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Japan hit by massive quake

CAROL MARTINDALE, [email protected]

Japan hit by massive quake

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Tokyo (CNN) — The most powerful earthquake to hit Japan in at least 100 years unleashed walls of water that swept across rice fields, engulfing towns, dragging houses onto highways and tossing cars and boats like toys.
Local media reported at least 32 deaths, with more casualties feared. And the 8.9-magnitude quake, which struck at 2:46 p.m., prompted the U.S. National Weather Service to issue a tsunami warning for at least 20 countries.
The quake’s epicenter was 373 kilometers (231 miles) away from Tokyo, the United States Geological Survey said.
But residents there continued to feel aftershocks hours after the quake. More than 30 aftershocks followed, with the strongest measuring at 7.1.
Japanese Prime Minister Naoto Kan appealed for calm and said there were no reported leaks of radioactive materials from power plants.
Four nuclear power plants closest to the quake were safely shut down, the UN nuclear watchdog agency said.
At Tokyo Station, one of Japan’s busiest subway stations, shaken commuters grabbed one another to stay steady as the ground shook. Dazed residents poured into the streets after offices and schools were closed. Children cried.
The quake toppled cars off bridges and into waters underneath. Waves of debris flowed like lava across farmland, pushing boats, houses and trailers. About 4 million homes had no power in Tokyo and surrounding areas.
Firefighters battled a fiery blaze at an oil refinery in Chiba prefecture near Tokyo.
Residents said though earthquakes are common in Japan, today’s stunned most people.
“This was larger than anyone expected and went on longer than anyone expected,” said Matt Alt, who lives in Tokyo.
Richard Lloyd Parry said he looked through a window and saw buildings shaking from side to side.
An earthquake of that size can generate a dangerous tsunami to coasts outside the source region, the National Weather Service said.
The quake Friday was the fifth-strongest in the world since 1900, the agency said and the most powerful to hit Japan since then.