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Evacuations Ordered in Japan; U.S. Authorities Weigh In Evacuations Ordered in Japan; U.S. Authorities Weigh In

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Homepage / Japan Earthquake

Evacuations Ordered in Japan; U.S. Authorities Weigh In

Thick smoke rises from a building on Tokyo's waterfront on Friday. A massive 8.9-magnitude earthquake shook Japan, unleashing a powerful tsunami that sent ships crashing onto the shore and carried cars through the streets of coastal towns.(STR/AFP/Getty Images)

March 11, 2011

Here are the latest developments from Japan and other affected areas (all times are Eastern).

Story Continues Below Graphic

 

6:55 p.m. The number of people killed or missing, according to Japan's National Police Agency has exceeded 1,000, reports Asahi Shimbum, one of Japan's largest newspapers, through its Facebook page.

5:06 p.m. See a transcript of the State Department’s teleconference briefing on Japan here.

5:00 p.m. The Japanese government officially ordered the evacuation of some 2,000 people living within about two miles of the Fukushima Daiichi nuclear power plant Friday night, the Wall Street Journal reports.

4:55 p.m. Chile has upgraded its tsunami alert for both Easter Island and the mainland, Reuters reports.

4:45 p.m. BBC reports that radiation levels at the damaged Fukushima-Daiichi nuclear plant are continuing to rise. Kyodo News reports that radiation levels are 1,000 times what they normally are at the plant.

4:41 p.m. Fox Business reports that the Japan recovery effort could “ultimately spur economic growth.” From the story:

“Research firm Capital Economics said in a note released shortly after the massive quake that while economic activity usually falls following major natural disasters, the reconstruction work that follows has historically created demand for labor and construction materials, as well as  machinery, which provides a spark for economic activity.”

4:38 p.m. About 3,000 residents near the Fukushima No. 1 plant are being evacuated, Kyodo News agency reports.

4:20 p.m. Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid, D-Nev., has issued a statement on the catastrophe:

“My thoughts are with the people of Japan today. I was saddened to hear of the destruction there. My sympathies are also with Japanese-Americans in Nevada and across America who may have loved ones in danger. The United States stands ready to support and assist the people of Japan during this difficult time.”

4:18 p.m. A 6.3-magnitude quake off Honshu is the latest aftershock, CNN reports.

4:00 p.m. All U.S. military and government personnel based in Japan are accounted for and uninjured, ABC reports. There are also no reports of serious damage to U.S. military facilities there. The United States maintains several bases in Japan, with 38,000 military personnel, 43,000 dependents, and 5,000 Defense Department civilians.

3:44 p.m. Four trains are missing in the tsunami-rocked Miyagi and Iwate prefectures, The Japan Times reports.

3:38 p.m. Less than a day has passed since the earthquake struck Japan, but coverage is extensive. See Atlantic Wire's list of the worst media reactions to the quake here.

3:33 p.m. The U.S. Coast Guard is searching for a man off the coast of Northern California who had been taking pictures of the tsunami, AP reports. Authorities in Oregon rescued four people who were swept out to sea.

3:31 p.m. The Times of India reports that a dam in Japan’s northeast Fukushima prefecture has failed, allowing water to sweep away homes in the aftermath of the seventh-biggest quake ever recorded.

3:28 p.m. The Japan Times reports that the official death toll has risen to 178, with 584 people reported missing.

3:26 p.m.  The death toll is expected to exceed 1,000, Yahoo! News reports.

3:11 p.m. As many as 70,000 people have been evacuated from Sendai, Japan, according to CNN.

3:06 p.m. The latest official death toll in the Miyagi prefecture is 151, according to CNN.

3:00 p.m. The International Atomic Energy Agency's director general, Yukiya Amano, released a statement on the tragedy:

 "I would like to express my condolences and sympathies to the people of Japan who have suffered from this earthquake and to the government of Japan."

2:55 p.m. See ABC's remarkable photos of the disaster here.

