Houses burn amid flood waters on Friday after a massive magnitude 8.9 earthquake off the coast of Japan triggered a powerful tsunami. Hundreds are dead, thousands are stranded, and a handful of ships and trains remain missing along the country's northeastern coast, according to the Los Angeles Times. (Get tsunami facts.)
The earthquake—the strongest in Japan in 140 years—struck 81 miles (130 kilometers) off the coast of Sendai at 2:46 p.m. local time, the LA Times reported. (See a Japan map.) A port city of about a million residents, Sendai was hit by tsunami waves up to 33 feet (10 meters) high. Tsunami warnings were quickly issued for many Pacific Coast regions, including Hawaii, the Philippines, and Mexico. (See tsunami pictures.)
The earthquake and its aftershocks were felt as far away as Tokyo, about 250 miles (400 kilometers) from the epicenter.
"I thought I was going to die when it hit," Megumi Ishii, 26, told the LA Times from Tokyo. "At first it didn't shake that much. But then the shaking got more violent and everyone in my office got under their desks. The ceiling tiles came off and some things fell off shelves."
Evacuees console one another in Tokyo's Shinjuku Central Park on March 11 after the magnitude 8.9 earthquake in Japan.
Although miles from the epicenter, Tokyo felt the effects of the earthquake and its aftershocks as buildings swayed, train cars rocked, and windows rattled, according to BBC News. Residents and office workers poured out of buildings in Japan's capital city and gathered in open spaces. (Related: "Earthquake Fault Under Tokyo Closer Than Expected, Study Finds.")
The earthquake prompted officials to suspend Tokyo's rapid transit system, stranding many people in the city center, the BBC reported. About four million homes in the Tokyo area are without power.
People examine a house damaged by a collapsed roadway in Sukagawa City on March 11 after Japan's magnitude 8.9 earthquake.
Japan is part of the Pacific ring of fire, a geologically active region prone to earthquakes and volcanic eruptions. Still, Friday's powerful temblor caused widespread devastation on Japan's main island of Honshu. For instance, a petrochemical plant in Sendai suffered a large explosion and an oil refinery caught on fire in Ichihara City, the BBC reports.
Tsunami waters engulfed croplands and towns and swept away houses, cars, and ships along Japan's east coast. The huge waves—up to 33 feet (10 meters) high in places—reached as far as about 6 miles (10 kilometers) inland in Miyagi Prefecture, CNN reported.
According to Japan's Kyodo News, 200 to 300 bodies have been found in Miyagi's coastal city of Sendai, likely the hardest hit by the tsunami.
People survey debris-filled waters on March 11 after tsunami waves engulfed coastal towns in Japan's Miyagi Prefecture.
Video footage from locations along Japan's east coast shows walls of water smashing ashore, often with large objects such as cars, boats, and even homes riding inland with the waves.
In Sendai, the tsunami wave "was mixed with mud, with ships and cars smashing toward wooden houses, dragging those into rice fields, and basically bashing them into pieces," a Bloomberg TV reporter said from the scene, according to the Christian Science Monitor.
A column of flames towers over Ichihara, Japan, on March 11 after the magnitude 8.9 earthquake triggered a fire at a petrochemical plant.
Elsewhere, the Japanese government ordered thousands of residents in Onahama City to evacuate after a cooling system failure at a nuclear power plant, according to the Associated Press.
No radiation leaks have been reported, but people were told to move at least two miles (three kilometers) away from the plant because the reactor core is still hot even after being shut down.
Photograph from Kyodo/AP
A three-story tsunami obscures all but treetops as it roars into Natori, Japan, on Friday—about the same height as the largest waves seen during the Indian Ocean tsunami that killed hundreds of thousands in late 2004.
Tsunamis have been known to surge vertically as tall as 100 feet (30 meters). Most tsunamis cause the sea to rise no more than 10 feet (3 meters).
Tossed like toys, airplanes and automobiles litter debris piles at the airport in Sendai, Japan, after three-story waves struck the city on Friday. (Watch video of the tsunami creeping across Sendai's airport.)
Spawned by the magnitude 8.9 earthquake offshore, tsunami waves nearly completely inundated the runway. The airport, like others in Japan, is closed as of Friday midday, eastern time.
In general, travel to, from, and within Japan is highly compromised. The U.S. State Department announced early Friday that it "strongly urges U.S. citizens to avoid tourism and non-essential travel to Japan at this time.
"Tokyo airports are currently closed; other airports in Japan may be closed or have restricted access. Public transportation, including trains and subways are closed in the Tokyo area, and service has been interrupted in other areas. Many roads have been damaged in the Tokyo area and in northern Japan.
"Strong aftershocks," the State Department added, "are likely for weeks following a strong earthquake such as this one."