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Monster Earthquake Hits Japan; Tsunami Warnings Across the Pacific

Aired March 11, 2011 - 03:59   ET


ROSEMARY CHURCH, CNN INTERNATIONAL ANCHOR: I want to just recap you very quickly on what we know. We don't have confirmed figures of casualties at this point although we did hear from NHK Television a number there of around 8 people but the problem here is, of course, that will rise and we know at this point that the tsunamis keep rolling in on the coastline.

It's not only Japan being affected by this. There are many countries, 20 or so involved, Taiwan, the Philippines, Indonesia, Papua New Guinea, Hawaii, Australia, Marshall Islands, Russia, Guam. The list goes on. There you see the Pacific Rim. All of those countries within that area are under warning and threat of tsunami reaching the shore.

So, people are advised at this point to seek higher ground if that is at all possible, that is where you will seek safety if you can get to higher ground. That's the best advice that people can give. We heard that from authorities there in Japan saying to people, make your way to higher ground if at all possible. If you're inside a building, try to get out of that building and evacuate because these aftershocks and the tsunamis, they are the deadly mechanism that comes after this initial 8.9 magnitude quake.

So, we are continuing to watch this. I am going to hand it over now to Anna Coren in Hong Kong -- Anna.

ANNA COREN, CNN INTERNATIONAL ANCHOR: All right Rosemary, thank you very much.

Let's continue our rolling coverage of this massive earthquake that has hit Japan. Let's now turn to the public broadcaster, NHK, and listen in.

UNIDENTIFIED SPEAKER: --off the coast of (INAUDIBLE) this quake estimated magnitude has been revised upwards to 8.8. The quake caused tremors with an intensity of 7, the maximum level of the Japanese scale of 0 to 7. Strong tremors were also felt in many parts of the country, including Tokyo. A series of tsunamis continued to wash ashore. At a port in (INAUDIBLE) a devastating tsunami reached over 7 meters. Major tsunami alerts for waves of over 10 meters remain in place for many other parts of the country.

Extensive damage has been reported across Japan after the powerful earthquake. In Miyagi (INAUDIBLE) north of Japan, buildings and cars have been left submerged in cities hit by repeated tsunamis. Police say an unknown number of people are missing in many cities where tsunami waves up to 7 meters tall swept through low-lying coastal areas.

Sendai airport is also submerged. People are stranded on the rooftops of buildings and runways are closed. (INAUDIBLE) and NHK live camera captured a port flooded in sea water. Cars and trucks were floating amid the debris. An NHK helicopter has captured images of an oil refinery in Chiba Prefecture near Tokyo on fire. Black smoke can be seen billowing from the refinery. According to the Nuclear Power Security Agency, the five nuclear power plants in northeastern Japan have shut down. There are no reports of radioactive leaks. And, as of 6 p.m., Japan time at least, 18 people are confirmed dead.

COREN: We're just sitting watching the public broadcast NHK there bring us the very latest from that 8.9 magnitude earthquake that struck Japan at 2:46 p.m. local time. It is now just gone at 6 p.m. in Japan but it was that tsunami, that massive wave that hit the northeast of the country that has caused that massive devastation that we have witnessed, those pictures of that wall of water just going straight through these cities, these townships, taking cars and trucks and everything in its wake. So, that is where the massive, massive devastation is.

Well let's go to our Kyung Lah who is in Tokyo. Kyung, you obviously witnessed the quake but, as we mentioned, it is in the northeast that has really been hard hit.

KYUNG LAH, CNN INTERNATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Yes, Tokyo has a problem right now trying to organize its people, trying to keep the people calm. This is a very dense city but the immediate emergency is certainly to the north of us. That is very much a rescue operation, trying to get people out of that region and trying to deal with the immediate emergency of this tsunami, trying to contain some of the damage that they've seen, fires, damage to buildings.

So, it's a very different emergency up north than it is here in Tokyo. I mean, here in Tokyo we're hearing reports of cracked walls, you know, items that have fallen over and hit people. We have a problem right now with the lack of public transit so people are just jammed in the city, they're stuck. So, it's a very different emergency down in Tokyo than it is up there.

Now, we've heard the Prime Minister come on camera and tell people to try to remain calm. That's the most important thing here, at least in the city of Tokyo and trying to keep all of these millions of people very calm, orderly, and try to get them home in an appropriate manner. But, up north, trying to rescue those people, trying to make sure that they are going to survive this crisis. That is a very different situation than it is here in Tokyo.

COREN: Speaking of the area that has been hard hit, Kyung, like Sendai, that -- that's a city of one million people and it was where the quake struck, 130 kilometers from Sendai where we saw that -- that massive wave just take out the city. I know that we're also talking about a rural area but we witnessed those pictures of people standing, you know, either on top of their cars or on the side of this highway witnessing this wall of water just heading towards them. We know, Kyung, that the death toll is really -- is going to rise quite dramatically.

LAH: Just by watching the newscast here and the national broadcast, I mean, we are hearing a wide variety of numbers that they are going with as far as casualties and injuries. We -- we simply can't confirm it at this point but I can tell you that many people are predicting and already reporting that the casualty figures are quite a bit higher than the ones that we have been reporting on our air and just looking at that wall come through that town, it is not as populated as Tokyo but this is a populated city. This is a small city, known for a fishing community, known as a fishing community. The quite hit right before 3, around 2:40 or 2:50 and if you're fishing and you make your living at the docks, it is going to be very busy there, even if there is a tsunami warning, there wasn't that much time to evacuate.