2:52 p.m. The Japan Times reports that yet another strong quake has hit the Nagano area.

2:48 p.m. Check out NOAA's visual of the tsunami's wave propagation here.

2:35 p.m. The U.S. Agency for International Development said it is dispatching a Disaster Assistance Response Team and has mobilized its partners, the Fairfax County Urban Search and Rescue Team in Virginia and the Los Angeles County Search and Rescue Team. Each USAR team will be composed of approximately 72 personnel, search-and-rescue canines, and approximately 75 tons of rescue equipment.

"On behalf of the American people, I wish to convey our sympathy, thoughts, and prayers to the people of Japan who have been affected by this devastating earthquake and tsunami," USAID Administrator Rajiv Shah said in a statement. "We are working with the government of Japan to provide any assistance needed in the rescue effort as quickly as possible."

2:23 p.m. Japanese authorities say they will release vapor at the Fukushima No. 1 nuclear power plant after its cooling system failed. Pressure inside the reactor has risen to 1.5 times the level considered normal.

2:20 p.m. CNN reports that the two nuclear reactors in the Nagano area have not been affected by the second quake.

2:16 p.m. Reuters and CNN report that a 6.6-magnitude quake has hit Nagano. CNN reports that the quake could be an "aftershock on a separate fault" from the original temblor.

2:15 p.m. Southern Methodist University professor William Tsutsui blogged about the scene in Tokyo 12 hours after the quake. Some bright spots amid the wreckage:

"Two things stand out about this experience to me. The first is the excellence of Japanese engineering and architecture. You read a lot about the quality of construction practices and the design of high-rises in this country that so often falls victim to earthquakes. But until you see 50-story buildings violently swaying and shaking, but not breaking, cracking, or collapsing, you can't really appreciate just how exceptional Japanese techniques are.

"The other observation that sticks in my mind is just how calm, disciplined, and organized the Japanese people are. Life went on in the usual orderly way, even after the horrifying images of the tsunami on the northeastern coast began to spread. The dense crowds on the street were as polite and composed as they always are, even though most of the people faced a very long walk home or a night in a shelter. Amazingly enough, although the roads in central Tokyo have been absolutely clogged for the past 11 hours, I have heard car horns at most three or four times."

2:10 p.m. BBC Travel is reporting that various hotels, schools, restaurants, and convenience stores have turned into evacuation centers, providing food, water, blankets, computer access, and overnight accommodations for those who are stranded.

2:03 p.m. House Speaker John Boehner has issued a statement:

“The heartfelt condolences of the whole House go out to the families of those who lost their lives in today’s tragedy. Our thoughts and prayers are with the people of Japan, one of America’s closest friends and allies. I’m pleased local, state, and federal officials are coordinating with emergency relief workers to provide assistance to those affected.”

2:00 p.m. House Minority Whip Steny Hoyer, D-Md., issued a statement:

“Our thoughts are with the people of Japan in the wake of today’s devastating earthquake and tsunami. Though the full extent of the damage is not yet clear, we do know that Japan has suffered widespread loss of life and destruction of property—and those who have suffered from this horrific natural disaster should know that they have the world’s sympathy, and that we continue to hold them in our prayers. As President Obama made clear, the United States stands ready to assist Japan as it begins its recovery efforts.

“As a result of the earthquake, tsunami warnings have been issued for nations across the Pacific, including island and coastal areas of the United States. I hope that all those in the affected areas will take the appropriate precautions, as recommended by the local authorities.”

1:51 p.m. U.S. forces are moving to help Japan in the wake of the tragedy.

From the Defense Department:

“We are assessing the situation and positioning forces so that they are ready to respond and provide disaster relief if directed,” said Navy Cmdr. Leslie Hull-Ryde, a Pentagon spokeswoman.

The USS Tortuga, in Sasebo, Japan, is preparing to load landing craft and to leave for the disaster areas as early as this evening.

The USS Essex, with the embarked 31st Marine Expeditionary Unit, arrived in Kota Kinabalu, Malaysia, this morning. The ship is preparing to depart as early as this evening.

