Return to Transcripts main page


8.9 Quake Rocks Japan; Tsunami Warnings Across Pacific, Including Hawaii and West Coast of U.S. ; World Markets Fall After Japan Quake; Large Wave Hits Maui

Aired March 11, 2011 - 10:00   ET


KATE BOLDUAN, CNN ANCHOR: Welcome once again to our breaking news coverage of the earthquake in Japan and the fallout rippling across the world. I'm Kate Bolduan. Thanks for joining us.

HALA GORANI, CNN INTERNATIONAL ANCHOR: And I'm Hala Gorani, we'd like to welcome to our viewers in the United States and all of our viewers around the world.

At any moment right now the first tsunami waves are expected to wash ashore on the West Coast of the United States if you're watching us from there. It is next in the path of this massive disaster. Emergency officials in California are predicting a surge of one to three feet there.

BOLDUAN: It is a breathtaking contrast to the devastation that we're seeing in northern Japan, truly near the epicenter of the quake. You're seeing some of the video right there. It unleashed a towering wall of water that pushed inland for miles and devastated everything in its path, truly swallowing entire towns, wiping out communications. The hardest hit areas are not yet reporting casualties, but one coastal city says as many as 300 bodies have already been found there.

GORANI: You see the devastation. You see the destruction, you see mangled cars, damaged buildings. Also, of grave concern today in Japan, four nuclear reactors in the disaster zone. Government officials have shut them down. AT one site thousands of people have been ordered to evacuate as a precaution. However, there are issues with the cooling system in one of those four sites.

BOLDUAN: So far the tsunami waves are topping out at about seven feet on the Hawaiian island of Maui. That came just hours after police cars rolled through coastal neighborhoods and urged people to evacuate and get to higher ground. The threat is not over.

GORANI: Millions of people on the U.S. west coast are bracing for tsunami waves. There's really no telling how high these waves will be, how destructive the water will be.


GORANI: We're monitoring up and down, of course, the coastline. And let's begin, Kate, with a live look at Hawaii right now. That will give you a sense. These are web cams, and the reason they are web cams is because anybody with any sense has gone inland at this point, and so we're monitoring the waves. Now it doesn't look like much. However, we've heard reports of waves that were several feet high, and it's nighttime as well there. So we have our teams and crews on the ground there monitoring what's going on with the waves and the tsunami warning along the coastline of Hawaii's islands.

BOLDUAN: We're watching it there, and truly let's head back to Japan and that's where we're going to bring in CNN's Paula Hancock. She is on the ground in Japan and joining us now. Paula, set the scene. What did you see when you got into Japan? What are you seeing around you?

PAULA HANCOCKS, CNN INTERNATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Well, I'm in Osaka, which is south of Tokyo itself, and obviously all the airports up north are closed at this point. The one in Sendai, which is just on the coast, is completely under water. We understand many of the airports have been shut, and even those that are just partially open are being kept open for emergency crews and also for aid agencies to get in, so at this point we are further south than Tokyo, just trying to monitor events, but certainly it is very difficult to get around, and it will be very difficult for aid agencies for the emergency crews, the Japanese government has put in place, to actually get on to the ground.

And bear in mind, it is midnight at this point in Japan. Of course it is pitch black. It is very difficult for people to see what is going on. The pictures that we're seeing, the footage, is from the air, and so, of course, the most worrying thing is what we don't know at this point, what we will see when light comes up in the morning. Many places have not been reached yet. We understand that the police have said that in Sendai itself, which we understand is one of the worst hit areas. It's a big city on the coast north of Tokyo. About one million people there, and according to the police they have said 200 or 300 bodies have been found already, but it is still very early on, and the worrying thing is that many of these areas have not yet been reached.

BOLDUAN: Absolutely not, and you will be watching with it us, and we will check back with you. Paula, just to talk to our viewers a little bit about what you're seeing, as Paula was talking right there. You're seeing the whirlpool effect of the tsunami. You're seeing the devastation of roads being washed out, walls of water coming in. Just some of the images coming out of there, and we're also seeing some raw footage of images that was coming in of rescue efforts under way. This is far from over in Japan as well as in other parts of the world.

GORANI: And we're hearing reports of ships that may have been carried away in that whirlpool effect, and as you saw there on your screens as well, some fires were set on oil refineries and other factories, and we saw even some fires that were being swept in that debris, you know, coming from possibly cars or tankers or trucks. Right now tsunami waves are hitting parts of Hawaii.

Carter Evans is on Iwa beach and he joins us now on the phone. What are you seeing from your vantage point right now, Carter?