This is, you know, a community which I am guessing, it's a very educated guess, because people here are used to it, they know that when the tsunami warning comes to evacuate and so they, likely, did have some sort of plan, action plan, to get out of there. But, if you consider it's the middle of the afternoon on a Friday afternoon, this is a country that prides itself on working, those areas were probably very busy and so trying to get out of that region very, very quickly was certainly a challenge when this tsunami hits.

COREN: Kyung, we know that the military has been activated as well as naval vessels that are being dispatched to the northeast of the country. No doubt, as you say, there will be a huge rescue operation underway to try and help any of the survivors. But, let's now go to our Ivan Cabrera, who has been following this earthquake from the very, very beginning. Ivan?

IVAN CABRERA, CNN INTERNATIONAL METEOROLOGIST: Absolutely, and I tell you what, what I want to do is switch over to our Google Earth machine here and, in fact, just -- let's show you the pictures here. This is a widespread event now and we're going to continue to follow this because, as we speak, there is a benign rise in the sea level that is occurring across the Pacific that, if you're on a boat out there you're not going to notice but as that wave approaches a coastline, the amplitude of the wave becomes higher and higher and that is where you get 25, upwards of, my goodness, 50 foot waves crashing on shore. We've already had reports of more than 25-foot waves hitting Japan. So, we're going to continue to monitor that as the wave propagates further to the east.

And, again, this is one tsunami with many, many waves that are coming in. We've already seen that in Japan. Again, let's go through some of the countries here. Essentially, there are over 50 countries now in the Pacific basin that are under a tsunami warning. That means that we are expecting a tsunami arrival, over 50 countries in the Pacific. There are watches posted for California, Oregon, and Alaska. The rest of us here are under a tsunami warning.

Let's start off with the next arrival. This is happening in just a few minutes here. At 9:17 GMT Wake Island, are you watching us from Taiwan? Your arrival at 9:40 GMT. That's about 20 or about 30 minutes away now according to our times here, the Philippines getting in on it at 10:00 GMT. Marshall Islands at 10:20 GMT.

As the wave approaches these islands, if we have folks available on the ground we are going to try to make safe contact with them so they can tell us what is going on there.

Each government, up to them certainly how to evacuate folks. But, keep in mind, some of these islands here are so tiny and so close to sea level that if you're talking about a wave, a wall of water that is 25 feet plus high, you can encompass the entire island here.

So, that is what we are talking about, the atolls, specifically, across the South Pacific. Indonesia arrival time at 11 GMT and, again, we're going to continue to track this for the next 24 hours just like we did with the Chile earthquake.

Solomon Islands at 12:28 GMT, Kiribati down to the south at 1337 hours GMT.

What we cannot do is forecast, and this is what everybody wants to know, if you're living in some of these countries, right, how high is this water going to be? Cannot forecast that because the bathymetry that once that water approaches is so different in every coastline, the irregularity of that is so different that it, literally, in the same country we could have an arrival of a 5 foot wave and just a few kilometers away a 20-foot-wave-plus.

So, that is the problem that we have with trying to forecast these things as they arrive. We know when they will arrive, we just don't know how bad they will be. New Zealand at 18:23 hours GMT.

Now we're getting into 22:00 hours GMT and I'll stop there because the warnings continue. If we have the other map, guys, that has the countries' cities on there, let's switch to that, if you can put that behind me. We have warnings now that extend essentially to Mexico, Peru, California, Ecuador, all of these regions are going to be impacted at some point or another but that is down the pipe, we're talking 24 hours and we have plenty of time to warn those folks.

The countries that you are seeing highlighted there in this map, those are the ones that we are concerned about because as you see the epicenter there 150 kilometers just east of Sendai in Japan you are close enough to that epicenter where that wave, of course, arrives quicker to your location.

Taiwan, specifically, all preparations and anyone along the coast has to have already moved inland, has to have done that by several kilometers and, certainly, at about at least 15 meters high, 50 feet, that is your safety. If you can do that and you are watching us and listening to us, that is what I want you to do.

Philippines, the same deal, about an hour later, that's your arrival there and, again, Indonesia and Papua New Guinea and there are the Marshall Islands. That's the tsunami threat. We are covering the tsunami but in Japan I just again saw another earthquake which is essentially what we call them after the original quake, aftershocks, right, of a 6.4. Any buildings that have been compromised or structures that have been weakened as a result of the offshore 8.9 are going to come down in a hurry with earthquakes -- aftershocks of that magnitude.

So, Japan is seeing a double threat here. The tsunami warning continues there. That threat is continuing and ongoing, and then the earthquake threat will continue well past when we're done talking about the tsunamis here.

One point about Hawaii and the islands to the south and east of the Philippines here. Again, the Indonesia earthquake back in'04, we had the Banda Aceh, that 9.1, right? Look at all the land masses here that were essentially buffeting the water as it was moving in here. The earthquake this time happened here.

Look at all the open space that water has to travel so that is going to propagate to the south, to the east and, again, you are not protected if you are facing one way or the other on the shoreline. The tsunami will surround you.

I know that's difficult to kind of grasp, you think a wave is going to come right on this shore from one direction but it actually propagates and encompasses entire islands and, so, really, no one is safe and that is why we continue to hear the civil sirens going off in Hawaii. We have our folks down there and we will continue to you updates live if we can get them from folks if they can do it from safety.

So, again, Pacific Tsunami Warning Center now under widespread tsunami threat for basically the entire Pacific basin with few exceptions, Anna. Over 50 countries will be impacted. We will continue to update the arrival times. Hawaii now at 3:07 local time. That is the initial wave that we are expecting now.