The USS Blue Ridge, in Singapore, is taking on humanitarian assistance and disaster-relief supplies and preparing to depart tomorrow morning.

The USS Ronald Reagan carrier strike group, at sea in the western Pacific on its way to Korea, can respond if directed.

1:31 p.m.  House Armed Services Committee Chairman Buck McKeon, R-Calif., said in a statement:

"While the full extent of the damage is not yet known, my thoughts and prayers are with the victims of this tragic disaster. As friends and allies, the American people stand ready to assist the people of Japan as the recovery begins. I am relieved that initial reports indicate that there was no significant damage to American military installations or any loss of U.S personnel stationed in Japan and throughout the region."

McKeon said he will be working closely with the Defense Department to ensure that U.S. military personnel are able to assist in disaster relief efforts. "I will be following developments closely, especially as tsunami alerts remain in effect in my home state of California. I urge all coastal residents to make necessary preparations for the expected waves."

1:28 p.m.  Reuters reports that the earthquake is the strongest on record in Japan and has killed at least 1,000 people along the northeastern coast of the country.

1:20 p.m.  President Obama said that his understanding is that the main assistance the U.S. going to be able to provide the Japanese is “lift capacity—the ability for us to help in the cleanup.

“When you have a tsunami like this as well as an earthquake you have huge disruptions both in the infrastructure, you have boats and houses and cars that are washed into main thoroughfares and that requires heavy equipment. So any assistance that we can provide we will be providing."

On a more personal note, Obama said that he is “heartbroken by this tragedy.”

“I think when you see what’s happening in Japan, you are reminded that for all our differences in culture or language or religion that ultimately humanity is one,” he said. “When we face these kinds of natural disasters—whether it’s in New Zealand, Haiti or Japan—then you think about your own family. How would you feel if you lost a loved one, or if your entire life savings were gone because of the devastation?

“The Japanese people are such close friends of ours and I have such a close personal friendship and connection to the Japanese people in part because I grew up in Hawaii where I was very familiar with Japanese culture. I am very confident, though, obviously, that the Japanese people are so resourceful, Japan has such a powerful economy and such an advanced economy technologically that Japan will successfully rebuild. It has experienced dealing with natural disasters, it has dealt with them before and will deal with them again. Japan, I’m sure, will come back stronger than ever--hopefully with our help.”

1:15 p.m.  Defense Secretary Robert Gates commented on the earthquake and tsunami upon arrival in Bahrain:

"I've been kept informed all day long about the tsunami in Japan, the earthquake and tsunami.  As best we can tell, all of our people are OK, our ships and military facilities are all in pretty good shape," Gates said. "We obviously have huge sympathy for the people of Japan and we are prepared to help them in any way we possibly can.  It's obviously a very sophisticated country, but this is a huge disaster and we will do all, anything we are asked to do to help out."

1:02 p.m.  When asked about the U.S. rushing coolant to a nuclear plant in Japan (see 11:27), President Obama said that when he spoke with Japanese Prime Minister Naoto Kan this morning (see 10:33), he “specifically asked him about the nuclear plants and their potential vulnerability as a consequence of the earthquake.”

Kan said that Japan is monitoring the situation very closely and has not seen evidence of radiation leaks. “But obviously you’ve got to take all potential precautions,” Obama said.

Obama said he asked Energy Secretary Steven Chu to be in close contact with Japanese personnel to provide any assistance that’s necessary and make sure that “if in fact there have been breaches on the safety system on these nuclear plants that they’re dealt with right away."

12:35 p.m.  President Obama called the images of destruction and flooding coming out of Japan “simply heartbreaking,” and said “our thoughts and our prayers are with the people of Japan.”

Initial waves from the tsunami came ashore in Guam and other U.S. territories in Alaska and Hawaii as well as along the West Coast, Obama said, adding that “here in the United States there hasn’t been any major damage so far but we’re taking this very seriously and we are monitoring the situation very closely.”