CARTER EVANS, CNN CORRESPONDENT (on the phone): Well, from our vantage point we're basically at the tsunami warning center, and we're getting the fresh information as it's coming in, and right now we're hearing that there is destruction in Kahaluhi, Maui. That is where that seven-foot tsunami is reported. Of course, there's (INAUDIBLE) on the situation right now as you were talking about but hey are saying that the waves that struck Kahaluhi tonight had the destructive force to say, for example, and this was an example I was given by the researchers here, it could pick up and slam it into a bridge and destroy the bridge.

That might be the type of damage that we see in the morning, not that that type of damage has been observed yet, but that is the force that we're talking about here. Another really interesting phenomenon, and I know you were looking at that whirlpool, too, it's just to see something like that. They are talking here about this tsunami energy bouncing around the Hawaiian islands right now, so as you can -- if you can imagine these waves striking the Hawaiian islands, wrapping around an island, redirecting the wave to another direction. Bouncing off another island and coming back and crashing into other waves. This is the kind of energy that they are picking up in the ocean. They say it's very strange, very unusual phenomenon but not unusual for tsunamis.

As far as how long this threat exists, they are thinking a couple more hours, but we will certainly not be in the clear. They are considering within a couple of hours removing the tsunami warning.

BOLDUAN: Carter, best advice. I mean, you have been part of this whole time. You were there on vacation, if I understand correctly, you poor thing. What's the best advice that you're hearing from the authorities there on what people should do? I'm sure they assume one wave has come in and maybe now it's time to go back out, but that's clearly not the best advice.

EVANS: That is absolute what you do not want to do, because we're still right in the middle of this now with waves striking about every 15 minutes. They are not ready to say yet that this event is over, or even diminishing. We could see larger waves, so they are cautioning people to stay right where they are. They are also asking people, "hey, stay off the phone. We have a limited number of lines coming into the islands and things were jammed up. Communications were jammed up."

They are basically telling people to stay where you are, wait for the all clear, don't go back and experiment. If you look at the ocean and it looks calm, it may be deceiving. You could see the ocean receding back and another wave could come in about 20 minutes or so.

BOLDUAN: All right. Carter Evans, you've been a great resource. You're doing a great job. Stay safe. We will continue to check back in with you as things develop.

EVANS: Sure.

GORANI: President Obama speaking next hour about the tsunami response. We'll have that for you, and in just a minute we'll get a preview from the White House. (COMMERCIAL BREAK)

ANNOUNCER: This is CNN Breaking News.

BOLDUAN: Welcome back to our special coverage of the earthquake in Japan and the tsunami threat rippling all the way to North America.

GORANI: We'd like to welcome our viewers in the United States and around the world. Right now the U.S. west coast is watching, bracing potentially for tsunami waves to hit. It's next in the path of the disaster, and the first waves are expected any minute now.

BOLDUAN: All eyes there, and the waves first hit the Hawaiian islands just a short time ago. Police cars rolled through coastal neighborhoods urging people to evacuate, and we're getting reports of waves over seven feet high that have been coming in. And officials there say importantly the threat is not over and to continue to take caution.

GORANI: Right. Don't head out to the beach to take a look. None of those images even compare, even remotely compare, to where the disaster started. Look at this just off the coast of Japan. This is debris-laden water that you're seeing. Water has no business being here. These are fields. The strongest earthquake in 100 years has hit Japan and has caused this devastation. We're talking about an 8.9 magnitude quake. It unleashed a deadly tsunami. It swallowed homes as it churned across the land there.

BOLDUAN: And also of grave concern today in Japan, four nuclear reactors in the disaster zone. Government officials have shut them down. At one site thousands of people have been ordered to evacuate as a precaution and Hala, as you rightly noted, it's not just the safety problem that is a concern. It's also the fact that some 30 percent of Japanese people get their electricity from nuclear reactors.

GORANI: Right. So that's possibly what caused some of the power problems that caused issues in the stock market when traders were having issues just placing orders. But none of that is important when you look at the pictures that you're seeing there on the right-hand side of your screen.

BOLDUAN: Not at all.

GORANI: That's the moment the earthquake struck in Japan a few hours ago. Tsunami warning sirens have been ringing along California's coast. Meantime, their message, simply get to higher ground and get there now. Tsunami waves could strike any moment. Let's go to CNN's Casey Wian, he is at, I believe still at Seal Beach in Orange County, Casey, California. What are you seeing now? And what are you being told most importantly now?