COREN: But, Ivan, as you mentioned, Taiwan is next in the firing line as far as tsunamis so, is that correct?

CABRERA: Yes. That's right.

COREN: In the next half an hour?

CABRERA: At 9:40 GMT is the arrival there so that is -- that is going to be the next major area that is going to be hit and, again, the problem is we can't tell our good friends in Taiwan you're going to be hit by a certain X wave. We just don't know until it actually hits because of the irregularity of all the shorelines there.

COREN: Yes. Well, Ivan, you've been doing a great job keeping us up to date and alerting all our viewers around the world as to what is going on. So, Ivan, we'll check in a little bit later as we get closer to that time when the tsunami is expected to hit Taiwan.

Well, in the past hour, Japanese Prime Minister Naoto Kan has appealed for calm and cooperation as the government struggles to coordinate rescue and relief efforts. He is urging people not to panic, to be patient and to help each other.

The government will do everything possible to minimize the damage. It will do its utmost. The government will put its heads together and work hard in tackling this disaster. We, therefore, ask the people of Japan to exercise the spirit of fraternity, help each other, and to act fast and to help one's family and neighbors. We should all help each other to minimize the damage. We ask you to act in such a way that it will be possible to minimize the damage. This will be my greeting from the Disaster Relief Headquarters.

Well, let's now bring in our correspondent Kyung Lah who is on standby at the Tokyo bureau. Kyung, I know it has gone quarter past 6 p.m. Tokyo is not as badly affected. It was obviously shook up but nothing like what we have witnessed up in the northeast of the country. But tell us, this is obviously rush hour in Tokyo. People are trying to get home and public transport is at a standstill.

KYUNG LAH: Yes, and I can tell you just by looking out on the street there are a lot of people standing around. People have no way to get home without public transit, without rail lines, in a city as wide and as big and as spread out as Tokyo, without rail this is a city that is paralyzed and if you think about a city of 13 million people unable to move, that is an infrastructure problem. And so, what the Prime Minister, what you just heard him say, he is speaking to a couple of different audiences, to his most populous city, he is telling them to please remain calm, don't panic, don't create a second crisis.

To the people up north where we've seen this massive devastation, they need to stay calm so they can be rescued, so they can try to work on survivors, so they can assess the damage and try to pull people out of this disaster. So, he's talking to two different audiences.

You know, there is that immediate crisis up north and we're finding that it's -- it's very difficult to get up there. According to the authorities, they have shut off all roads into the region. The airport is shut down. Rail lines are cut. So, it -- it's going to be very challenging to get up to that region. So, that's one challenge. That's why we've seen the activation of the military, so they can get up there as quickly as possible.

But civilian traffic, it's been -- it is almost impossible to get into that region and with good cause. They want to keep this area as isolated as possible so they don't create a second disaster. As far as down here in Tokyo, it -- it is just paralysis. That's the biggest problem that a lot of people, I would say the bulk of people who work in downtown Tokyo offices get home via train lines. They have got to figure out a way to do that without the rail lines. There are no taxis because all of them are taken. So, it's -- it's going to be a very -- a big, long challenge tonight here in Tokyo.

COREN: Kyung, I just want to tell our viewers that we were looking at new pictures coming in to us from Sendai airport and you could see all of those workers on top of the building, you could have seen the control tower at Sendai airport. So, you know, it -- it is just phenomenal to sort of think that -- that this wave of water has swept through this city of one million people up in the northeast. You can see cars just strewn about. This doesn't resemble an airport, nothing like an airport, but there are dozens of people on top of this -- this building, obviously just riding this out, waiting to be rescued.

We know that the military has been dispatched, that naval ships have been sent up to -- to this area. A massive, massive rescue operation is now underway. Kyung, if I can bring you back into the conversation. I mean, what sort of timeframe are we talking about from the earthquake hitting to the tsunami warning being issued to the actual wave, that -- that wall of water hitting the coastline?

KYUNG LAH: It is very difficult for me to gauge because I was underground in the train station when the actual quake struck. So, piecing together what -- what I can, from what I gather, the earth -- the big first quake struck, there was another very strong aftershock shortly after that, then there was the tsunami -- the tsunami alert came very, very quickly after that first quake. What I can't quite gauge is how quickly the water came ashore. It does not appear that it was a significant amount of time.

That would kind of follow the pattern of what we saw two days ago. Two days ago there was a quake very close to where we saw today's quake and then there was a tsunami. The tsunami came ashore only 30 minutes after the initial quake. So, in a city of one million people, especially when we talk about such a big tsunami, it is going to be a challenge to try to get all these people up to higher ground very, very quickly so that was the immediate crisis at hand that this city was facing when the alert went out.

Were they all informed? I would bet your bottom dollar that they all knew because this is a country that really does very well as far as alerting its people via mobile phone. It is a highly wired country. Many people have their mobiles with them at all times. So, whether it's via mobile phone, television, or radio, the alert went out very, very quickly. In some parts of Japan, you do find out an earthquake before it strikes, 20 seconds, 30 seconds before it strikes. So, this is a country because it is so earthquake prone that does try to respond as quickly as possible.

COREN: But, Kyung, I think it is definitely worth mentioning that this -- this looks like low-lying area because it is agricultural land. I mean, this is where there are farms and we have seen those -- those pictures of farmland where this wave of water has just swept through, collecting everything in its way. So, whether the people have had an opportunity to get -- to get to higher ground, you know, nobody knows, certainly not yet.