FEMA is fully activated and is coordinating with state and local officials to support these regions as necessary, Obama said. “Let me just stress: If people are told to evacuate, do as you are told."

"Today’s events remind us just how fragile life can be," Obama continued. "Our hearts go out to our friends in Japan and across the region, and we are going to stand with them as they recover and rebuild from this tragedy.”

12:22 p.m.  President Obama is scheduled to hold a news conference at 12:30. We'll be streaming it live - tune in here.

12:19 p.m.  National Journal's Marc Ambinder writes that after 9/11, the federal government's disaster preparedness is better, but far from ideal.

Earlier this week, Ambinder asked the administrator of the Federal Emergency Management Agency, Craig Fugate, whether he was confident that the United States could absorb a catastrophic event that affected the National Capital Region -- specifically, in reference to the near-flood level of the Potomac this week. Are we doing what we need to do? Are we better prepared than we have been in the past?

"The answer is yes... but it's a qualified yes," he said. On the plus side, the Washington area has an unusually strong record of coordinated response in emergencies, and probably performs more exercises than any other region in the country. On 9/11, Fugate said, as chaotic as the day was, the actual response was solid: the Fire Departments sharing resources, the National Guard being deployed efficiently, hospitals absorbing the wounded. 

"In terms of a response, that's about as good as it can get. There were lessons learned, but the system didn't fail. Now you've got something more robust than you had [when an] Air Florida [plane crashed into the Potomac in 1982], and something much more robust than on 9/11. But that doesn't mean it isn't going to be any less catastrophic. The real question is, is the response more coordinated?"

12:11 p.m.  Democratic Sen. Mary Landrieu of Louisiana said in a statement that her "heart goes out" to the Japanese people as they confront this unfolding disaster:

"Watching the televised images of Sendai City and other hard-hit places, the people of Louisiana and along the Gulf Coast, who are still recovering from the devastation of Hurricanes Katrina, Rita, Gustav and Ike, can feel keenly the pain and heartbreak of victims struggling to deal with the loss of loved ones and widespread destruction. They are in our thoughts and prayers, and we stand with them in solidarity as they begin the long process of healing and recovery," she said.

House Foreign Affairs Subcommittee on Asia and the Pacific Chairman Don Manzullo, R-Ill., said in a statement that he spoke this morning with Japanese Ambassador Ichiro Fujisaki and offered assistance. "The images coming out of Japan are devastating and our hearts break for our close allies as they mourn the hundreds of lives lost and try to save others who are missing," Manzullo said.

"The United States offered immediate disaster relief assistance and is joining the Japanese government in a major recovery operation. Our friends face a long recovery, and we will be there to help them along the way," he said.

11:50 a.m.  The White House released the details of President Obama's briefing this morning on the earthquake and tsunami warnings. Click here for a photo of the briefing.

At 9:30 a.m., Obama spoke with senior officials including Homeland Security Secretary Janet Napolitano and Federal Emergency Management Agency Administrator Craig Fugate via phone, and in the Oval Office with Chief of Staff Bill Daley, Assistant to the President for Homeland Security John Brennan, National Security Adviser Tom Donilon, Deputy National Security Adviser Denis McDonough, National Security Staff Senior Director for Resilience Richard Reed, National Security Staff Director Asian Affairs Daniel Russel, and others.

"The senior officials provided the President with an update on the evolving situation stemming from the earthquake and subsequent tsunami that struck Japan early this morning including the actions being taken to assist U.S. states and territories that could be affected by the tsunami, as the President directed earlier this morning – as well as the work being done to be prepared to assist the people of Japan," a White House statement said.

"The U.S. government continues to monitor the situation closely throughout the Pacific region. To support potentially impacted areas in the United States, the federal government remains in close contact and coordination with state and local officials, and stands ready to support them. The government’s message to the public is simple: listen to the instructions of state and local officials. We urge everyone in the regions who could be impacted to listen to a NOAA Weather Radio and their local news to monitor for updates and directions provided by their local officials," the statement continued.

