Tokyo: The biggest earthquake to hit Japan since records began 140 years ago struck the northeast coast on Friday, triggering a 10-meter tsunami that swept away everything in its path, including boats, cars, homes and people as widespread fires burned out of control.
Police said 200 to 300 bodies have been found in the northeastern coastal city of Sendai. Police said another 88 were confirmed killed and 349 were missing.
The death toll was likely to continue climbing given the scale of the disaster.
The US Geological Survey said the 2:46 pm quake was a magnitude 8.9, the biggest earthquake to hit Japan since officials began keeping records in the late 1800s. Meanwhile, authorities said more earthquakes measuring over 7.0 on the Richter scale could occur in and around Japan within a month.
Japan issued a state of emergency at a nuclear power plant after its cooling system had a mechanical failure. Trouble was reported at two other nuclear plants as well but there was no radiation leak at any.
Chief Cabinet Secretary Yukio Edano said the measure at the nuclear power plant in Fukushima was a precaution and that the facility was not in immediate danger.
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 (1-meter) high tsunami.
The quake struck at a depth of six miles (10 kilometers), about 80 miles (125 kilometers) off the eastern coast, the agency said. The area is 240 miles (380 kilometers) northeast of Tokyo.
The magnitude 8.9 offshore quake was followed by at least 19 aftershocks, most of them of more than magnitude 6.0. Dozens of cities and villages along a 1,300-mile (2,100-kilometer) stretch of coastline were shaken by violent tremors that reached as far away as Tokyo, hundreds of miles (kilometers) from the epicenter.