But, as we mentioned, the death toll of this massive quake is expected to rise dramatically. Now, we're just receiving word that a tsunami warning has been issued to the entire west coast of the United States and America. That is what we are hearing coming out of Alaska there. So, the entire west coast of the United States and Canada has been issued with a tsunami warning. Well, for some idea of what it was like to experience this massive earthquake, we have Charles McJilton on the line from Tokyo. He is the founder of Second Harvest charity and was in his office in central Tokyo when the quake struck. Tell us exactly what -- what went on.

CHARLES MCJILTON, SECOND HARVEST CHARITY, TOKYO: --and we didn't think too much about it but it continued on and -- and it became progressively stronger and so we all went out into the street and that's where we saw the buildings moving. We saw our big Mercedes truck literally bouncing up and down in the street and we knew this was pretty serious. Usually a quake here lasts only a couple of seconds and it's finished but this one kept going on and on and so we knew it was pretty bad.

COREN: Have you ever experienced anything like this before, Charles?

MCJILTON: I've been here 20 years and this is the worst, this is definitely the worst. You know, we saw down the street a building -- part of the building had come down onto the street. Luckily, there was no one there affected but I had never seen anything like that before.

COREN: And Charles, we know that Tokyo, well, it's -- it's being paralyzed because power has obviously gone out, public transport is not working. It is the northeast of the country that has been hit so badly. Do -- do you know anybody up there?

MCJILTON: We've not heard any -- any word from anybody up there. Most of the cell phone lines are down. The train lines are not moving and, so, everybody is now walking home. In front of our warehouse here we have just, you know, hundreds of people walking past us, you know, making their way back home.

COREN: And Charles, tell us, what is the feeling, you know, among your workers, among people on the street.

MCJILTON: Well, I have two drivers still out on the road right now. We're hopefully, you know, we have not been able to contact them. We, you know, assume that they'll be able to return safely. You know, then, the earthquake here. It is kind of unnerving to have the earth move before -- underneath your feet. So, you know, it's a little bit unnerving to have that. You know, we're standing by to be ready to respond to any needs up in the Sendai area or further up if they need it.

COREN: Yes, for sure Charles. It -- it is -- I think it's one of those disasters where the entire country is going to need to pitch in if -- if looking at these pictures is anything to go by. We are showing our viewers pictures that were taken a while ago the wave that has hit Sendai. This is in the -- the northeast of the country. It is a city of some one million people and the devastation there is simply enormous. There really is no other word for it.

But, for those viewers just joining us, an 8.9 magnitude quake struck Japan about more than three hours ago. It was 130 kilometers off Sendai with some 24 kilometers deep. And, as we were just speaking to Charles, he felt the quake in Tokyo but it was the northeast of the country that really, really has been hit hard by that tsunami that -- that came, you know, we don't know how quickly after but whether it came moments later, minutes later, but this wave of water has hit the coast, the east coast of Japan and it has -- has just caused widespread devastation collecting anything, anything in its path.

I think now we are looking at pictures of -- of the news room, I believe, in Sendai, the public broadcast desk NHK, this was their newsroom. Let's have a listen in to what they went through:


The aftershocks/quakes still continue here in our broadcasting center right here in Tokyo and in Tokyo several fires have broken out. The Fire Department says fires have been reported in several places, including Ariake in central Tokyo.

COREN: OK. Well, we've just been listening to the public broadcaster NHK there give us the very latest. Now, we have mentioned that some 50 countries have issued tsunami warnings and one of those, of course, is the Philippines. Winona Cuevas, she is there in the Philippines. Winona, give us a sense of where you are and what authorities have told you.

CUEVAS: Anna, there is much tension here as we approach the early evening hours when the authorities said that a tsunami would likely hit the Philippine Eastern seaboard. That is the area facing the Pacific Ocean and stretches all the way from the northern island of Luzon down to (INAUDIBLE). A couple of governors from these areas that I have talked to earlier said that their evacuation plans are in place and they are urging people to seek higher grounds as early (INAUDIBLE) and this is something that we do quite often as our coastal regions are frequented by typhoons and tidals here but, you know, this is something else. Tsunamis don't really happen as often and not in a magnitude that threatens almost 20 provinces.

And, even here in the capital, which is right between the east and the west we do feel the tension because the last couple of days are new shared statements from the Philippine Institute of Volcanology saying that a major earthquake is due to hit metro Manila anytime soon. They said it's been some time since the fault line moved so it could happen any time.

And, what happened to Japan today and to New Zealand before, that sort of added to the feeling of apprehension. Anna?

COREN: Winona, we just want to tell our viewers that we are actually looking at pictures coming from Japan but I -- I want to let everyone know that we are obviously monitoring the situation in the Philippines and Winona is bringing us the latest from Manila.

Winona, give us a sense of the low-lying areas along that coastline and how those communities will be affected if a wall of water hits it.

CUEVAS: There is news coming from the 7th Infantry Battalion of the Philippine Army that just came in about two minutes ago and it said that the water, the wave has reached (INAUDIBLE) but they are urging everyone not to panic yet because the evacuation is underway in those areas. But, you know, if the tsunami waters do manage to come inland there is also the possibility that it might cross our lakes and reverse the surge. That is the (INAUDIBLE) that is affecting us right now.

COREN: And, what about people? I mean, how many people are we talking about who could potentially be affected on -- on the east coast of the Philippines.

CUEVAS: They are talking about 19, 18 to 20 provinces that are -- that are well populated, Anna, 20 provinces on the Eastern seaboard.

COREN: Yes. You're certainly talking about a lot of people, Winona Cuevas there from Manila. Ivan, let's talk about the -- the Philippines. How soon can we expect the tsunami to hit there?

