Japan's most powerful earthquake since records began has struck the north-east coast, triggering a massive tsunami.
Cars, ships and buildings were swept away by a wall of water after the 8.9-magnitude tremor, which struck about 400km (250 miles) north-east of Tokyo. A state of emergency has been declared at a nuclear power plant, where pressure has exceeded normal levels. Officials say 350 people are dead and about 500 missing, but it is feared the final death toll will be much greater. In one ward alone in Sendai, a port city in Miyagi prefecture, 200 to 300 bodies were found The quake was the fifth-largest in the world since 1900 and nearly 8,000 times stronger than the one which devastated Christchurch, New Zealand, last month, said scientists. Measured at 8.9 by the US Geological Survey, it struck at 1446 local time (0546 GMT) at a depth of about 24km. The tsunami rolled across the Pacific at 800km/h (500mph) - as fast as a jetliner - before hitting Hawaii and the US West Coast. Thousands of people were ordered to evacuate coastal areas in the states of California, Oregon and Washington, but there were no reports of major damage. The biggest waves of more than 6-7ft (about 2m) were recorded near California's Crescent City, said the Pacific Tsunami Warning Centre. A tsunami warning was extended across the Pacific to North and South America, where many other coastal regions were evacuated, but the alert has since been lifted in most parts, including the Philippines, Australia and China. Strong waves hit Japan's Miyagi and Fukushima prefectures, damaging dozens of coastal communities. A 10m wave struck Sendai, deluging farmland and sweeping cars across the airport's runway. Fires broke out in the centre of the city. Japan's NHK television showed a massive surge of debris-filled water reaching far inland, consuming houses, cars and ships.
Motorists could be seen trying to speed away from the wall of water. In other developments:
- A passenger train was missing in Miyagi prefecture, and a ship carrying 100 people was swept away, police told Japanese media
- Fire has engulfed swathes of coastland, including homes and buildings, at Kesennuma city in Miyagi
- A major explosion hit a petrochemical plant in Sendai; further south a huge blaze swept through an oil refinery in Ichihara city, Chiba prefecture
- Some 1,800 homes are reported to have been destroyed in the city of Minamisoma, Fukushima prefecture
- A dam burst in north-eastern Fukushima prefecture, sweeping away homes, Kyodo news agency reports
- At least 20 people were injured in Tokyo when the roof of a hall collapsed on to a graduation ceremony
Nearly 3,000 people have been ordered to evacuate from near the Fukushima power plant, where the cooling system in a reactor failed as it shut down automatically during the quake.
Pressure inside one of six boiling water reactors at the plant has risen to 1.5 times the level considered normal, said the country's nuclear safety agency. Japan's Trade Minister Banri Kaieda said that a small radiation leak could occur at the facility. US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton said earlier the US Air Force had flown emergency coolant to the site. In a televised address, Prime Minister Naoto Kan extended his sympathy to the victims of the disaster and said an emergency response headquarters had been set up. The UN's nuclear agency said four nuclear power plants had shut down safely. Residents and workers in Tokyo rushed out of apartment buildings and office blocks and gathered in parks and open spaces as aftershocks continued to hit. Many people in the Japanese capital said they had never felt such a powerful earthquake. In central Tokyo, a number of office workers are spending the night in their offices because the lifts have stopped working. "This is the kind of earthquake that hits once every 100 years," said restaurant worker Akira Tanaka. Train services have been suspended and millions of commuters were stranded in the Japanese capital.About four million homes in and around Tokyo suffered power cuts.