CASEY WIAN, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Well, as you can see, it's a beautiful morning here at Seal Beach. Behind me, the pier behind me completely empty. Five hours ago, police shut down the beach at the pier and we're expecting the tsunami surge to hit this area. Local officials say they are not expecting any significant damage inland, but as a precautionary measure they are asking people to stay off the beaches, stay out of marinas and stay out of the harbor. Earlier we talked about the "USS Dubuque," the Navy ship that was resupplying the Seal Beach Naval Weapons Station, just off of here. That ship has been taken out to sea away from any potential damage because it's involved in loading weapons on and off of that ship. We've been told that basically the situation is pretty much normal here, but people are asked to stay away from the beach, stay out of the marinas, and we're watching and waiting to see what happens when that storm surge or that tsunami surge finally hits the west coast in about an hour or so. Kate, Hala.

BOLDUAN: That's exactly right. The thing about a threat of a tsunami is it could range from --

GORANI: A ripple.

BOLDUAN: -- a ripple to a wall of water.

GORANI: -- seven feet. You have to be careful. In fact, we're seeing estimates for higher waves along the California coast and some estimates for just a few feet, but it's hard to determine. It's hard to predict.

BOLDUAN: Absolutely.

GORANI: Scientists and experts can't predict it. The first waves of the tsunami are closing in on the west. As we said, Chad Myers is standing by with more on what we can expect, what we can predict, Chad?

CHAD MYERS, AMS METEOROLOGIST: Well, the forecast is for an eight-foot wave to move into Crescent City. Now, this is not a wave that's going to last one second and then go back out, OK? This could be a mile to three mile long wall or bulge in the water level going 500 miles per hour. So I'm not talking about a wave that comes in and just kind of slashes up against the rock and then splash out.

This comes in with force and mass, and it moves onshore. It stays eight feet tall for quite some time. This just doesn't go until the end of the beach road and then splash back out. This is going to go completely over the beach road at eight feet tall and keep going. There's the earthquake, there's Hawaii, the lines mean how many hours away the wave was. That was at three hours. That was six hours. This is now nine hours away, and we are about, maybe nine and a quarter hours from when this actually happened, west coast. It is coming. It is coming right now. All the way from the straits of Juan de Fuca and all the way back down to Crescent City and now what we have, different than Hawaii.

I'm going to show you Hawaii in a second where this was Maui and the waves went around Maui and this is actually where all of that wave action, that seen foot wave we talked about already. This is now coming onshore straight on. This is going to plow into the West Coast. This is the biggest event that the West Coast has seen in your lifetime. This is -- this is it.

Do not be -- you cannot be on the beach for this. You must be out of the way. This is a very big deal. Dave, lets me go ahead. I'll show you what's going on here. The wave came in. We know that there are three, three waves that came in, all the way here from across Kauai. Here's Honolulu and there's the bay. There's Kahaluhi, right there. You wouldn't even expect this to get anything because it's kind of in a little valley and the wave came this way. But look at the wave, up and down. The whole wave went up first. Sometimes you think -- we talked about this, the old tsunami back in 2004, how the water went down first.

This water did not go down first. This is a positive wave initially, which means that the wave goes up first and then goes down and then back up. That's what it looks like. It's I know it's a raw looking map, but this is what the NOAA National Weather Service is giving us right now. The normal wave shouldn't be doing that, up and down a foot. All of a sudden here in that bay that I showed you in Hawaii, the water went up six feet, then down six feet and then up seven feet so a total of a 13-foot up and down, back down and now it's back up again, so this is not just one wave. This is a series now of three so far, that are just as big. They are all about the same, all about six feet right there.

So if you see one wave in California and say "Oh, it's over." No, it's not. That wave is going to go out and another one is right behind it, 20 minutes later and going to go out and another one is behind it 20 minutes later. This is a long-term event, and people need to be literally away from the shore. There's nothing more to say than that.

GORANI: Let me just -- you said something that, of course, caught our attention here, that this is a big deal, that might be in the lifetime of people on that coast the biggest event. How do we know that? It hasn't happened yet.

MYERS: It has not happened yet, but we have not had an 8.9 earthquake in Japan that moves the water up. What happens, the animation kind of showed that, but I didn't have time, I didn't see it. There's a subduction zone. There's dirt, there's crust down below Japan, and then there's another plate, that is this plate moving this way. What happens is that the plates are moving down. All of a sudden there's so much strain on the two plates as they go, this is not a California quake that slides. This is a quake that pops. This dirt, this crust of the earth popped up, and that popping up pushed all the water up, that pushing of the water up makes a huge wave. It went both ways.