CABRERA: Yes, so what I've done is made this graph just so we can see what we've been calling them out here as we get the information in from the Pacific Tsunami Warning Center. But, here are the major areas that are going to be affected. Essentially, what time is it? So, ten minutes. You have ten minutes in Taiwan before the initial wave arrives, the Philippines thereafter, between 10:00 and 11:00 GMT.

I want to switch over to Google. Here are the Philippines. If you're not familiar with this region of the world, there is Taiwan and, again, this is arrival times. Indonesia, 10:50 to 11:40 GMT. And, there is Hawaii at 1307 hours, as far as the initial wave. Again, these are many waves here that are going to be coming in after the initial one and a lot of times, oftentimes, the secondary or third or even fourth wave are the ones that are more catastrophic as opposed to the initial wave.

So, that's what we are forecasting here, possible tsunami times for the estimated arrival of the initial wave here. 1535 to 1845 hours GMT in Australia, Fiji at 1537 hours, New Zealand at 1720 hours, between 1720 and 2215 hours GMT and I've got the difference here in time. There, you see Chile at 2303 hours and at 9:04 and the differences in time, of course, have to do with the topography here and with the land. The wave is just going to take longer to get to the further southern areas here of the Philippines.

I am really concerned about the tiny islands as well. There is Indonesia there that is going to be impacted as well. And, remember, try to think of, you know, when you see that icon of the epicenter, of the waves propagating out. That is essentially what a tsunami does. These waves will go around the entire planet. Of course, by the time they get to the other side, they're not going to be as significant here but that is the kind of force that we're dealing with here. And, it's kind of when you throw that pebble in the pond, we talk about that analogy, right? The heavier -- throw a bowling ball in you're going to make a significant splash and it's going to continue to propagate for longer times and it's going to be more significant.

Again, we take you further to the east. That is where we're going to be having Hawaii. As the waves -- this is what we are going to do here at CNN, as the waves get closer to these locations, we are going to show you the maps and the times but we're also going to check in with our affiliates, we're going to check in with the Philippines and get some live pictures there and, obviously, as we get closer to Hawaii as well we'll get the live pictures there.

Folks are, at this hour -- this is kind of one of those things -- it's like a hurricane formed instantly and is arriving at all coasts. You don't have much time to prepare but, obviously, the further away you are from the epicenter which, by the way, is right here, 130 kilometers east of Japan. We have now had over a dozen significant aftershocks, all of which could cause additional damage here. And, this 8.9 is a great earthquake. We talk about the great earthquakes here that occur, less than one a year we have, and those are the ones, obviously, that can cause significant damage as we saw with Chile.

But, the ones that happen underwater, those are the ones, obviously, that can trigger the tsunami and we share that threat, again, with almost the entire Pacific basin here. So, we'll continue to monitor the earthquakes there in Japan as well as these arrival times that we'll continue to see getting closer. And, these are just some of the countries here but, again, we're talking the entire Pacific, as Anna mentioned there now, Alaska in on it, California, Oregon, Hawaii.

Looking at their statements, the agencies there anticipating a significant event in Hawaii at 3:07 here so we'll watch for that. We're not going to tell you the exact wave heights here but the waves -- the initial waves get closer to those buoys we'll be able to kind of a now casting and be able to say what is coming. But, at that point, it's too late. If the wave has already arrived at the buoy you're not going to have much time.

So, essentially what we're doing here, Pacific-wide, is we're getting everybody out of harm's way so the wave doesn't hit you, fine. But, we saved your life in case it does and that's what the Pacific Tsunami Warning Center is doing at this hour.

A very shallow earthquake here, 8.9. We talk about the number of atomic bombs that that would be, an incredible amount here, and the shallowness of it. That is why we're seeing not only the tsunami threat, Anna, that has been ongoing in Japan, obviously, with the incredible live pictures that Rosemary and I brought you just a few hours ago.

I have never seen anything like that. Live pictures of a catastrophic tsunami hitting a major country here in the form of Japan. Just seeing all those buildings traveling along the water there but, also, we have the earthquake, as well, that is ongoing in Japan. Anna?

COREN: Ivan, I just want to interrupt you there. Let's go to the Japan Meteorological Agency. They are talking and giving the latest.

JAPAN METEOROLOGICAL AGENCY (through translator): -- have been observed over a wide area. Houses and buildings have been damaged or have collapsed and for areas where the tremors have been very big there is a risk of landslides, mudslides, and collapsing of buildings. So, please, be very careful for strong aftershocks.

And, to give you an update on the situation, the magnitude of the earthquake has been revised to 8.8. This revision is based after a detailed analysis of the seismic data and for the tsunami alerts, we have issued an alert for a major tsunami for Hokkaido, the Pacific coast of Hokkaido and Aomori Prefecture, the Pacific coast, Miyagi, Fukushima and Chiba (INAUDIBLE), Ogasawara Islands, Sagami Bay, Shizuoka Prefecture, Wakayama Prefecture, and Tokushima Prefecture.

And, for the tsunami alert that has been issued for the southern Pacific coast of Hokkaido, (INAUDIBLE) Bay, Aichi Prefecture (INAUDIBLE), and southern Mie and southern Awaji-shima Island, (INAUDIBLE) and the coast of Sado Island Sea, Miyazaki Prefecture and Kagoshima Prefecture -- the Eastern part, and Tanegashima, the (INAUDIBLE) region, the Amami Islands, the Tokelau Islands, Tokushima Prefecture -- the western part, and the mainland part of Okinawa, the Batu Islands, Miyakojima Yaeyama region. These areas have been issued a tsunami advisory.

