Breaking News: Tsunami hits Japan after massive quake (BBC)

The most powerful earthquake to hit Japan since records began has hit the country’s north-east and triggered a devastating tsunami.  Japanese TV showed cars, ships and buildings swept away by a vast wall of water after the 8.9-magnitude quake.

A state of emergency has been declared at a nuclear power plant but officials said there were no radiation leaks.  At least 40 people have been killed by the quake, which struck about 400km (250 miles) north-east of Tokyo.  The region has been rocked by a number of powerful aftershocks.  The tremor, measured at 8.9 by the US Geological Survey, hit at 1446 local time (0546 GMT) at a depth of about 24km.

When the earthquake hit, buildings in Tokyo swayed. Walking was like crossing the deck of a ship at sea.  People poured down from their offices and stood in the street staring up.  A large fire seemed to have broken out in one part of the city and, in another place, injured people were being brought out of a station.  The authorities immediately issued a tsunami warning.  In Tokyo, public transport has been suspended, elevators are switched off in many buildings and thousands of people have gathered in squares and around train stations.

A tsunami warning was extended across the Pacific to North and South America.  The Red Cross in Geneva warned that the tsunami waves could be higher than some Pacific islands, Reuters news agency said.  Coastal areas in the Philippines, Hawaii and other Pacific islands were evacuated ahead of the tsunami’s expected arrival.  New Zealand later downgraded its alert to a marine threat, meaning strong and unusual currents were expected.

Strong waves hit Japan’s Miyagi and Fukushima prefectures, officials said, damaging dozens of coastal communities. Kyodo news agency said a 10-metre wave (33ft) struck the port of Sendai in Miyagi. Japan’s NHK television showed a massive surge of debris-filled water sweeping away buildings, cars and ships and reaching far inland. Motorists could be seen trying to speed away from the wall of water.Farmland around Sendai was submerged and the waves pushed cars across the runway of the city’s airport. Fires broke out in the city’s centre.

Japan map