A huge tsunami is feared to have killed at least 1,000 people as it swept over coastal Japan after the country’s biggest earthquake on record.
Other coastal and low-lying areas in the northeastern region were inundated.
On Saturday the battered nation was slowly comprehending the sheer scale of Japan’s worst ever disaster – as fears of a nuclear nightmare emerged.
We are offering assistance to the Japanese… we stand ready to help and have search and rescue teams on standby
Foreign Office minister Jeremy Browne
Police there say between 200 and 300 bodies have been found, with at least 349 people missing. However, Kyodo news agency estimates the death toll at more than 1,000.
Meanwhile, the threat of radiation continues to develop after faults occurred at two nuclear power plants.
The International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) said it was in “full response mode” after the unit 2 reactor of Fukushima Daiichi nuclear plant suffered a cooling fault and thousands of residents in surrounding areas were evacuated.
Tsunami Warnings In Place: A Closer Look
The coastal power plant, northeast of Tokyo, is still partially submerged.
Japanese officials also reported that pressure was increasing inside the unit 1 reactor’s containment area and decided to vent steam vapour to lower the pressure through radiation filters.
Three reactors at the plant were operating when the earthquake hit and the water level in each of the reactor vessels remained above the fuel elements, according to the IAEA.
According to the Foreign Office over seven million households were without electricity and 11 reactors at four different power stations stopped operating after safety shutdowns.
A state of emergency was declared after radiation fears at a nuclear reactor
Japan’s nuclear plant operator Tokyo Electric Power said on Saturday that a second of its atomic plants in the quake-hit area was experiencing reactor cooling problems.
Although officials believed radiation would only rise about eight-fold in the containment area, Kyodo news agency said a nuclear safety panel believed it was 1,000 times above normal.
Japanese prime minister Naoto Kan wanted the evacuation zone around the stricken reactors widened to six miles as officials examined the area.
“I will go to the Fukushima nuclear power plant to grasp the situation there,” Mr Kan said.
Houses and cars were swept away by the force of the tsunami
US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton said that new coolant supplies were offered to help the stricken nuclear plant.
“Japan is very reliant on nuclear power and they have very high engineering standards, but the plant came under a lot of stress with the earthquake and didn’t have enough coolant,” Mrs Clinton said.
Japanese authorities eventually decided on using domestic supplies of renewal coolant, according to Reuters.
INDOOR SHOTS AS THE QUAKE HITS
Up to four passenger trains are unaccounted for, a dam in Fukushima prefecture broke and washed away numerous homes, and a major explosion occurred at a Sendai petrochemical complex.
On Saturday morning a thick pall of smoke and flames rose from dozens of cars on fire at a car distribution lot in Fukushima, after they had been dumped in a heap by receding waters.
An airport engulfed by muddy torrents on Friday still had flowing water streaming over its runways more than 12 hours later.
People took shelter as bookstore ceiling collapsed in Sendai
But a ship swept away by the tsunami was later located, and all 81 aboard were airlifted to safety.
The capital Tokyo was one of several cities shaken by dozens of subsequent aftershocks – some 15 minutes apart – culminating in several large shocks on both coasts of Honshu as the weekend started.
UK ambassador to Japan David Warren, who was south of Tokyo during the main tremor, told Sky News: “It was very strong and a very long earthquake… it was frightening.”
Police in Iwate prefecture, near the epicentre, confirmed the deaths of at least 34 people after a town centre was completely demolished by the surging wave.
Japanese Prime Minister: We Must Act Fast
Mass evacuations took place after tsunami warnings were issued for the entire Pacific basin, but despite warnings from the International Federation of Red Cross and Red Crescent Societies, it spread throughout the ocean without causing major damage.
US President Barack Obama announced that although one aircraft carrier was already in Japan another carrier group was under orders to steam towards Japan.
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The US 7th Fleet flag ship, USS Blue Ridge, loaded humanitarian supplies in Singapore while en route to the region.
The Japanese government’s top spokesman, Yukio Edano, said the country was sending troops to the quake-hit areas as the self-defence force prepared 300 planes and 40 vessels for rescue operations.
The earthquake – one of the strongest ever recorded and felt 1,500 miles away in the Chinese capital of Beijing – obliterated Tokyo‘s Disneyland car park and caused large fires at sites including an oil refinery in nearby Ichihara.
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