As for tsunami advisories, the (INAUDIBLE) coast, Akita Prefecture, Yamagata, (INAUDIBLE), Ishikawa Prefecture, Noto Peninsula, Osaka Prefecture, Kyoto Prefecture, the Setanai coast, Kagawa Prefecture, Ehime Prefecture, Yamaguchi Prefecture, (INAUDIBLE), western Nagasaki Prefecture, Kumamoto. These places have been issued with a tsunami advisory. And, more on the tsunami. As of 18 hours today, Pacific Coast of Hokkaido, Aomori Prefecture, the Japan Sea Coast and the Pacific Coast of Aomori, Iwate, Fukushima, and Chiba Prefecture (INAUDIBLE) and Chiba (INAUDIBLE) and the inner part of the Tokyo Bay, Ogasawara Islands, (INAUDIBLE), Okiyama, Tokishima.

In these places tsunamis have been observed. This is as of 6 p.m. this evening and tsunamis have been arriving so, apart from the areas I have mentioned there have been other places where the tsunami has hit land and for aftershocks, some aftershocks, many strong aftershocks have taken place.

For a while these aftershocks will continue. Please remain vigilant and be cautious regarding the aftershocks and I will conduct my briefing according to the information we have provided to you and they have been distributed with data on the distribution of earthquakes exceeding magnitude 8.4, which have taken place in the past.

Historically, the magnitude scale was different from what we have now so a simple comparison is not possible but magnitude 8.8 is one of the largest we have or the largest we have experienced in Japan and our seismic devices and measuring devices, since they have been in operation, 8.8 magnitude is the largest we have recorded.

The next document is about (INAUDIBLE) region and historical earthquakes' distribution. The scale, again, is not exactly the same but 8.8 is the maximum or unprecedented scale, looking back at the history.

The next document is about tsunami observation. Unfortunately, some observatories are not able to monitor the situation of tsunami and those observatories were alert (INAUDIBLE) were destructed and the monitoring has been destructed so there is no record at this moment regarding tsunami but since (INAUDIBLE) a tsunami has been 7 meters or even more so that extensive or wide scale tsunami is attacking the coast. Please remain vigilant in those areas.

The next is about aftershocks. Still occurrence of aftershocks. The main earthquake continues to jolt.

COREN: You are just watching the announcement from the Meteorological Agency. Just to shortly wrap up what he was saying: There still seems to be more major tsunamis to come and there are still risks of landslides, mudslides.

We are listening to a representative from the Japan Meteorological Agency. We just have some conflicting reports as to whether it was an 8.8 magnitude quake, that's what the Japan Meteorological Agency is saying. The U.S. Geological Survey is giving it 8.9.

But, we now want to bring in Anthony Chen. He is a reporter for our affiliate, ETTV, in Taipei, Taiwan.

Anthony, tell us what have you heard? What are authorities saying?

Anthony, it's Anna Coren in Hong Kong, can you hear me?

OK, we don't seem to have established contact there with Anthony there in Taipei but we do know that Taiwan is awaiting the tsunami. An alert has been issued to Taiwan and some 50 other countries in the Pacific region so we will be, obviously, monitoring the situation as the tsunami reaches these countries.

Well, the magnitude 8.9 earthquake triggered tsunamis along the coast of Japan and shortly after the tremors water flooded this coastal city of Kamaishi where the sheer force of it swept along cars, trucks, boats, even buildings. The water is rushing under this elevated road in Kamaishi, stopping just short of the road itself.

And, that is just what is so incredible when you look at those people you can see drivers who got out of their cars and just watched this wall of water just flow underneath them. Quite remarkable there.

So, you have an idea of the sheer size and scope of these waves and you are now looking at pictures -- we want to bring you pictures, I should say, of Sendai, the capital of Miyagi Prefecture. Well, these pictures came in to us about 90 minutes ago and what you are seeing is a massive wave rushing towards Sendai, eventually reaching it and inundating the coast where local media puts the tsunami seen here at a staggering 10 meters high.

Well, we now -- we now want to show you some of the scenes in the city of Sendai. These pictures here are of the airport, Sendai airport, and they came in to us a short time ago and you can see people standing on top of the building. The control tower is just there to the left of the screen and these are -- these are people who have obviously taken shelter. They have raced to the top of the building as this 10-meter monster wave hit the city of Sendai. This, of course, is a city of some 1 million people. It is in the northeast and just quite staggering scenes as you can see the wider picture of the cars, the water, the debris.

We were actually speaking a little bit earlier about the lack of planes. We were seeing whether or not there were planes. Perhaps they had been warned that the tsunami was coming and were able to get the planes in the air but we can't really tell from that wide a picture but you can see there just the enormous, enormous devastation.

Well, let's go back to Anthony Chen who is Taipei -- Anthony.


The Taiwan Central Weather Bureau has issued a tsunami warning for Taiwan. The waves are arriving at time at northern and northeastern and Eastern coastal areas.

The cities in the Eastern coast of Taiwan include Hualien, Haidong, Yilan, and the northern port city of Kelong, which are populated areas with more than 1.5 million people living in these four cities.

The Central Weather Bureau said that the tsunami is expected at around 5:36 p.m. Taiwan local time and 5:44 p.m., respectively and another wave to hit the northern city port of Kelong at 6:12 p.m. Taiwan Central Weather Bureau issued the tsunami warning at 1:46 p.m. with waves expected to be around 50 cm to 1 meter at Hualien.