Obviously it went to Japan first because it was closest, but it's been traveling across the Pacific Ocean, and it's heading to the U.S., I could easily see Crescent City getting that eight-foot wave moving all the way into the city itself. There's the wave itself. It keeps on going. It has a lot of -- it's not just a small little peak like that, that you would kind of go body surfing in. It is a mass of water that's miles long, so think about an eight-foot wave that just keeps coming and keeps coming and keeps coming. That's the threat, that it's not just right five feet from where the shore is.


MYERS: This could go for half a mile inland, depending on the topography.

BOLDUAN: That is what I was going to ask you. You know, while we talk about there is quite a range of what could happen. It could be small. It could be large. There is a certain amount, of course, of uncertainty with these tsunami threat. What would you say is their best guidance for someone who is maybe in -- maybe in this area or in other parts of California? How far inland or how high up they should go to ensure that they will be safe as they are watching us now and preparing for whatever may come their way?

MYERS: Well, it's impossible to tell because every basin is different. The topography under every basin is all -- it can be sharp. It can be shallow. It can be just a beach, and the crescent- shaped beach would be the worst place to be. You need to be far away from that, because that would funnel all the water to the point of that crescent beach, Crescent City, and then that water would just keep running onshore.

If you are on a cliff face on the shores of Oregon, literally, you could be on top of the cliff 300 to 500 feet higher than the shore and watch it safely from there, and that would only be a quarter mile inland or more. If you're in a flat land where the water could literally keep going and not just splash up against a big bluff and splash back, you need to be a mile away from the shore at least. The police are telling people where to go --

BOLDUAN: Where to go, right.

Myers: But the sirens are going off. This, you know, we're talking about it here on the east coast, the west coast, they know about it. They have known about it a long time. Go to the Twitter deck, and can you watch all the tweets coming down. We're running. We're going. We're going. And they're going as fast as they can. Literally people are fleeing the beach.

BOLDUAN: If there's any good thing about this, Chad, is that there's a little bit of warning for the people in California.

MYERS: Nine hours of warning. There's no excuse.

GORANI: And Chad and Kate, in fact, when we look at the initial estimated arrival times for the tsunami waves, we have them all around 8:00, 7:50 to 8:15 a.m. Pacific.

MYERS: Getting close. Getting close right now.

BOLDUAN: 11 something here in the East Coast. All right. We are watching, thank you so much, Chad, as always. We're watching the west coast, we're watching Hawaii and, of course, we're keeping a very close watch on the devastation that we're seeing play out in Japan. Recovery, rescue efforts all under way. We'll be right back with our continuing coverage and breaking news here. Stay with us.


GORANI: Welcome back, everyone. The quake itself struck 230 miles from Tokyo, but packed enough power to leave tall buildings swaying.

CNN's Kyung Lah was on a subway train when it struck and she is now traveling north towards the disaster zone. Kyung, it must have been extremely scary. Tell us what it's like for you?

KYUNG LAH, CNN CORRESPONDENT (on the phone): What we experienced in the Tokyo subway is when you're underground you really do feel something as severe as the earth moving, so what we saw were the signs above shaking, the ground was shifting below us. People who were around us were quite alarmed and it's important to know that this is a country that doesn't usually get alarmed, especially when you talk about earthquakes, so when you see everyone start to react, what that tells you is that this is a significant event.

As soon as the train line stops and we're told to evacuate out of the subways, that was a sign and a signal that this was a national emergency. This is a country where the train lines run on the second and not by the minute. There is no delay, so for it to shut down like this means something significant. For this city of 13 million people, what you're experiencing right now is gridlock. I'm standing on a road, and the reason why we've pulled off is because the roadways simply are not moving. There's a little bit of movement here and there, but the problem that we're running into right now, especially as we try to travel north, is that it's very, very difficult to get around because the rail lines have completely stopped.

So the city is under -- is in gridlock right now and especially up north though, if you compare the two situations, you simply can't compare it. Tokyo is relatively unscathed. What we're seeing north of us though, that is a significant crisis on a number of fronts. Search and rescue, trying to deal with all of the fallout from the structural damage, from the infrastructure issues, so it's simply the scope of it is really difficult to imagine, and we may not know exactly what we're dealing with, Hala, until we see the sun come up.

GORANI: Kyung Lah in Japan, she was underground when the earthquake struck, and you saw just a bit of some of the best video that we have of that catastrophic event.

BOLDUAN: We actually just want to take a moment here and the video and what you hear is some of the most striking, more than we can describe ourselves, so let's just take a minute. To begin, this is the moment that the earthquake struck and some of the video that we're seeing.


UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Biggest one to date.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Oh, my God. That is the biggest earthquake to date.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: It is still going. Oh, my God. The building is going to fall!


BOLDUAN: Some amazing video you're seeing there. We just wanted to give you a moment to just maybe possibly try to experience it as these people did as it was unfolding right where they live, but you know what, Hala? I think we have and I think we can, let's get to Administrator Fugate. He is the head of FEMA and for our international viewers, this is the Federal Emergency Management Agency here in the U.S..

Administrator Fugate I guess, first off, could you tell us what reports you're hearing out of Hawaii and what you're keeping your eye on and how you guys are mobilizing.

CRAIG FUGATE, FEMA ADMINISTRATOR: Our big concern was the tsunami this major earthquake produced. You saw what happened in Japan. We had the tsunami warning centers issuing warnings for Hawaii as well as the west coast of the U.S.. So right now Hawaii is seeing the wave actions. We're not seeing the devastation, but we are seeing the wave action and really hope people will stay out of the water or stay away from the water, and we're also preparing for some impacts along the west coast where we do have communities that are vulnerable to tsunami waves. And so that's been our primary thrust right now is getting ready to support if there are impacts from these tsunamis.

GORANI: Mr. Fugate, this is Hala Gorani. How are you preparing for potential damage from these waves on the west coast? In some communities that might see waves up to seven, eight feet high?

FUGATE: Well, right now the principal thing here is life safety, is to get people to -- that are being evacuated to move to higher ground or to stay out of those areas. We can't prevent the damage of the waves, but we can keep people safe if they'll evacuate or not go down and look at these waves as they come in. Again, we want people to be safe. We can repair damages. We can't replace lives lost.

BOLDUAN: That's an excellent point, and I think something that I think you would agree with is no one is trying to scare anyone unnecessarily, Administrator Fugate, but I think is it the uncertainty of kind of the range of what could be seen from a ripple to a large wave and how far in it goes, what concerns you and your agency and the administration right now?

FUGATE: Absolutely. Again, this isn't something -- that's why we call it a forecast. If the tsunami warning centers could tell us exactly how high and when it would be a lot easier, but they can give us a range. Local officials make their determination based upon that who needs to evacuate, but the problem is you're never sure until the waves come in, and then it's too late, so that's why local officials are being cautious. They're ordering these evacuations as required. We're asking people to heed them because if you wait until you know how bad it is, you won't have time. GORANI: We're talking about a few hours from now. Are people listening to the advice. I mean, are you able to monitor whether or not the people along the coastal areas are listening to the advice and are actually moving inland this morning?

FUGATE: Some, are but you're also seeing where the state of California is taking steps to start closing down coastal roads. Again, sirens have been sounded. The local governments are beginning their evacuation plans. And they are actually putting transportation resources down there for people that need that help.

And, again, this is a lot about people having to follow the directions and heeding these evacuation orders. This is why we require, you know, people to really pay attention and heed that evacuation.

GORANI: All right. FEMA administrator Craig Fugate, thanks very much for joining us.

BOLDUAN: The State Department is offering assistance to the Japanese people while also looking out for U.S. citizens there as well.

GORANI: We'll check in with our State Department correspondent as our coverage of the earthquake and the tsunami continues. Stay with us.


ANNOUNCER: This is CNN breaking news.

BOLDUAN: Welcome back to our special coverage of the earthquake in Japan and the ripple effect of the massive tsunami that hit there and is also traveling to the West Coast of the United States.

I want to get to -- I don't know if it's still up. But we had some really amazing video from one of our partners, TV Asahi, that we wanted to show you. This is actually their live newscast, so clearly we have no control over that. But we want to continue to watch this, and you can watch it with us, as we're all watching it at the same time.

GORANI: All right. We have no translation. This is the natural sound coming from our affiliate there in Japan. We're seeing aerial shots. We're seeing shots of destruction that have led to fires. It is plus -- it is Eastern plus 14 in Japan right now, so that takes us to what? It is 2:38 a.m. in Japan.

BOLDUAN: Something around there.

GORANI: So, people who should be asleep, who should be spending their Friday night comfortably at home, many of them are out on the street, especially in the northern part of the Japanese islands because they have been hit by a massive earthquake and a massive tsunami that has caused unimaginable damage in some parts of Japan. BOLDUAN: So much. And the U.S. West Coast is next in the path of this disaster. We've been talking about this quite a bit. The first tsunami waves are expected there any moment now. We've seen some waves have actually hit along Hawaii. And they are heading to the West Coast, but as millions brace for what's next in Japan, as Hala was talking about, they are just struggling to grasp the full magnitude of what has happened.