11:36 a.m. Japan has requested U.S. assistance through the State Department, according to the Defense Department's press service.

11:27 a.m.  The U.S. Air Force in Japan transported some "really important coolant" to a nuclear plant there affected by the earthquake and will continue to assist Japan, Secretary of State Hillary Clinton said at a meeting of the President's Export Council, according to Reuters. "Japan is very reliant on nuclear power, and they have very high engineering standards, but one of their plants came under a lot of stress with the earthquake and didn't have enough coolant," she said.

11:09 a.m.  Pentagon spokesman Col. Dave Lapan told reporters that there have been no reports of U.S. military personnel killed and that there's been no significant damage to U.S. ships, aircraft, or facilities, National Journal's Megan Scully reports.

The USS Essex, USS Blue Ridge, USS Tortuga, and USS Ronald Reagan are either preparing or have left for Japan, Lapan said (see also 7:47), adding that two amphibious ships, Harpers Ferry and Germantown, have also been redirected to Japan to help with humanitarian efforts. The USS George Washington is in Japan for maintenance but experienced no damage.

The U.S. has 38,000 military personnel in Japan who are available to assist.

Defense Secretary Robert Gates has been briefed, Lapan said.

11:05 a.m.  Senate Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs Chairman Joe Lieberman, ID-Conn., said in a statement that he is "monitoring closely the tsunami warnings that have been issued for parts of the United States, including Hawaii, Alaska, and parts of the West Coast" and urges all Americans in areas potentially affected to heed these advisories.

"My thoughts and prayers are with the people of Japan and all those affected by this devastating natural disaster, including the thousands of American citizens in Japan. America has no better friend and ally in Asia than Japan, and we in the United States must stand ready to mobilize any assistance we can to help as quickly as possible. The people of the United States stand in solidarity with the people of Japan through the difficult days ahead."

10:55 a.m.  The first waves have reached the U.S. mainland along the Oregon coast, the Associated Press reports. Geophysicist Gerard Fryer at the Pacific Tsunami Warning Center in Honolulu said high water reached Port Orford, Ore., around 7:30 a.m. PST Friday.

10:52 a.m.  When asked if the U.S. has any plans to deploy U.S. search and rescue teams, Deputy State Department spokesman Mark Toner said in the conference call (see 10:40)  that the U.S. remains in contact with Japan to assess what their needs are in these very early hours after the earthquake. "Lots of things remain on the table but we’re going to work with them to coordinate," he said. 

10:46 a.m. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton said in a statement:

"I join President Obama in offering our sincere condolences for the loss of life and damage caused by the earthquake and tsunamis in Japan. We are closely monitoring the tsunamis that may impact other parts the world, including Hawaii and the West Coast of the United States.

The U.S. Government has offered immediate disaster relief assistance, and we are working closely with the Government of Japan to provide additional help.  Our consular officers in Japan and in the United States are working to gather information and assist U.S. citizens in Japan who may have been affected by the earthquake. The United States is an unwavering friend and ally of Japan, and we are committed to helping Japan respond and recover.  Our thoughts and prayers are with the people of Japan during this difficult time."

10:40 a.m.  Deputy State Department spokesman Mark Toner said that the U.S. remains in "close contact" with the Japanese government to "assess their immediate needs" and determine the appropriate response. 

10:38 a.m.  Assistant Secretary of State for Consular Affairs Janice Jacobs said in a conference call that State has received no reports so far of U.S. citizens killed or injured in Japan. She adds later that there are "thousands of American citizens who either live in Japan or are visiting there at any given time."

10:33 a.m. National Security Council spokesman Tommy Vietor says that President Obama called Japanese Prime Minister Naoto Kan this morning at approximately 10:15 a.m. to discuss the earthquake and tsunami. More details to come later.

10:24 a.m.  National Journal's Meghan McCarthy reports from House Appropriations Labor-HHS Subcommittee hearing:

Health and Human Services Secretary Kathleen Sebelius said the federal government was “mobilized and ready to go,” should assistance be needed in Hawaii and the nation’s west coast following a tsunami in the Pacific ocean.

