Japan was struck by a magnitude 8.9 earthquake off its northeastern coast Friday, unleashing a 13-foot tsunami that washed away cars and tore away buildings along the coast near the epicenter.
A tsunami warning was also issued for Hawaii and the Pacific Coast of the U.S.
In various locations along Japan's coast, TV footage showed massive damage from the tsunami, with dozens of cars, boats and even buildings being carried along by waters. A large ship swept away by the tsunami rammed directly into a breakwater in Kesennuma city in Miyagi prefecture, according to footage on public broadcaster NHK.Black smoke was also pouring out of an industrial area in Yokohama's Isogo area. TV footage showed boats, cars and trucks floating in water after a small tsunami hit the town of Kamaichi in northern Japan. An overpass appeared to have collapsed into the water.
Kyodo news agency said there were reports of fires in the city of Sendai in the northeast.
Officials were trying to assess damage, injuries and deaths from the quake but had no immediate details.
The tremor was felt as far away as Beijing, China.
The quake that struck at 2:46 p.m. local time (12:46 a.m. ET) was followed by a series of powerful aftershocks, including a 7.4-magnitude one about 30 minutes later. The U.S. Geological Survey (USGS) upgraded the strength of the first quake to a magnitude 8.9, while Japan's meteorological agency measured it at 7.9.
Citing USGS data, NBC News reported that if the 8.9 reading is correct, it would be the fifth-strongest earthquake since 1900.
The meteorological agency issued a tsunami warning for the entire Pacific coast of Japan. NHK was warning those near the coast to get to safer ground.
The quake struck at a depth of six miles, about 80 miles off the eastern coast, the agency said. The area is 240 miles northeast of Tokyo.
The Pacific Tsunami Warning Center in Hawaii said a tsunami warning was in effect for Japan, Russia, Marcus Island and the Northern Marianas. A tsunami watch has been issued for Guam, Taiwan, the Philippines, Indonesia and Hawaii.
The earliest that hazardous waves could hit Hawaii is 2:59 a.m. local time, said the agency, based in Ewa Beach, NBC station KHNL reported.
Fear, damage in Tokyo
In downtown Tokyo, large buildings shook violently and workers poured into the street for safety. TV footage showed a large building on fire and bellowing smoke in the Odaiba district of Tokyo.
In central Tokyo, trains were stopped and passengers walked along the tracks to platforms.
Airports in the region were closed and Tokyo's fire department reported several people were injured when a roof caved in at a graduation ceremony in the city, SkyNews reported.
Footage on NHK from their Sendai office showed employees stumbling around and books and papers crashing from desks. It also showed a glass shelter at a bus stop in Tokyo completely smashed by the quake and a weeping woman nearby being comforted by another woman.
Thirty minutes after the quake, tall buildings were still swaying in Tokyo and mobile phone networks were not working. Japan's Coast Guard has set up task force and officials are standing by for emergency contingencies, Coast Guard official Yosuke Oi said.
"I'm afraid we'll soon find out about damages, since the quake was so strong," he said.
Hundreds of office workers and shoppers spilled into Hitotsugi street, a shopping street in Akasaka in downtown Tokyo.
Household goods ranging from toilet paper to clingfilm were flung into the street from outdoor shelves in front of a drugstore.
Crowds gathered in front of televisions in a shop next to the drugstore for details. After the shaking from the first quake subsided, crowds were watching and pointing to construction cranes on an office building up the street with voices saying, "They're still shaking!," "Are they going to fall?"
Asagi Machida, 27, a web designer in Tokyo, sprinted from a coffee shop when the quake hit.
"The images from the New Zealand earthquake are still fresh in my mind so I was really scared. I couldn't believe such a big earthquake was happening in Tokyo."
A police car drove down Hitotsugi Street, lights flashing, announcing through a bullhorn that there was still a danger of shaking.
The Tokyo stock market extended its losses after the quake was announced. The central bank said it would do everything to ensure financial stability.
Japan's northeast Pacific coast, called Sanriku, has suffered from quakes and tsunamis in the past and a 7.2 quake struck Wednesday. In 1933, a magnitude 8.1 quake in the area killed more than 3,000 people. Last year fishing facilities were damaged after by a tsunami caused by a strong tremor in Chile.
Earthquakes are common in Japan, one of the world's most seismically active areas. The country accounts for about 20 percent of the world's earthquakes of magnitude 6 or greater. Courtesy of MSNBC