At the moment, the government of Taiwan has set up an emergency group to deal with the tsunami and they are closely monitoring the situation and currently the local governments, including Hualien, Haidong, Kelong, Yilan, and the new Taipei City governments, have cancelled schools and businesses, asking residents to return home as soon as possible and move far, far away from the coastal areas to protect themselves from being washed away by the tsunami wave -- Anna.

COREN: Anthony, you said that the tsunami is expected to hit at some 5:36 p.m. What is the time there now?

CHEN: The time here right now is 5:45 p.m. It is the same time as Hong Kong.

COREN: So, in actual fact, the wave should have hit the coastline by now?

CHEN: That's right. It -- it's about right now that the waves are actually arriving on the coast of Taiwan. Anna?

COREN: OK. And -- and what -- what are the height of these waves. Do we know how high these waves are?

CHEN: Well, the government -- the Taiwan Central Weather Bureau is expecting about 50 cm to 1 meter at Hualien. Apparently, from the screen that we can see in my pictures it is about -- the waves are not as huge as we expected but we have to wait and see. Anna?

COREN: OK. All right. So, if it isn't a major wave that is hitting the shoreline, how will that impact the coast of Taiwan?

CHEN: At the moment -- well, Hualien is very close to the mountain areas but there are many, many people. It is a populated city and Kelong as well on the northern coast is all populated with people. It's going to impact a lot of people living in these areas if -- if the waves are too high and wash up into the land. Anna?

COREN: Anthony, what were authorities saying in the lead up to the -- the tsunami hitting. I mean, as -- as you said, the waves have hit some parts of the country but we know that over the, what, some 15 or 20 minutes it will continue to hit other parts of the country but, as you say, we are looking at a live picture there. There isn't a wall of water that we witnessed in Japan. The waves, as your Bureau over there has indicated, would between 50 cm and a meter so it would appear that Taiwan has, perhaps, dodged a bullet. Would you say that's correct?

CHEN: Sorry. Could -- could you say that again? I couldn't hear the last words.

COREN: Anthony, it would just -- it would appear that Taiwan has got away unscathed this time from what we know at this very minute and looking at these pictures of the waves.

CHEN: That's right. The waves are looking quite minimal at the moment but we don't really know what will happen later if -- if the waves become bigger and bigger later on. Anna?

COREN: OK, Anthony. That's Anthony Chen joining us there from ETTV. He is a journalist monitoring the situation as the tsunami hits Taiwan as we speak.

Well let's bring out Kristie Lu Stout now for more on where the earthquake struck -- Kristie.

KRISTIE LU STOUT, CNN INTERNATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: All right, thank you very much indeed Anna. Let's give you an idea of where exactly all of this unfolded.

The epicenter of the quake was out here in the sea about 130 kilometers to the east of the city of Sendai. It took place at a depth of about 24 kilometers. That is very, very shallow. The site, it lies about 373 kilometers from the capitol, Tokyo. Buildings shook. Entire population was forced to take cover and the quake was even felt as far as Beijing, Chine.

But, there is no doubt where the greatest impact has been. Tsunami waves have affected much of the east coast of Japan, areas around Tokyo submerged, but the most dramatic scenes you have been watching all afternoon here have been along the coastland or farmland near Sendai.

Local media reporting a tsunami of up to 10 meters, that's 33 feet, in height here. That is clearly going to have a devastating impact on everything in its path and we are still trying to understand a -- a -- get a clear picture of the total devastation.

Now, I want to show you some video out of Tokyo as the earthquake struck this afternoon. This was the scene in our Tokyo bureau earlier on Friday and you will be seeing CNN Producer Junko Ogura running to her desk.

That's some 400 kilometers away from the epicenter. That's what the earthquake looked like, what it felt like in Tokyo earlier today and the tremors lasted for several minutes -- Anna.

COREN: Kristie, we talk a lot about the size and -- and scope of earthquakes. Where does this one rank?

STOUT: OK, well, let's bring up another map for you. There was no question that this earthquake is a major event. It is one of the largest in Japan's history, the initial quake measuring a magnitude 8.9 is officially qualified as a great quake. OK, magnitudes do not directly tell you how much damage has been caused. Now, but, by looking at various ranges you can get some sense of what to expect.

Now, starting in the 6s. Earthquakes are already quite strong and potentially destructive, but, when you reach the 7s they become major, major events, generally causing serious damage over larger areas. In the 8s, which is what we are reporting on right now, which is what happened in Japan, the quake was 8.9 in magnitude today. The damage, it goes across hundreds of kilometers. Anna, let's go back to you.

COREN: Kristie, thank you for that. Well, let's return to NHK, the public broadcaster and listen in:

UNIDENTIFIED SPEAKER: --in Chiba Prefecture. There has been extensive damage reported across Japan after this earthquake. In Miyagi in north Japan buildings and car are left submerged in cities hit by repeated tsunamis. That is what you are seeing right now. Police say an unknown number of people are missing in many cities where tsunami waves of up to 7 meters tall swept through low-lying coastal areas.

Now, you're seeing footage from the Sendai Airport in northern Japan. The airport has --

COREN: OK, we now want to go to Ivan Cabrera who is standing by. Ivan, as we mentioned a little earlier. Taiwan is being hit by that wave. Any reports of damage?

CABRERA: Yes. When you were talking to that gentleman there in Taiwan, he was basically, essentially, trying to tell you that there is no way for them to know the extent of any damage and we are not going to know that.

The rule is is that you have to wait about two hours from the initial arrival, the forecasted arrival of the first wave, and then if there is nothing happening within those two hours or after those two hours, then you are pretty much safe here.

