help!’” On the hill above, where he had half-climbed, half-floated to safety, Kazuo Takahashi heard them, too. “I heard children,” he said. “But the water was swirling round, there was the crunching sound of the wave and the rubble, and their voices became weaker and weaker.”
Tetsuya Tadano came to on the hill, blinded by mud and with the roar of the tsunami in his ears. His limbs were immobilised by spars of debris and by something else – something wriggling and alive, which was shifting its weight on top of him. It was Kohei Takahashi, Tetsuya’s friend and fifth-year classmate. Kohei’s life had been saved by a household refrigerator. It had floated past with its door open as he thrashed in the water, and he had squirmed into it, ridden it like a boat and been dumped by it on his schoolmate’s back.
“Help! I’m underneath you,” Tetsuya cried. Kohei tugged him free. Standing on the steep slope, the two boys beheld the scene below.
Beyond Kamaya had been a succession of hamlets, and beyond them fields, low hills, the swaying curve of the river and finally the Pacific Ocean. After the tsunami, the village, the hamlets, the fields and everything else between here and the sea was gone.
Tetsuya’s first thought was that he and his friend were already dead. He took the raging water to be the River of Three Crossings, the Japanese equivalent of the River Styx. Those who have led good lives cross the river safely by bridge; evil-doers must take their chances in the dragon-ridden waters. Innocent children, being neither sinful nor virtuous, rely on a kindly Buddha to make their passage, and to protect them from the depredations of hags and demons.
“I thought I’d died,” Tetsuya said. “Dead … the River of Three Crossings. But then there was the New Kitakami Great Bridge, and the traffic island. And so I thought this might be Kamaya after all.”
The water, which had receded, began to surge up the hill again. The two boys tottered up the slope. Tetsuya’s face was black and bruised. In the churn of the tsunami, the ill-fitting plastic helmet that he wore had twisted on its strap and dug brutally against his eyes. His vision was affected for weeks; he could only dimly make out what was going on in the water below.
Kohei’s left wrist was broken and his skin was punctured by thorns, but his vision was unaffected. Whatever was visible of the fate of his school and his schoolmates, he saw it. He would never talk publicly about it.
Only later would the full scale of the tragedy at Okawa elementary school become clear. The school had 108 children. Of the 78 who were there at the moment of the tsunami, 74 of them, and 10 out of the 11 teachers, had died.
Later, many of the children’s parentswere tormented by self-reproach for not rushing to the school to collect them. But far from being neglectful or lazy, they had followed the course of action that, in every other circumstance, would have been most likely to secure their safety and survival. Nowhere in Japan are precautions against natural disaster more robust than in state schools. On 11 March 2011, out of 18,000 people killed by the earthquake and tsunami in Japan, only 75 were children in the care of their teachers. All but one were at Okawa elementary school.
Katsura Sato’s daughter Mizuho was one of the children killed at Okawa. “After the cremation – well, I’m usually healthy, but I became ill,” Katsura said. “I couldn’t get up. I stayed in bed for three days. And I started thinking and thinking, and I became very suspicious about the circumstances in which we lost our daughter. I knew that this was a great natural disaster, and I assumed at the beginning that there must have been many other cases like this, other schools where the same thing happened. But why did I never hear of them?” In the nearby villages along the river, as they began to catch their breath in the weeks following the disaster, other parents were asking the same question.
The revelation of the truth about what had happened was itself the opposite of a tsunami. There was no grand climax, no crashing wave or rumbling of the earth. The facts came out in trickles and drips, some falling naturally, some squeezed out by wringing hands. The stray words of a surviving child, revealing an unrecognised failure. A document exposing contradictions in the official account. The official account itself, wobbling and bending. Every few months there was a new “explanatory meeting”, at which the bureaucrats of the Ishinomaki Education Board submitted themselves to the anger of the parents. Reluctantly and with trepidation, people came forward to tell their stories.
The imperviousness of the city officials, their refusal to muster a human response to the grief of the families, seemed at the beginning to be a collective failure of character, and of leadership. But as time passed, the parents began to suspect another motivation – an obsession with avoiding anything that could be taken as an admission of liability. The metallic tang of lawyerly advice lingered around many of the bureaucrats’ utterances. They were happy to express grief and condolence, and willing to abase themselves in general terms for their unworthiness. But to acknowledge specific negligence on the part of individuals, or systematic, institutional failure – that was a step no one would take.
Twenty-three months after the tsunami, the Ishinomaki city government announced the establishment of something called the Okawa elementary school incident verification committee, which would spend a year reviewing documents and conducting interviews. Its findings were published in a 200-page report in February 2014.