9 News reporter Hagit Limor is on the ground in Japan withan eyewitness account of the massive earthquake and tsunami.
NAHA CITY, OKINAWA, Japan - Rescue workers are searching the seafor hundreds of people missing after a tsunami unleashed by theworst earthquake ever to hit Japan, seismic experts say. Theyupgraded the quake that hit 231 miles northeast of Tokyo to amagnitude 8.9 on the Richter scale.
The earth shook only for minutes but what it unleashed woulddevastate this nation.
I was touring the Kadena Air Force Base, the largest in thePacific, when the earthquake hit just hours after I had flown outto this island to the southwest. What experts call Japan's worstearthquake on record swayed buildings throughout the country,causing more significant damage to the north, but that's not whatwould present the biggest danger.
That would befall the tsunami that followed. I spoke withKadena oceanographer Lt. Alex Jones as he monitored the quake andits aftershocks that continued to sway the country. On largetelevision screens in the officers' club we watched a giant wall ofwater approach the island, almost like watching a disaster movie.Japan networks went wall to wall immediately with the quake'saftermath as the tsunami hit first north, then Tokyo, and hourslater in Okinawa where we had just arrived.
The waves smashed cars and homes, sweeping them away inrelentless torrents. Huge fires broke out. The government declareda nuclear emergency and evacuated people within three miles of aplant where one of the cores was not cooling sufficiently. Crewswere trying to restore power and government officials stressed thiswas just a precaution as they had found no radioactive leak.
I had come to Japan representing the Society of ProfessionalJournalists as part of a journalism exchange sponsored by the U.S.East-West Center. Leaders of NSK, the national press association,are escorting us as we meet journalists and political, business andmilitary representatives. Now, our guides were frantic to reachtheir families and co-workers back in Tokyo but cell service wasspotty or unavailable. In typical Japanese style, they downplayedany worries, maintaining the utmost decorum and manners despitetheir concerns.
Army, Navy, Marine and Air Force commanders at Kadenastressed that one of their functions served as search and rescue.As they briefed us, several left the room to coordinate efforts,including a mass evacuation from the coastal frontage as thetsunami approached.
From Kadena, we headed into Naha City to meet Okinawa's topdisaster assistance chief. Susumu Matayoshi said police helicopterswere surveying the island for damages. He said the death toll wouldbe sure to rise as more regions reported the number of missingpeople assumed to be swept out to sea. "The resulting number ofcasualties will be very high," he said. "We will be working hard torecover."
This country, still sensitive to the potential of nucleartragedy, now finds itself holding its breath as workers struggle torestore power to a nuclear plant where, according to governmentofficials, they're having problems cooling the core of the secondnuclear reactor. Government officials say they're evacuatingresidents within three kilometers but only as a precaution, asthere's no evidence of any radioactive leakage. They're askingpeople within ten kilometers to stay indoors while they conductinspections.
The tragedy is mounting as more regions report the numbers ofthe missing feared washed away to sea, among them, a group of 23junior high school students.
The quake hit at 2:46 p.m. on a beautiful, sunny day, withseveral strong aftershocks, one measuring a 7.4-magnitude abouthalf an hour after the initial quake. People dove under desks inTokyo high rise office buildings or ran out to the street. Ceilingtiles shattered to the ground at subway stops. Cars toppled frombridges into the sea. But the greatest damage came from the 13-foottsunami that followed. It swept up cars and homes, and the peopleinside them. It rammed at least one large ship into a breakwater inMiyagi prefecture.
The Pacific Tsunami Warning Center in Hawaii said a tsunamiwarning was in effect for 20 countries including Japan, Russia,Marcus Island and the Northern Marianas. A tsunami watch has beenissued for Guam, Taiwan, the Philippines, Indonesia and Hawaii.
9 News reporter Hagit Limor is about a four-hour flight south of the epicenter of the earthquake.