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Tokyo (CNN) — The most powerful earthquake to hit Japan in at least 100 years unleashed walls of water Friday that swept across rice fields, engulfing towns, dragging houses onto highways and tossing cars and boats like toys.

Local media reported at least 50 deaths, with more casualties feared.

And the 8.9-magnitude quake, which struck at 2:46 p.m. local time, prompted the U.S. National Weather Service to issue a tsunami warning for at least 50 countries and territories.

It also sparked fires in at least 80 locations, Kyodo news reported.

Its epicenter was offshore 373 kilometers (231 miles) away from Tokyo, the United States Geological Survey said.

But residents there continued to feel aftershocks hours after the quake. More than 30 aftershocks followed, with the strongest measuring 7.1.

“I wasn’t scared when it started … but it just kept going and going,” said Michelle Roberts, who lives in central Tokyo. “I won’t lie, it was quite scary. But we are all OK. We live on the third floor, so most everything shook and shifted.”
A spokesman for the U.S. military bases in Japan said all service members were accounted for and there were no reports of damage to installations or ships.

President Barack Obama, while offering his condolences, said the United States was standing by to help “in this time of great trial.”

Japanese Prime Minister Naoto Kan said an emergency task force has been activated, and appealed for calm. He said there were no reported leaks of radioactive materials from power plants.

Four nuclear power plants closest to the quake were safely shut down, the U.N. nuclear watchdog agency said.

At Tokyo Station, one of Japan’s busiest subway stations, shaken commuters grabbed one another to stay steady as the ground shook. Dazed residents poured into the streets after offices and schools were closed. Children cried.

The quake toppled cars off bridges and into waters underneath. Waves of debris flowed like lava across farmland, pushing boats, houses and trailers. About 4 million homes had no power in Tokyo and surrounding areas.

Firefighters battled a fiery blaze at an oil refinery in Chiba prefecture near Tokyo.

Residents said though earthquakes are common in Japan, Friday’s stunned most people.

“This was larger than anyone expected and went on longer than anyone expected,” said Matt Alt, who lives in Tokyo.

“My wife was the calm one … she told us to get down and put your back on something, and leave the windows and doors open in case a building shifts so you don’t get trapped.”

Richard Lloyd Parry said he looked through a window and saw buildings shaking from side to side.

“Central Tokyo is fine from what we see, people are calm … and not going inside buildings,” he said.

Such a large earthquake at such a shallow depth — 24.4 kilometers (15.2 miles) — creates a lot of energy, said Shenza Chen of the U.S. Geological Survey.

As the city grappled with the devastation, a massive tsunami swept across the Pacific Ocean.

An earthquake of that size can generate a dangerous tsunami to coasts outside the source region, the National Weather Service said.

In Philippines alone, the tsunami is expected to hit in the early morning and the government has evacuated coastal areas.

The National Weather Service issued warnings for more than 50 countries and territories.

The wide-ranging list includes Russia and Indonesia, Central American countries like Guatemala, El Salvador and Costa Rica and the U.S. state of Hawaii, where warning sirens were sounded in the morning. A tsunami warning was also issued for areas along the United States and Canadian west coasts.

While some officials feared that waves from the tsunami could be high enough to wash over entire islands in the Pacific, at least one expert said it was unlikely.

The tsunami could cause significant damage and flooding, but “washing over islands is not going to happen,” said Gerard Fryer of the Pacific Tsunami Warning Center.

Humanitarian agencies were working with rescue crews to reach the people affected.

“When such an earthquake impacts a developed country like Japan, our concern also turns to countries like the Philippines and Indonesia, which might not have the same resources,” said Rachel Wolff, a spokeswoman for World Vision.

Wolff said her agency is helping people on the ground in Japan and teaming up to help others in countries along the path of the tsunami.

The tsunami could cause damage “along coastlines of all islands in the state of Hawaii,” warned the U.S. National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration. “Urgent action should be taken to protect lives and property.”

Tsunamis are a series of long ocean waves that can last five to 15 minutes and cause extensive flooding in coastal areas. A succession of waves can hit — often the highest not being the first, said CNN meteorologist Ivan Cabrera.

The quake was the latest in a series in the region this week.

Early Thursday, an earthquake with a preliminary magnitude of 6.3 struck off the coast of Honshu. A day earlier, a 7.2-magnitude earthquake had struck off the same coast, the country’s meteorological agency said.

The largest recorded quake took place in Chile on May 22, 1960, with a magnitude of 9.5, the USGS said.