A disaster truly continuing to unfold.


BOLDUAN (voice-over): 2:46 p.m. in Japan, the ground shakes. An 8.9 magnitude earthquake strikes about 80 miles off the northeast coast of Honshu, Japan's most populace island. It unleashes a monstrous tsunami, a wall of water roaring toward shore as debris- filled waves churn. It crushes homes and cars, sweeping boats inland.

Near the city of Sendai, muddy waters surge, carrying parts of buildings with them. And airport building becomes an island as survivors head to the roof, waiting for rescue.

Along the coast, fires triggered by the quake burn. These flames at an oil refinery rage out of control.

All of this as the government tries to take stock of the destruction and coordinate a response.

There are a number of confirmed deaths. Dozens of injuries, but it's just too early to know the full scope of this disaster. In bustling Tokyo, a city of 13 million, about 230 miles away from the epicenter, they felt powerful aftershocks. Train stations shut down. Commuters panicked. Babies cried.

Though earthquakes are common in Japan, people who live there say this is unlike anything they have felt before.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE (on the phone): My wife and I stood outside and basically held on to the outside of our house. You couldn't even stand up. We have never ever felt anything on a magnitude, literal magnitude of what we experienced today.

BOLDUAN: According to the U.S. Geological Survey, this is one of the most powerful earthquakes of the last century. It's triggering dangerous aftershocks and tsunami warnings across much of the pacific. Alarms alerting people of the possibility the waves may be coming.


BOLDUAN: Devastation that they are still dealing with there, and we are watching here in the United States.

I want to get you -- just getting some information in from the White House. Want to bring you up to date. We're told by the White House that the president called the prime minister of Japan this morning approximately 10:15. That would be of course, on the East Coast to discuss the earthquake and the tsunami. And there will be, of course, much more details later.

And a scheduling note. President Obama will be -- he had a previously scheduled press conference, but you can expect, of course, the tsunami, the earthquake, the aftermath will be a large part of that. That will be happening in the 12:00 hour Eastern. That is in the 9:00 hour Pacific Time for all of you wanting to hear that.

GORANI: All right. So, that conversation with the Japanese prime minister a little more than 20 minutes ago.

Let's talk about western coast of the United States. The first waves of the tsunami are closing in on the West Coast, and they are traveling at hundreds of miles an hour.

Chad Myers is here with the closer look at what to expect. It's very difficult, Chad, just to be clear with our viewers, to predict the height of a tsunami wave. It can be very low. It can be very high.

CHAD MYERS, AMS METEOROLOGIST: It will be considerably different from one mile down the beach to the other.


MYERS: No question about. It just depends on how your beach or your land faces the wave, and if it's going to be caught in a catcher's mitt, so to speak of a crescent-shaped beach, hence Crescent City. 8.2. Now the forecast wave height at Crescent City.

This happened a long time ago. It happened nine hours ago. Think about throwing a big rock in the ocean over here by Japan, and that rock has made waves. In fact now we know that there are at least four waves that are equal height.

Unlike the tsunami that hit Banda Aceha back in 2004, where the water went out first, this starts with the wave coming in first, then going out and then back in. It's called a positive wave rather than a negative wave. All that means is the way the generation of this wave was made, it popped up first rather than going down.

So, six hours, nine hours, about where we are right now. And then ten hours, right here along the northwestern coast of the U.S., and then a little bit longer later in the morning off toward the South and towards the Southwest.

So for Crescent City, we are right there. Charleston, Crescent City. I even had a picture. Did that picture go away, guys? Oh, here it is behind me, kind of hiding it on myself, but there we go. We believe that -- that some of these people are going to be really in the middle of something very bad here not that long from now.

This is on the West Coast from KOIN. This is on our beach camera shot, and people are still running up and down the beach. I don't understand that whatsoever, but there it is. Lifeguards there are on duty. There you see the whole thing on the beach seaside. And this is going to be the first picture that I believe we will see on how significant the wave will be on the West Coast. We are watching it live. Obviously as soon as something happens, we'll get right on the air with it. We have it here for you.

GORANI: All right. Chad Myers, thanks very much.

BOLDUAN: Thank you very much, Chad. We're watching - Chad, along with everyone here at CNN -- we are watching the developments in Japan as well as potential of a tsunami right here in the United States on the West Coast.

We'll have much more of our coverage on this breaking news story coming up after a break.


