Death toll expected to exceed 10,000 in tsunami-hit Japan
The official death toll is 688, with up to 300 bodies more waiting to be identified. More than 1,500 have been injured.
Officials in the Miyagi prefecture have declared that almost 10,000 residents missing in the town of Minamisanriku are feared dead.
Japan has been recently struck by another 6.2-magnitude aftershock with the epicentre located about 180 kilometers from Tokyo – this being much closer to the capital than Friday’s devastating earthquake.
In the last 24 hours there have been over 100 aftershocks, one of the most powerful happening on Saturday afternoon near the east coast of Honshu, not far away from Fukushima region.
In northern Japan, water surged inland in Sendai, some 350km (217 miles) north of Tokyo. The city of Sendai is considered to be worst hit. Police say almost every house in the city has been damaged or destroyed.
One Japanese news agency suggests there are literally tens of thousands of victims unaccounted for.
Another serious quake, measuring 6.6, also struck after the initial quake – again rocking Tokyo's skyscrapers and spreading fear among people still reeling from the earlier disaster.
Japan has asked the United Nations to send rescue teams to help deal with the disaster.
Japan has declared a nuclear power emergency after the cooling system failed at a nuclear power plant at Fukushima following the earthquake in the northeast.
Japan's meteorological agency says the initial 8.9-magnitude quake hit at 2:46 pm local time in the Pacific ocean about 400km (250 miles) from Tokyo.
The quake has been assessed as the most powerful in the country’s history. It was one of those that are called “shallow earthquakes” – those that happen in the ocean, but very close to the shore.
Four million homes have been left without power. There is widespread damage in the country's north-east.
Thousands of passengers have been stranded at Japanese airports as reports say some 711 flights have been cancelled.
Tokyo's Narita International Airport has been closed and the railroad service has been suspended in areas affected by the quake. Thousands crowded major transport hubs like Tokyo looking to reach their homes.
Communication links are paralyzed, making it difficult to confirm levels of damage or injuries.
If you are looking for someone who might be in the disaster-hit region in Japan you can visit a special internet site launched by Google to find and share information.
Eye-witnesses have been posting their accounts via Twitter. User japanreports wrote: “People are running out into the traffic, there are some who died under the wheels…. There are fires in Tokyo. And in every place where there were quake shocks. Oil and gas depots are ablaze, the fire is 30 meters high.”
“The tremors lasted a total of three hours with interruptions,” wrote user MIG222K. “Helicopters are flying everywhere.”
Eyewitnesses Yoshihiro Hino and Kazuyuki Sasaki from Meiji University in Tokyo shared with RT what they felt when the devastating earthquake struck: “We attended a meeting when a huge earthquake came to Tokyo, it continued for a long while. We were afraid, there was panic” said Hino. “But the authorities so far are reacting properly” added Sasaki.
Tatyana Snitkova, a Russian woman who lives in Tokyo told RT that she was working at home, when she suddenly felt slight jolts.
“I didn’t know what to do – sit at home or leave. At that moment I saw a message on the screen of my TV. It said that in 20 seconds there would be an earthquake. I jumped up and left. It was shaking. I heard a crack. Posts and fences were cracking."
"Although the epicentre was far away from Tokyo, I felt like I was on a ship while it rocked. It seemed like everything around me would crash. It was happening all day. Every time I returned home, it started again,” said Snitkova.
Kyle Cleveland, a sociology professor at Temple University in Tokyo, says the Japanese people's preparation and reaction, as the ground shook beneath them, was exemplary.
“There are really strict standards for construction [in Japan] and as a result buildings are very stable. There is a remarkable lack of structural damage in the entire region given the level of this earthquake,” he said. “People were extremely sensitive towards other people.”
Japan’s Prime Minister Naoto Kan called on the population to remain calm.
“We must show the spirit of co-operation to minimize the existing damage,” Kan said addressing the nation.
Meanwhile, aftershocks continue in Japan’s northeast.
