Japan has issued a series of tsunami warnings along its north-eastern Pacific coast after an earthquake with a preliminary magnitude of 7.3 struck offshore early on Tuesday morning.
The strongest tsunami waves are predicted to hit the seaboard of Fukushima — the prefecture whose nuclear power plant was engulfed by the 2011 tsunami, triggering a meltdown and one of the world’s worst nuclear disasters. The quake and tsunami in 2011 claimed more than 18,000 lives.
The tsunami warnings were broadcast on the emergency channel and called for residents to “flee the coast immediately”, to move to higher ground or tall buildings, and to “not be complacent”. Another instruction was to “consider the worst-case scenario”.
There have been no reports of death or injury. Prime Minister Shinzo Abe said his government would “do its utmost in response to the quake”.
The height of the waves forecast by Japan’s Meteorological Agency ranges from one to three metres, and were expected to start battering the coast between 6:20am and 6:30am local time. Television footage showed a swell of water rising along the coastal defences of Iwaki city, but not covering them.
The Japan Meteorological Agency extended the tsunami warnings to Chiba prefecture, which lies adjacent to Tokyo.
Japan’s state broadcaster reminded viewers that the largest, most devastating waves of the 2011 tsunami were preceded by smaller “backwash” waves that could correspond with what is now being observed. NHK warned that tsunami waves could become higher as successive waves hit the shoreline.
The quake epicentre is estimated to have been 20km off the coast of Fukushima prefecture at a depth of 10km and the national broadcaster, NHK has reported government officials saying that a tsunami has already been observed out at sea.
A 60cm tsunami was reported at Onahama port. Broadcasters urged people to alert their neighbours and understand that even a 90cm wave was “extremely powerful” and capable of washing a person away.
The stricken Fukushima Daiichi plant remains the focus of continuing efforts to stabilise the affected reactors. The success of that project depends upon large quantities of water being pumped into the areas beneath the reactors to keep the fuel cool, which could theoretically leave it vulnerable to seismic activity or tsunamis.
Tokyo Electric Power Company (Tepco) said on Tuesday morning that it was checking the Fukushima Daiichi plant but had not reported any additional damage or irregularities at this point. It also said there had been no changes in radiation levels around the plant.
NHK said Tepco was reporting that the water cooling system appeared to have stopped at the third reactor of the Fukushima Dai-ni plant, but that there was sufficient water in the pool to keep the spent fuel cool and it saw no immediate danger at the plant.
Ships and fishing boats moored in harbours along the coast were seen heading out to sea. A fire has been reported at what is thought to be a chemical factory, though no connection to the quake has yet been established, according to NHK reports.
Tohoku Electric Power Company said that the quake had not damaged its Onagawa nuclear plant.
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