Even for a country accustomed to earthquakes, like Japan, this one was frighteningly different. At least 59 people have been killed in the quake measuring 8.9 that struck northeast Japan on Friday (March 11th) and the ensuing tsunami, broadcaster NHK reported.
Kyodo news agency said, a ship carrying 100 people was swept away by the tsunami and one train was unaccounted for in a coastal area.
The quake shook commercial and office buildings in major cities like Tokyo and Sendai.
There were reports of widespread and major damage, such as the tsunami sweeping into Sendai airport, fires and explosions in some plants, and a possibility of a nuclear reactor leak in Fukushima.
Japan has told the U.N. nuclear watchdog that a heightened state of alert has been declared at the Fukushima Daiichi nuclear power plant after Friday’s major earthquake, the Vienna-based agency said.
The International Atomic Energy Agency also said it had been told that the plant had been shut down and that no release of radiation had been detected. Japanese media reported separately that a leak was possible at the plant as water levels fell. Nuclear fuel requires continued cooling even after a plant is shut down.
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 at any time.
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.
A 1995 quake in Kobe caused 100 billion US dollars in damage and was the most expensive natural disaster in history.