So, a couple of hours from now if Taiwan is no longer or hasn't been reported any damage or any significant wave heights here I think we're going to be OK. Philippines is next, 10:00 to 11:00 GMT, and authorities -- now we're getting word, have evacuated with good reason, obviously, here, right, 12 coastal areas.

They have sent Maritime Warnings to ships at sea, told the smaller fishing boats to come on shore, the larger vessels actually can pass through it rather safely, they can actually go further away from the coast. As you know, that amplitude is -- you just couldn't feel it if you were out in open water there.

So, those warnings and those coastal evacuations are underway. Then, we talk about Indonesia, 10:50 to 11:40 GMT. And, there is Hawaii, again, they have been under a tsunami warning now for a couple of hours here as civil sirens have been ongoing there and folks are told to evacuate.

Australia from 15:35 hours to 18:45 hours GMT and the difference in times here are because of the coastline and the orientation of the countries that you are seeing here. Chile, obviously, very long, right, so it's going to take a while for the wave to get from the north to the south. So, there, you see the range.

And, take a look at that, 9:04 GMT tomorrow. So, we're talking about an event here that is going to be ongoing for some time. It is the worst earthquake to hit Japan in 140 years. It is now ranked, as Kristie was pointing out there, we are talking about a great earthquake here and it is the 7th worst earthquake that we have ever recorded in history there -- Anna.

COREN: Yes. Quite extraordinary. Ivan Cabrera, thank you. We'll check in a little later.

We are now joined on the line by Simon Boxall, he significant an oceanographer at the National Oceanography Center in Southampton on the south coast of England. This is quite enormous, the earthquake that has struck Japan. Give us a bit more background information if you will.

SIMON BOXALL, OCEANOGRAPHER, NATIONAL OCEANOGRAPHY CENTER: Well, the earthquake, itself, is huge but what is more important, perhaps, is the fact that it happened beneath the sea and this has created a substantive tsunami. The tsunami moves across the Pacific at an incredibly fast pace and the Pacific has a fantastic early warning system.

But because the earthquake happened only a few miles, about 18 miles, offshore of northeast Japan, it would have only taken the initial waves about 15-20 minutes before it hit the coast.

Now, from the earthquake to the wave hitting, there is no time to get any sort of warning system out. So, really, that initial hit, people had no warning that it was coming. If you look at the area that it covered, it's a very low-lying area of Japan and the destruction and devastation it has caused is enormous and the wave is probably literally miles inshore.

COREN: Simon, it is frightening actually to hear that those people would not have received a warning and we saw all of these cars driving away from that massive wave and that wall of water that, as you say, 15-20 minutes, that is not a lot of time to seek higher ground. Simon, we -- we have said that some 50 countries have been issued tsunami alerts. I mean, give us a sense of how far-reaching this tsunami will be.

BOXALL: The tsunami, itself, will be felt all over the Pacific. My big question is how big is the wave when it hits, for example, Hawaii, the west coast of America, South America. The chances, I emphasize chances, are it will be quite small, it should dissipate.

However, given the location of the earthquake, given the way we see tsunamis propagating, it is sensible to put these outlying countries, outlying from the area of the tsunami generation, on -- on alert because it is sensible to evacuate these areas because there is a chance that it could still cause damage around these parts of the Pacific Rim.

COREN: Simon, the -- the wave that hit Japan was a monster. It was something like 10 meters. That was the wall of water that hit the southeast of Japan. Give us a sense, for those people who are not familiar with tsunamis, as to how they form, how -- how this can happen, a wall of water can just, you know, hit -- hit a city and keep moving. I mean, this is the thing, it does not stop.

BOXALL: It doesn't stop. Well, what happens initially is you get an earth tremor and the earth tremor, the earthquake, is a bit like you throwing a large rock into the pond and you threw the rock into the pond and it creates huge waves.


COREN: Simon, my apologies there. I just had the producer speaking to me.

So, Japan is also being issued other -- other tsunami warnings. I mean, how -- how long will -- will this last. Ivan Cabrera, our meteorologist said it's sort of a two-hour timeframe.

BOXALL: For Japan, you're looking at sort of being on standby for the next couple of hours. For the Pacific as a whole, really a full 12 hours. It will take 12 hours for that wave -- the wave in the open ocean, once it is created, is moving about the speed of a jumbo jet, about 500 miles an hour. So, you can look at how long it would take for that wave to move across the Pacific.

So, after 12 hours, really, the danger has passed. But, in the immediate vicinity around Japan those two hours are going to be critical.

COREN: All right, Simon Boxall from the National Oceanography Center in Southampton, England. We certainly appreciate giving us your analysis and insight into what has taken place. A devastating -- devastating scene indeed.

Well, if you are just joining us, here is a quick look at the staggering disaster that has struck Japan. Tsunami waves driven by an 8.9 magnitude earthquake have slammed the northeastern coast. Well, it is the most powerful quake on record in Japan and it has been followed by more than a dozen aftershocks. That means more tsunami waves possible for Japan but uncounted millions of people are at risk.

There are watches and warnings out for some 50 countries, in fact, all around the Pacific Ocean. Well, first in line is Taiwan where an initial wave has just arrived. Well, the crashing waves have sparked a number of spectacular fires. This is an oil refinery in the city of Chiba in Japan. Officials say that five nuclear power plants in the northeast have been shut down with the assurance there is no danger of radio leaks.

Well, transportation all across the northeast has come to a standstill. You are now looking at the airport in hard-hit Sendai. Now, this disaster is just hours old. It hit at some 2:46 p.m. local time and there are no good casualty numbers in just yet although a handful of people have been confirmed killed but some fear the death toll --

ANNOUNCER: This is CNN Breaking News.