Tsunami hits Japans after powerful earthquake

*Quake measured a magnitude of 8.8, triggering warnings of tsunami as high as six metres and shaking buildings in Tokyo.

A series of powerful earthquakes have struck north-east Japan on Friday afternoon, triggering warnings of tsunami as high as 10 metres and shaking buildings in Tokyo.

The first earthquake struck at 2:46 pm local time and measured magnitude 8.8, according to the US geological survey. Within 30 minutes the same region was rocked by two more big quakes of slightly lower intensity, Japanese news reports said.

The first quake, Japan’s biggest for seven years, struck at a depth of six miles (9km) about 80 miles of the eastern coast, according to Japan’s meteorological agency.

The Pacific tsunami warning centre 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.

A tsunami carries boats across waters in Kamaishi city port in this still image taken from video footage. Photograph: Staff/Reuters

All flights in Japan were grounded immediately after the quake while officials checked for runway damage. Strong tremors were felt in Tokyo about 30 minutes after the quake. Newsreaders in the capital wore helmets as they gave updates, while office workers rushed out of buildings on to the street.

Television showed a building on fire in the Odaiba district of Tokyo, although it was not immediately clear if the blaze was connected to the earthquake.

Other footage showed water levels rising quickly in the coastal town of Miyako in Iwate prefecture on Japan’s north-east Pacific coast. Public broadcaster NHK showed cars, trucks, houses and buildings being swept away by tsunami in Onahama City in Fukushima prefecture.

TV news presenters repeatedly warned people on the Pacific coast to head for higher ground.

The quake is one of several to have struck north-east Japan this week, including one of magnitude 7.3 on 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.

Japan is one of the most seismically active countries in the world, accounting for about 20% of the world’s earthquakes of magnitude 6 or greater.

*Justin McCurry is in  Osaka and reports for guardian.co.uk

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