TOKYO » A magnitude-8.9 earthquake slammed Japan’s eastern coast today, unleashing a 13-foot tsunami that swept boats, cars, buildings and tons of debris miles inland. Fires triggered by the quake burned out of control up and down the coast, including one at an oil refinery.
At least one person was killed and there were reports of several injuries in Tokyo, hundreds of miles away, where buildings shook violently through the main quake and the wave of massive aftershocks that followed. A tsunami warning was issued for dozens of Pacific countries, as far away as Chile.
There were also reports of deaths in Miyagi and Fukushima prefectures.
Japan’s meteorological agency said that within two hours, large tsunamis washed ashore into dozens of cities along a 1,300-mile stretch of the country’s eastern shore — from the northern island of Hokkaido to central Wakayama prefecture.
Prime Minister Naoto Kan said the quake caused "major damage in broad areas" but nuclear power plants in the area were not affected. The government prepared to send troops to the quake-hit areas.
"This is a rare major quake, and damages could quickly rise by the minute," said Junichi Sawada, an official with Japan’s Fire and Disaster Management Agency.
TV footage showed waves of muddy waters sweeping over farmland near the city of Sendai, carrying buildings, some on fire, inland as cars attempted to drive away. Sendai airport, north of Tokyo, was inundated with cars, trucks, buses and thick mud deposited over its runways. Fires spread through a section of the city, public broadcaster NHK reported.
Officials were trying to assess damage, injuries and deaths.
A large fire erupted at the Cosmo oil refinery in Ichihara city in Chiba prefecture near Tokyo and was burning out of control with 100-foot-high flames whipping into the sky.
NHK showed footage of a large ship being swept away by the tsunami and ramming directly into a breakwater in Kesennuma city in Miyagi prefecture.
The U.S. Geological Survey said the quake was a magnitude 8.9, while Japan’s meteorological agency measured it at 8.4. It struck at 2:46 p.m. and was followed by 12 powerful aftershocks, seven of them at least 6.3, the size of the quake that struck New Zealand recently.
A tsunami warning was extended to a number of Pacific, Southeast Asian and Latin American nations, including Japan, Russia, Indonesia, New Zealand and Chile. In the Philippines, authorities said they expect a 3-foot-high tsunami.
The quake struck at a depth of six miles about 80 miles off the eastern coast, the agency said.
Several nuclear plants along the coast were partially shut down, but there were no reports of any radioactive leakage.
In central Tokyo, trains were stopped and passengers walked along the tracks to platforms.
NHK said more than 4 million buildings were without power in Tokyo and its suburbs.
Several quakes had hit the same region in recent days, including a 7.3-magnitude temblor Wednesday.