Japan super quake, tsunami terrify tremor-prone nation

Fri Mar 11, 2011 11:59am EST
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By Tetsushi Kajimoto and Chris Gallagher

TOKYO (Reuters) - 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 meters 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 big area of Sendai city near the coast, is flooded. We are hearing that people who were evacuated are stranded," said Rie Sugimoto, a reporter for NHK television in Sendai.

"About 140 people, including children, were rushed to an elementary school and are on the rooftop but they are surrounded by water and have nowhere else to go."

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. At least 300 people have been killed, and the death toll is set to rise given the scale of the catastrophe.

In the northern city of Ofunato, which had no power, residents huddled in darkness in a gymnasium turned shelter. Some lit kerosene stoves for heat and recounted their ordeal.   Continued...

<p>Evacuees stand around Shinjuku Central Park in Tokyo Japan March 11, 2011. REUTERS/KYODO</p>