Tsunami-affected areas in Japan. Red indicates waves 3-10 meters high, orange – 1-2 meters high, yellow – 0.5 meters (yahoo.co.jp)
The worst-affected prefectures in Japan, hit by waves as high as 10 meters, are Aomori, Iwate, Miyagi, Fukushima, Ibaraki and Chiba.
Video from national broadcasts has shown buildings, cars and even ships being swept away and several oil refinery facilities ablaze along the coastline.
Watch Japanese TV video footage from Sendai, Miyagi prefecture (NHK network)
Other areas in Pacific may also be affected
A state of emergency has been declared throughout Russia's entire Sakhalin Region, which comprises Sakhalin Island and the Kuril Islands. Eleven thousand people have already been evacuated from Kuril Islands in anticipation of earthquake aftershocks. Waves hitting the Kuril coastline reached two meters high on Saturday morning. Exceedingly high seismic activity in the region puts the area at an especially high risk.
Officials say they are getting ready for any type of scenario, while tsunami clean-up services are on high alert. No injuries or serious damage have been reported so far in the Kuril Islands.
Watch RT correspondent Ekaterina Gracheva’s report from Sakhalin region
Russia's president Dmitry Medvedev has said Russia is ready to help Japan tackle consequences of the disaster.
"Of course, we are ready to help our neighbors in overcoming the effects of this severe earthquake. A state of emergency has also been declared on our soil, on the Kuril islands, in the Sakhalin Region, where all necessary measures must also be taken to prevent damage and loss of life," he said.
"The tsunami has already reached our shores as well, and we must all be united at this time. I'm now ordering the Emergencies Minister to present a plan of assistance to Japan."
According to the latest reports from the Emergencies Ministry, they have already prepared six jets that may be sent to Japan if it asks for help. They may also provide a mobile hospital if necessary.
Watch RT correspontent Egor Piskunov's report
Countries across the Pacific area, including South America, the US and Indonesia were also bracing themselves for possible tsunami waves.
According to Reuters, the United States appears to be out of major danger from a tsunami, quoting the White House chief of staff.
"The tsunami wave has gone through Hawaii and there does not seem to be any enormous impact, which is extremely encouraging," said Bill Daley at a meeting of the President's Export Council.
There is still some risk to the US West Coast, "but I think the enormous fears that that were there hours ago, for some of us hours ago, has diminished greatly, which is quite a relief for all of us," he said.
Meanwhile tsunami warnings have also been lifted for some densely populated Asia Pacific countries, including Indonesia and Taiwan, as they no longer appear to be at risk.
Watch Gayane Chichakyan's report on aftermaths of the tsunami in the Pacific
Deadliest quakes in Japan
Japan often suffers from powerful quakes due to high seismic activity in the region. The last one that caused many casualties was the Great Hanshin earthquake on January 17, 1995.
The event measured M6.8 and its epicenter was at a 20km distance from the city Kobe. Over 6,000 people died and hundreds of thousands left homeless. Japan launched a major overhaul of its disaster prevention and relief system after this quake.
The 1948 earthquake in Fukui province left more than 3,700 people dead and 22,000 injured. Two years earlier in 1946, an earthquake in Nankaidō and the consequent tsunami killed some 1,300 people and destroyed thousands of homes.
In 1945 an off-shore quake left 1,100 people dead and a similar number missing in Mie and Aichi prefectures. In 1944 at least 1,000 residents of Tottori province had been killed by an off-shore earthquake, which nearly leveled the province capital.
Two major earthquakes in 1933 and 1927 had a combined death toll of more than 3,000 each.
The deadliest recorded earthquake in Japan was the Great Kantō earthquake in 1923. It hit three provinces on the Japanese main island of Honshū, leaving between 100,000 and 142,000 dead and causing widespread damage.
The March 11 earthquake in Japan is said to be among the five most-powerful earthquakes in the world in the last 110 years.