BOLDUAN: Welcome back, everyone. 2:46 p.m. local time today in Japan. That's when the strongest earthquake in the history of Japan hit the island nation. 8.9 magnitude quake. Check out the reaction from the newsroom of Japanese public broadcaster NHK. It's pretty startling.


GORANI: All right. So there you have it. This is NHK, the Japanese broadcaster. Some people went under desks. You see the building swaying. That's what it's supposed to do, by the way. But look, once the earthquake struck a tsunami, a massive wave of water slamming against coastal areas in Japan. What you're seeing there is water that is nowhere near the coastline. In other words, this water laden with debris, cars and homes and bits and pieces of debris along the way.

BOLDUAN: Look at how -- it's not one area, Hala. Just look how widespread it is. It's just truly amazing. Just watch it. Let's just watch.

Unfortunately, as you can see, these are aerials. We wish, of course, we could get closer in, but I think you see enough of what you need to see. The debris that's coming in is sweeping into this farmland, into the debris and some of the other video we saw, Hala -- boats, cars, many cars, as if they were just toy cars just being swept along with this massive wave. And you can -- and we're also have learned that there were more than 30 reported aftershocks that followed that earthquake. And, of course, then, the tsunami wave that rolls in.

GORANI: And there's a water line as well on some of the homes. You see the first floor of many of these homes is submerged in water. The rooftops of many of these homes have been damaged. We're hearing that in some coastal cities, the death toll is in the hundreds. However, as one person there as their window is calling out for rescue and help.

We're hearing, however, that the probability that this death toll will be a lot more devastating is extremely high, so those are some of the pictures coming into us from Japan. They give us an idea of the devastation.

And we can go live, I believe, to Japan. Paula Hancocks is standing by. Paula, I know you landed only a few hours ago. What did you see when you landed? What are you seeing now around you?

PAULA HANCOCKS, CNN INTERNATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Well, Hala, we've actually landed in Osaka which is the size of Tokyo, and it's not in the worst hit area. And the reason for that is because the airports further north are shut. The Sendai airport -- this is believed to be one of the worst hit areas at this point -- is completely underwater. Nothing can land there.

Some of the nearby airports to there are just open partially for emergency troops to get in, for the troops, 8,000 military troops from the Japanese government are sent up there to try to help the aid organization and also those aid agencies trying to fly in emergency goods to those people who desperately need it.

But the fact is it is quarter to 1:00 in the morning here, the early hours of the morning. It is very difficult to see how many people will get any kind of help this evening.

Now we know that there have been, according to Kyodo News Agency, about 70,000 to 80,000 people evacuated from Sendai itself. We understand from the police, that they have found about 200 to 300 bodies in Sendai. Now this is up north, this is in one of the worst hit areas. It's a coastal area, a big city. About a million people live there. And certainly some of these pictures that we're seeing are from that nearby neighborhood, so can you see the huge damage that is happening across that area.

But the aid agencies are being hampered. The emergency teams are being hampered because airports are shut; trains have stopped working. Phone lines in many cases have stopped working as well, so it really is a very difficult thing for people to actually try and get help to those that need it. And of course, it's the middle of the night so that makes things even more difficult.

GORANI: And Japan is used to earthquakes, but even by Japan standards, this is a huge, huge tremor. I mean, are they overwhelmed at this point, Paula?

HANCOCKS: Well, it's very difficult to say. I mean, certainly they have been very used to earthquakes, and in the past they do have a fairly strong opinion of these earthquakes and they have a strong way of dealing with them. For example, many of the buildings can withstand earthquakes. You saw building in Tokyo swaying incredibly but not collapsing. Of course, this was away from the epicenter, but it shows that they are well prepared in many ways.

That they also have told all the citizens to have, like, an emergency kit on standby. They have water and food that can keep them going for a few days, at least. But then when you see the footage from up north and you see entire buildings being carried away by the water. A country can be incredibly well organized and incredibly well prepared, but sometimes when Mother Nature throws something like that at an area, it's just impossible to be able to -- to cope with it.

Now, we do understand that the Japanese government has also asked the U.S. military for assistance. There will be assistance coming in from around the region. But at this point the -- the urgency, of course, will be trying to get to those areas that haven't been accessed at this point. And I think as the sun comes up, we are going to see a tremendous amount of damage in those areas. That's when you're going to get a better sense of just how devastating the earthquake and the tsunami have been.

GORANI: All right. It's ten minutes to 3:00 a.m. in Japan. And as Paula Hancocks is in Osaka -- thanks very much -- Paula mentioned, it's still nightime. It's a question of when the sun rises the devastation and the damage that we're going to be able to see.

