The death toll from a massive earthquake and tsunami in northeastern Japan is expected to exceed 1,000, Kyodo news agency said on Saturday (March 12) as the quake and subsequent tsunami wreck massive destruction across much of northern Japan on Friday (March 11).
The defence ministry said 1,800 houses had been destroyed in Fukushima prefecture, Kyodo reported.
Even in a nation accustomed to tremors, the devastation wrought by Friday’s massive earthquake in Japan, and the tsunami it triggered, was shocking.
The magnitude 8.9 quake, the most powerful since Japan started keeping records nearly a century and a half ago, split highways, flattened buildings and ignited fires all over the northeastern Pacific coast.
A torrent of water up to 10 metres high, thick with the debris of the homes and cars it swept away in its path, submerged farmland near the coastal city of Sendai, where local media reported up to 300 people had drowned. An inferno blazed along the city’s waterfront.
Television images showed upended cars bobbing up and down in what had become an inland sea. Boats, listing out of control, smashed into bridges and submerged homes.
A lot of the coastline in the far north, where the worst damage was, is composed of long, thin curving bays that have traditionally intensified tsunami.
The quake rattled Tokyo further south, where crowds of commuters thronged the streets in gridlocked traffic, trying to find a way home after most means of public transport ground to a halt. At least one train was derailed, and another was unaccounted for.
Earthquakes are common in Japan, one of the world’s most seismically active areas. The country accounts for about 20 percent of the world’s earthquakes of magnitude 6 or greater and on average, an earthquake occurs every 5 minutes.
But Friday’s quake, coming a few weeks after New Zealand’s city of Christchurch was devastated by a strong earthquake, was especially petrifying.
The quake surpasses the Great Kanto quake of Sept. 1, 1923, which had a magnitude of 7.9 and killed more than 140,000 people in the Tokyo area. Seismologists had said another such quake could strike the city any time.
A 1995 quake in Kobe caused $100 billion in damage and was the most expensive natural disaster in history. For Takeshi Okada, Friday’s quake was a chilling reminder of that disaster.