Sebelius said the agency was also keeping close watch on the aftermath of high-magnitude earthquake in Japan.  “Certainly our thoughts and prayers are with those folks,” she said.

The panel’s chairman, Denny Rehberg, R-Mont., thanked Sebelius for her “quick briefing” on the tsunami before the hearing on the HHS fiscal 2012 budget.

10:05 a.m. CNN is reporting from Hawaii that 8-foot waves hit the island of Maui.

9:52 a.m.  National Journal's Jim Tankersley and Clifford Marks write that Japan's economy, the world's third-largest, was struggling with low growth and high debt levels even before the quake - and any major hit to the Japanese economy will, at least to some degree, sap strength from the global recovery.

The chief economist at High Frequency Economics, Carl Weinberg, warned that the quake could undercut Japan's cash flows and food supplies, and that damage to ports and airports could extract a large toll on trade in the world's fourth-largest trading nation. "We do not know what we do not know about the damage that has been done," Weinberg wrote in a research note. "Experience tells us that the economic shock can be, and likely will be, much bigger than anyone can imagine."

Global markets fell after news of Friday's quake spread, but not dramatically, with the worst declines in Japan. Check out the whole article.

9:48 a.m.  Waves expected to hit northern California could be as high as six feet, Reuters reports.

"It is very possible there may be some evacuations here," California Emergency Management Agency spokesman Jordan Scott told Reuters. The far northern California area, near the Oregon border, is most likely to see big waves, the spokesman added.

Meanwhile, in Hawaii, waves “steadily rose” over southern beaches on Oahu though initial waves in Hawaii have not been reported to have caused any damage so far, Reuters reported.

9:42 a.m.  The Atlantic has incredible photos of the extensive damage after the earthquake in Japan.

9:33 a.m.  Senate Foreign Relations Committee Chairman John Kerry, D-Mass., released the following statement:

"Our hearts and prayers go out to the people of Japan as they seek to cope with a devastating earthquake and tsunami.  Japan is our close friend and ally, and the United States stands shoulder-to-shoulder with the Japanese people during this time of need. 

"First responders and military forces from Japan and the United States train regularly to react to natural disasters, and just as we have worked together to aid countries such as Burma, Indonesia, and the Philippines, we will spare no effort now as rescue and recovery operations get underway in Japan.  We will continue to watch closely for tsunamis in the Pacific, and stand ready to assist our citizens as well as our friends and partners in surrounding countries with humanitarian and disaster assistance."

9:32 a.m. The Alaska Emergency Management says the tsunami caused a wave just over 5 feet at Shemya, Alaska-- more than 1,000 miles south of Anchorage-- and another of about 18 inches at Adak and Dutch Harbor in the Aleutian Islands, according to the Washington Post.

9:30 a.m. More on Oregon impending waves from the Washington Post.

"A wave of more than 6 feet could reach Brookings in southern Oregon, while a wave of about 4 1/2 feet was predicted for northern Oregon's Clatsop spit." The waves are expected between 7 a.m. and 8 a.m PST, or 10 a.m. and 11 a.m. EST.

9:24 a.m.  Oregon emergency management says has advised coastal residents to evacuate before 7 a.m. PST (10 a.m. EST) due to tsunami risk, Reuters reports via Twitter.

The Washington Post reported that sirens sounded in Oregon Friday morning in some communities to urge people to seek higher ground. At least one hotel was evacuated and guests were moved to higher floors on another, the Post reports.

9:20 a.m.  House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi, D-Calif., said in a statement:

"Our thoughts, prayers, and condolences rest with people of Japan today – those affected by the earthquake and tsunami, the loved ones of those lost in this natural disaster, the communities now confronting the aftermath of this tragedy.  The images of destruction and devastation touch the hearts of families around the world, and Members of Congress and all Americans stand ready to offer our aid and support to Japan in its hour of need.