BOLDUAN: I think right now, we want to go to Matthew Chance joining us in Moscow. He's keeping an eye on nuclear reactors in Japan that have been shut down. And keying an eye on that threat there. What do you know, Matthew?

MATTHEW CHANCE, CNN SENIOR INTERNATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Well, there are four nuclear reactors, in fact, that according to the U.N.'s nuclear watchdog agency, IAEA, have been successfully shut down as a result of the earthquake off the northeastern coast of Japan. That means that they have essentially been made safe from a kind of Chernoble-style nuclear meltdown.

There's been some damage sustained to a number of them. A fire has been extinguished at one. There's a concern still centering around a reactor at Fukushima Daiichi, where apparently it's been shut down. But the cooling system, necessary to keep the nuclear fuel in the core of the reactor cool, has broken down. And so the IAEA, the U.N.'s nuclear watchdog agency, is saying they are seeking further clarification on what's been done about that by the Japanese authorities. The Japanese say so far there's been no radiation leak and, of course, they are doing -- they are very aware of the problem and doing whatever they can to make sure that the problem doesn't deteriorate in that particular reactor.

BOLDUAN: And I guess it goes without saying, Matthew -- and I'm sure communication out of there is spotty at moment -- but how long these nuclear reactors will be down, how all the precautions that have to be taken to make sure of their safety and security before they put them back online.

CHANCE: Yes. It's going to be a difficult question to decide even if these nuclear reactors have been damaged so much that they can't be repaired. I mean, perhaps they have been, you know, severely compromised by this earthquake and won't be safe to operate anymore.

Certainly what we know is that the vast majority of the reactors in the earthquake that were subject to the tremors. They seemed to have behaved exactly as they were meant to behave in situations like this. They, of course, have been built relatively recently. They were designed to withstand possibly very large-scale earthquakes like this one. And according to the experts that we've spoken to, they seemed to have behaved pretty well and pretty predictably, so that's the good news. The bad news is there is this one reactor where there are still concerns.

GORANI: All right. Matthew Chance, thanks very much. Here's the - well, we have our producers full disclosure telling us NHK. And the reason for that is the Japanese broadcaster was showing some dramatic footage. We're seeing there some parts of, I suppose, the affected area on fire. But when -- you're also seeing some very dramatic pictures of flooding, of water damage caused by that massive tsunami.

BOLDUAN: We're seeing it as you're seeing it. It's coming in raw. We're trying to get it to you as quickly as possible --

GORANI: Not sure what that is.


GORANI: That must a coastal - sort of, map of the coast.

BOLDUAN: A kind of diagram showing what they are dealing with. We'll continue to monitor this, obviously, and continue our breaking news coverage as this continues to unfold. Just look at those pictures.


GORANI: It is almost 1:00 a.m. right now in Japan. At 2:46 p.m. local time is when a massive earthquake struck off the coast of Japan, and a massive tsunami then slammed against coastal parts of the country.

BOLDUAN: And I think we're going to just -- want to take to you that moment. I believe we're going to take you to the moment the tsunami wave came rushing in. Just watch this.



UNIDENTIFIED MALE: This is a look, once again, at the (INAUDIBLE) City. And it looks like the tsunami that has been engulfing -- engulfing the port. You're seeing live footage of a tsunami engulfing the port area of Kumai City (ph) in Iwate prefecture. We'd been reporting earlier on that the meteorological agency has issued a warning for a tsunami up to six meters deep - six meters high.

And this is what's happening right as we speak. A large tsunami engulfing the port of Kamaichi (ph) in Iwate prefecture. A major earthquake hit Japan earlier on Friday. Japan's meteorological agency says the quake was magnitude 7.9. The agency has issued a tsunami warning for Japan's Pacific Coast, and the tsunami we are seeing right here is in northern Iwate prefecture. The warning says the tsunami may be as high as six meters in some areas.

Ports like in Iwate prefecture, the tsunami can be engulfing some of the coastal areas. People near the coast need to evacuate immediately to higher ground.

You're seeing live footage of a port in Iwate prefecture in Kamaichi City. The tsunami engulfing the whole port area so long as we can see in the area. Before we were seeing a few cars, a few boats plunging into the sea, but it looks like that has been completely engulfed by a large tsunami --


GORANI: All right. We're going to leave with you those images as we take a quick break on CNN. Our colleagues on CNN and CNN International will continue to cover the aftermath of this huge earthquake and the tsunami that struck Japan and caused so much damage, death and devastation.

BOLDUAN: Thank you so much for joining us. Thank you, Hala.