After Quake, Tsunami Hits Northeastern Japan

A powerful earthquake hit Japan's northeastern coast Friday, unleashing a giant tsunami that swept boats, cars, buildings and tons of debris miles inland. Journalist Lucy Craft, who is in Tokyo, talks to Ari Shapiro about the quake, which rattled a 1,300-mile stretch of coastline.

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RENEE MONTAGNE, host:

This is MORNING EDITION from NPR News. Steve Inskeep is in Cairo in Washington, D.C. I'm Renee Montagne. And I'm Ari Shapiro.

ARI SHAPIRO, host:

And I'm Ari Shapiro.

Hundreds of people are dead or missing after an enormous tsunami hit Japan earlier today. That's tsunami was generated by a massive 8.9 earthquake off Japan's coast.

It ranks as one of the most powerful earthquakes in the world of the last century. People fled violently shaking buildings and poured into Tokyo's streets as the quake hit.

Reporter Lucy Craft joined us from Tokyo earlier this morning.

LUCY CRAFT: Yeah. I was actually probably in one of the safest places. I was in the Diet building talking to one of the members of parliament when the building started to shake and it just - normally we're used to buildings shaking but this just went on and on and on...

SHAPIRO: Used to buildings shaking because earthquakes are so common in Japan.

CRAFT: Right. Right.

SHAPIRO: But you could tell this was something different.

CRAFT: Yeah. And, you know, things started to fly around the room. Papers were falling off desks. The awards that she had on her shelf were falling off onto the floor, and finally she and I said, okay, we better get out of here. So the elevators weren't working so we went out into the street like everyone else. And then when I left her and I tried to come back to my office, the subways were stopped. Most of the transportation links are halted now, the highways are closed; trains are not running. It's difficult to make phone calls, so the country has just come to a screeching halt.

SHAPIRO: Are you able to get any sense of how severe the damage is?

CRAFT: We're just getting scattered reports right now. There was a graduation ceremony held at a building quite close to the Imperial Palace. The roof fell in so there were are dozens of injuries from that. We've had reports of scattered fires in Tokyo alone. Of course, the damage will be much more severe up in northeastern Japan, although the population is sparser there.

SHAPIRO: And I understand the prime minister spoke this morning. Give us a sense of what he said.

CRAFT: He just tried to give words of reassurance. The Diet was in session. They were having colloquy on the floor of the parliament, and they just adjourned immediately and set up an emergency crisis office.

SHAPIRO: And Lucy, if you're comfortable discussing it, I understand you have family near the epicenter of the earthquake. Have you been in touch with them? And if so, what's going on there?

CRAFT: Yeah. Unfortunately, my son is starting high school very close to the epicenter and it's impossible to get through on the phone, so I really have no idea. I just hope that the school, you know, as usual, all schools and organizations go through evacuation drills constantly so I'm sure they're in a safe place.

SHAPIRO: Well, I was going to say, Japan is more earthquake-prone than many other places in the world. How prepared is the city of Tokyo and the rest of the country for an earthquake of this magnitude?

CRAFT: Well, the only thing I can say is that if anywhere is prepared, it would have to be Japan. They spend huge amounts of money on disaster prevention and disaster resistance, many times more than any other country would spend, so if there's a way to be safe from unforeseen events, the Japanese are trying to do it.

SHAPIRO: I understand there have also been some pretty significant aftershocks after that 8.9 quake.

CRAFT: As I'm talking to you, we're continuing to feel aftershocks. We've had, I don't know, maybe six or seven since the original earthquake. So yeah, they're continuing.

SHAPIRO: And there's right now a tsunami warning throughout Japan and much of the Pacific Rim. I understand a tsunami already swept through some coastal cities. Tell us about the impact of the wave.

CRAFT: There's been some amazing pictures on television. We've seen, for example, Sendai Airport, very close to the epicenter, underwater. I mean the runways are completely covered with water. Even okay, we're having another aftershock as we speak right now.

SHAPIRO: Can you describe what's happening?

CRAFT: Yeah. Yeah. It's happening right now. The walls are shaking, things are swaying. Very close to Tokyo, a steel plant, one of the gas containers blew up, so there was a huge fire. I think it's still going right now. Disneyland -Tokyo Disneyland, very close to where we are, the parking lot's covered in mud. We're seeing landslides. We're seeing, which often happens, there are mudslides and landslides after earthquakes.

SHAPIRO: That's reporter Lucy Craft speaking with us from Tokyo about the 8.9 earthquake that hit Japan this morning. We will continue to follow this story as it unfolds throughout the morning.

Lucy Craft, thank you very much. Stay safe.

CRAFT: Sure. Thank you. Bye-bye.

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