Buildings shake and workers dive for cover as the earthquake unleashes its terrifying power.
Commercial centres, homes and offices in Sendai, Yokohama and Tokyo swayed as fear gripped the population.
For a country used to tremors this was beyond most people’s experience.
Following the quake aftershocks continued to add to sense of unease.
Sendai city, closest to the epicentre, bore the brunt of the destruction as the offshore quake produced a 10-meter tsunami that wrecked the city of one million.
Factories closed and millions of homes and businesses lost power. Several airports closed, rail services halted and all ports shut.
Roads buckled and the disaster raised the spectre of a major disruption to country’s economy as well as a repair bill running into billions.
The United States has offered help as the global community reacted quickly to the unfolding catastrophe.
The UN says it has 30 search and rescue teams on stand by as offers of assistance came in from Russia, China, Britain and South Korea amongst others.
As night fell rescue workers face the grim task of searching for survivors.
An oil refinery in Ichihara sent huge flames and thick smoke skyward as storage tanks came under threat from fire.
The country is now bracing itself as the true extent of the damage is slowly revealed.