hide captionA graphic from NOAA shows its forecast of the path of tsunamis around the Pacific Ocean.
A graphic from NOAA shows its forecast of the path of tsunamis around the Pacific Ocean.
A 30-foot tsunami that devastated the eastern coast of Japan was sparked by the most powerful earthquake ever to strike that country early Friday afternoon, local time. Hundreds of people are feared dead, and damage from the quake and massive flood waters are still being tallied.
Fearing tsunamis triggered by the 8.9 magnitude quake, officials sounded alerts around the Pacific Ocean, including on the U.S. West Coast, where little damage was reported Friday.
The damage has staggered Japan, despite its extensive preparations for this type of catastrophe. In particular, officials are struggling to ensure that the country's nuclear power plants are safe. You can follow the story below; we'll be posting more updates as they come in. NPR's main news story is here.
Update at 6:25 p.m. ET: Problem At Second Nuclear Plant.
Tokyo Electric Power Co. says it can no longer control pressure inside some of the reactors at a second nuclear power plant at its Fukushima facility in northeastern Japan, according to Reuters.
That plant is now the second to be placed on Japan's nuclear safety agency's emergency list today, says Kyodo News. Government officials are ordering TEPCO to release some of the vapor from another power plant, which was put on the list earlier today, according to Kyodo.
Update at 5:33 p.m. ET:
Friday's earthquake was the fifth-strongest that has been measured worldwide since 1900, according to the AP.
It was also huge: David Applegate of the U.S. Geological Survey says the quake ruptured a patch of the earth's crust 150 miles (240 kilometers) long and 50 miles (80 kilometers) across, the AP says.
Update at 5 p.m. ET: Radiation Rises At Nuclear Plant.
Safety officials say that radiation levels are now 1,000 times above normal at a reactor at Japan's Fukushima nuclear power plant, according to Kyodo News.
Japan's nuclear safety agency is extending the evacuation zone around the plant. The agency has also declared its first-ever state of emergency.
Update at 4:28 p.m. ET: Americans Swept To Sea.
At least five people were swept off the shore in the western U.S. as they watched the waves driven by Friday's earthquake near Japan. The AP reports that four people either swam to shore on their own or were rescued by the Coast Guard in Northern California and Oregon. But one California man who had been taking photos of the water was still missing Friday afternoon.
Update at 4:15 p.m. ET: U.S. Poised To Help.
The Pentagon says it is positioning more than 10 U.S. Navy vessels and thousands of personnel to help with the relief and recovery effort, including the USS Ronald Reagan aircraft carrier.
Update at 3:15 p.m. ET: More Video.
Tokyo Broadcasting Sytem TV is posting some incredible video of the earthquake, its aftermath and the tsunamis that struck cities along Japan's coast. This one shows much of a neighborhood, in Miyako, being swept away:
Tokyo Broadcasting System TV/YouTube
Update at 3:10 p.m. ET:
Waves from the tsunami that hit Japan Friday ripped apart at least two harbors on California's coast, but Hawaii seems to have avoided catastrophic damage despite reports of flooding.
hide captionThe Fukushima nuclear power station was shut down Friday after the earthquake disrupted its primary and backup power supplies. The reactor's cooling pump is currently running on battery power, and there are no radiation leaks.
The Fukushima nuclear power station was shut down Friday after the earthquake disrupted its primary and backup power supplies. The reactor's cooling pump is currently running on battery power, and there are no radiation leaks.
The L.A. Times reported that the waves were "causing significant damage in Crescent City, Santa Cruz and other parts of Northern California."
So far, Southern California seems to have escaped major damage from the waves.
In Hawaii, the tsunami warning has now been downgraded to an advisory, says Bill Dorman of Hawaii Public Radio.
Update at 2:56 p.m. ET: People along the Pacific Coast of Oregon and Washington state who had fled a potential tsunami are returning to their homes. But everyone is being warned to stay off the beaches, says reporter Tom Banse, from Ocean City, Wash:
Sheriffs deputies and volunteer firefighters started going door to door at 3:30 in the morning to urge residents and tourists to evacuate low-lying areas.
