An international tsunami alert has been issued across the Pacific Ocean, following a massive earthquake off the coast of Japan.
Giant waves have already crashed inland in the north of the country, causing extensive damage, flooding houses and farmland.
The earthquake measuring 8.9 is the biggest to hit Japan since records began 140 years ago.
The area around the port city of Sendai 300 km from Tokyo was badly hit. More than 288 people have been killed, say police, but the scale of the damage is still unclear.
Thousands of people were evacuated from coastal areas in the north, taking refuge on higher ground.
An alert was announced as fire broke out at one nuclear power plant. Others were safely shut down.
In Sendai the sheer power of the water swept away cars and lorries. Boats smashed into a bridge as motorists continued driving above. Between 200 and 300 bodies were found washed up on one of the city’s beaches.
In one part of northeastern Japan a ship carrying 100 people was swept away, according to local reports. It is not known what has happened to them.
The epicentre of the earthquake was nearly 400km from Tokyo off the northeastern coast.
The initial tsunami warning covers the most of the Pacific basin – taking in countries from Russia to Australia and Central and South America.
The fear is that the damage in Japan could be reproduced around the Pacific. The Red Cross in Geneva has said that the wave is higher than some islands in its path. The tsunami is said to be travelling at 500 kilometres an hour.
Airports as far as Hawaii have been shut down. There are reports of foreign tourists panicking on the US territory of Guam.
As the water poured across Sendai airport in Japan, it brought back memories of the 2004 tsunami in the Indian Ocean.
That disaster killed more than 200,000 people. It is impossible to say how serious this one will be around the Pacific.
Tsunami warnings in Taiwan and New Zealand have reportedly been downgraded.
Close to its source on the ocean surface the effect of the swirling water looks innocuous. But tsunamis can become giants as they travel at the speed of a jet aircraft.
The huge size of the Pacific combined with the “Ring of Fire” earthquake zone magnify the impact.
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