The quake Friday was the fifth-strongest in the world since 1900, the agency said and the most powerful to hit Japan since then.

A massive earthquake has hit the north-east of Japan, triggering a tsunami that has caused extensive damage.

Japanese television showed cars, ships and even buildings being swept away by a vast wall of water after the 8.9 magnitude earthquake.


Officials said the wave could be 10m (33ft), and numerous casualties are feared.

The quake struck about 250 miles (400km) from Tokyo at a depth of 20 miles, shaking the capital.

The tremor at 1446 local time (0546 GMT) was followed by a series of powerful aftershocks.

Seismologists say it is one of the largest earthquakes to hit Japan for many years.

The tsunami warning was extended to the Philippines, Indonesia and the Pacific coast of Russia.

Tsunami waves hit Japan’s Miyagi and Fukushima prefectures, officials said.

Japan’s NHK television showed a massive surge of water sweeping away buildings, cars and ships.

The earthquake also triggered a number of fires.

There were reports of about 20 people injured in Tokyo after the roof of a hall collapsed onto a graduation ceremony.

There were also reports of injuries in Tokyo after.

Japan PM Naoto Kan admits foreign donations

Posted by arnon_k On March - 11 - 2011 ADD COMMENTS

Japanese Prime Minister Naoto Kan has admitted that his political campaign fund received donations from a foreigner, in breach of Japanese law.

Mr Kan told a parliamentary committee that at the time he had been unaware that the donor was a South Korean citizen, resident in Japan.

He told cabinet colleagues he would not be resigning.

Japanese law bans political donations from foreigners to prevent politicians being influenced from abroad.

“I thought he was a Japanese national as he had a Japanese name,” Mr Kan told a parliamentary committee about the reported donations.

“I wasn’t aware at all that he is a foreign national as the report says.”

He promised to “return all the money if it is confirmed that he is a foreign national”.
When asked if Mr Kan would resign, Chief Cabinet Secretary Yukio Edano told a news conference: “I have heard that the prime minister is absolutely not thinking about such a thing.”

Mr Kan was given support by his finance minister, Yoshihiko Noda, who said “as it wasn’t intentional, I don’t see any legal problems there”, Dow Jones Newswires reported.

Under Japanese law, knowingly receiving political donations from foreigners can lead to a five-year ban from public office, but if a lack of intention can be demonstrated, there may not be legal problems.

Mr Kan would become the fifth Japanese prime minister to leave his job after a year or less in office if he resigned.

His departure would also further delay the passage of bills necessary to implement the national budget and curb the deficit.

‘Fulfil my duty’

The resignation of Foreign Minister Seiji Maehara on Sunday – over donations he had received from a South Korean – has added to the impression of a government in disarray.

Mr Maehara had been seen as a potential successor to Mr Kan but had to step down after just six months in the job.

He had admitted taking a 50,000 yen ($610) political donation from a South Korean national resident in Japan.

At the time, Mr Kan told parliament that he intended to fulfil his duties until elections, which must be held by late 2013.

“Carrying out the administration’s duties for a four-year term and then letting the people decide at the ballot box is best for the people themselves,” Mr Kan told an earlier parliamentary session.

“I intend to firmly fulfil my duty until that time comes.”

The opposition, which controls the upper house, wants an early poll and is threatening to block budget bills.

Mr Kan has also been fighting an internal party battle with power-broker Ichiro Osawa.

Mr Ozawa, a founder member of the DPJ, was indicted on 31 January for alleged false reporting by his fund management company.

He is widely credited with overseeing the DPJ’s 2009 election victory, which ended half a century of almost unbroken rule by the Liberal Democratic Party.

7.2 earthquake hits off coast of Japan

Posted by arnon_k On March - 9 - 2011 ADD COMMENTS

(CNN) — A tsunami advisory has been issued in Japan after a 7.2 magnitude earthquake struck off the coast of Japan’s main island of Honshu, the Japan Meteorological Agency said Wednesday.

The quake was centered 169 kilometers (105 miles) off the east coast of Honshu, directly east of the city of Sendai, the U.S. Geological Survey said.

The quake occurred about 8.8 miles below the earth’s surface, the USGS said. The expected height of the tsunami was only expected to be 0.5 meters (19.6 inches).

CNN correspondent Kyung Lah said she could feel the earthquake in Tokyo, 267 miles southwest of the quake’s epicenter, and said the shaking lasted as long as three minutes, but that there was no significant damage.

TV Asahi showed video of boats rocking back and forth, as well as images taken from shaken city cams as the earthquake hit.

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