The evacuation order was voluntary, but Craig Barr's family decided not to take any chances and headed for higher ground.Craig Barr: "It only takes a few minutes to hop in a car and be safe, rather than rue the day. I didn't want 20 years from now to be wishing, 'Gee, I wish we had moved.'"
Barr headed back to his ocean front home soon after the first tsunami wave passed. It was undetectable amidst the normal winter storm surf.
Update at 2:40 p.m. ET: Quake Hits Nagano Prefecture
The BBC reports that a 6.6 magnitude tremblor has hit Nagano. Kyodo News says the new quake is not expected to trigger a tsunami.
Update at 1:47 p.m. ET: Officials May Vent Nuclear Reactor.
Officials at the Fukushima nuclear power plant say they may release radioactive vapor, in an effort to ease pressure within one of its nuclear reactors, according to the AP. Japan's nuclear safety agency says the vapor would not affect the environment or human health.
hide captionCars and other debris swept away by tsunami tidal waves, Kesennuma in Miyagi Prefecture, northern Japan.
Cars and other debris swept away by tsunami tidal waves, Kesennuma in Miyagi Prefecture, northern Japan.
Update at 12:57 p.m. ET: Pressure, Radiation Rise At Nuclear Plant.
The pressure inside one of the Fukushima nuclear power plant's reactors is currently at 1.5 times the amount it was designed to contain, according to Reuters. And according to the Kyodo news agency, radiation levels are also rising.
Residents have been evacuated from nearly a 2-mile radius around the plant.
Secretary of State Hilary Clinton says the U.S. Air Force has delivered coolant to try to keep the facility's nuclear rods from heating up further, according to Reuters.
Update at 12:15 p.m. ET:
Tsunami waves are arriving on the U.S. west coast. Nick Fountain of member station KUSP is in the harbor in Santa Cruz, Calif., south of San Francisco, and says there's damage. He tells NPR Newscasts the harbor water 'dropped about four feet, maybe five feet and docks came loose; and boats began floating by at high speed.'
Nick reports he's seeing property damage following at least four violent surges of water.
Update at noon ET: More On The Nuclear Power Plant.
We reported earlier about the emergency declared in the area around Japan's Fukushima nuclear power plant, about 150 miles north of Tokyo. NPR's Jon Hamilton writes that:
"The plant's cooling system has been in jeopardy since the earthquake cut off its main power supply and a backup generator system malfunctioned. Pumps that circulate cooling water are now operating on battery power, according to reports from Bloomberg.
"Government officials say so far there are no signs of radiation leaking from the plant.
"The Fukushima plant is one of four that shut down automatically when the earthquake struck. Shutting down means halting the nuclear reaction that generates heat, but the core of a nuclear plant remains very hot long after the nuclear reaction has ended. Without a constant source of cooling water, the core can be damaged.
"Nuclear power plants like the one in Fukushima are designed to contain nuclear materials even if the cooling system fails completely."
Japan's Nikkei stock exchange lost nearly five percent in trading and the yen lost value today. Planet Money's Jacob Goldstein writes the disaster couldn't have come at a worse time.
Update at 10:45 a.m. ET:
The Honolulu Star-Advertiser says the tsunami has arrived on all islands and there are no reports yet of damage. Waves topped out at seven feet on Maui but it's still too dark to gauge problems. Hawaiians quickly moved inland and hotel guests were protected by 'vertical evacuations' - they were relocated to higher floors.
Update at 10:23 a.m. ET:
NPR's Scott Horsley says President Obama has pushed back his news conference by an hour. It'll start at 12:30 ET. Earlier Obama offered condolences and help to Japan.
We reported earlier about what's going on in the social media as people report from Japan about what is happening and try to contact friends and family who may have been in harm's way.
Also, NPR's Andy Carvin is managing a "Crisis Wiki" that aims to be an "editable directory of resources" related to this disaster (and will also be available for other disasters in the future). Go here if you can help or are looking for information.
Update at 10:00 a.m. ET:
- UN Secretary General Ban Ki-moon says the world agency will immediately mobilize disaster and humanitarian relief teams to help Japan.