One of the largest earthquakes in recorded history has hit off the coast of Japan, creating a massive tsunami that descended in the form of 23-foot-tall wave of destruction on the northeastern part of the country, killing hundreds of people and injuring thousands more.
The enormous powerful waves, following the 8.9 earthquake, slammed into the 1,300-mile-long coastline, destroying everything in its path people, vehicles, roads, buildings, and the countryside. The waves swept inland for a full six miles before heading back out to sea. Entire streets of houses were picked up and then carried back out with the receding waters. Flooding was rampant, and the resulting destruction caused several huge fires that burned out of control.
Of special concern, in addition to the steadily mounting death toll and number of people missing, was the stability of five nuclear power plants in the region, whose water supply was shut off by the earthquake. Backup power was cooling the water needed to keep the reactors in check, but officials were still concerned enough to issue a state of emergency, the first ever recorded for the plants. As a result of this and of skyrocketing radiation levels, authorities ordered evacuations for thousands of people.
Shattered residents in Sendai, the largest city in the region and the hardest hit, lined up at supermarkets and gas stations, eager to get what they could before supplies ran out.
The number of people affected is massive. At least 4 million people have no electricity. More than 1 million people have no running water. Cell phone service for most of the region is unavailable.
People were gathering in government offices, university campuses, and other temporary shelters when a huge aftershock, measuring 6.8 on the Richter scale, rocked the area.
The initial quake, measuring 8.9, was the fifth-largest ever recorded. Japan's previous largest quake was a 1923 disaster in Kanto, which measured 8.3 and killed 143,000 people. The most memorable recent quake was the 1995 Kobe earthquake, which measured 7.2 and killed 6,400 people.