"With tsunami warnings throughout the Pacific, I encourage my constituents in San Francisco and Americans throughout the west coast, Hawaii, and others in its path to remain vigilant, to heed all warnings and instructions from emergency personnel, and to take every precaution to ensure their safety.  Officials from federal, state, and local agencies are prepared to offer any assistance necessary, and we will work with all levels of government to respond effectively as the tsunami reaches our shores."

9:02 a.m. Tsunami will not be a "major damaging event" in Hawaii, says Gerard Fryer from Pacific Tsunami Warning Center on KGMB-TV Honolulu.

8:51 a.m.  The Washington Post is streaming live video from Hawaii and tweets that the water receded there and exposed the sea floor.

8:48 a.m.  MSNBC reports that the death toll is rising dramatically: 200 to 300 bodies have now been discovered.

8:47 a.m. Poynter.org, a resource for journalists, has a post on their blog with some background information about tsunamis. They include:

-Six tsunamis have killed more than 350 people since 1946, according to the American Red Cross.

-FEMA says Hawaii gets one tsunami each year, and only a damaging tsunami about one every seven years. For California, Oregon and Washington, that statistic is one damaging tsunami every 18 years.

Read more here.

8:37 a.m. Local Hawaiian news station KGMB-TV: Navy says that initial reports show tsunami passed Pearl Harbor "without incident."

8:33 a.m.  Federal Emergency Management Agency chief Craig Fugate said in a statement:

"FEMA is closely monitoring the affects of the earthquake and subsequent tsunami that struck Japan early this morning, and through our regional offices in the West Coast and in the pacific area, we are in close contact and coordination with state and local officials and stand ready to support them in any way needed.  Our thoughts and prayers go out to those affected by this tragedy.

"Tsunami warnings and watches have been issued for the U.S. territories of Guam, the Commonwealth of the Northern Marianas Islands, as well as portions of coastal areas in Hawaii, Alaska, California, Oregon and Washington.

"Our immediate priority is the safety of the people and communities in the affected areas.  We remind everyone who lives in the region to monitor their local news for instructions from their state and local officials and if told to evacuate - evacuate."

8:29 a.m.  The Washington Post has more details on the tsunami waves hitting Hawaii: 

"The Pacific Tsunami Warning Center says Kauai was the first island hit... by the tsunami, which was quickly sweeping through the Hawaiian Island chain. Officials predicted Hawaii would experience waves up to 6 feet."

Residents of Hawaii's coastal areas were evacuated to refuge areas at community centers and schools while tourists in Waikiki were moved to higher floors of their high-rise hotels, WaPo reports.

8:15 a.m.  The first tsunami waves have hit Hawaii.

Waves crashed into the Hawaiian island of Kauai at 8:15 a.m., MSNBC reports.

8:14 a.m.  Google has helped set up a site to track people who may have been affected by the tsunami in Japan. You can view the site here.

It has also set up a crisis response page with extensive links to emergency information and phone numbers, maps, a person finder, news and more. View it here.

8:11 a.m.  Here's more on the Fukushima nuclear power plant (see 7:29):

The Associated Press reports that Japan has issued an evacuation order to more than 2,800 residents near the Fukushima plant after it experienced a mechanical failure in the backup power generation system to supply water to cool the reactor.  According to Japanese Chief Cabinet Secretary Yukio Edano, the plant is not in immediate danger of a radiation leak.

8:09 a.m.  Bloomberg News reports that multiple car companies with plants in Japan, including Sony Corp. and Toyota Motor Corp. have halted output at their plants after the earthquake struck earlier this morning. The quake resulted in damage to production facilities and caused power outages.

Sony halted and evacuated six factories in northeast Japan and Toyota and its affiliates closed three factories. Honda Motor Co. closed two factories, and a 42-year-old male employee was crushed to death by a collapsing wall at a research and development center in Tochigi prefecture. Nissan Motor Co. closed four factories.

8:07 a.m.  Fox News cites officials as saying Honolulu could be hit by 8:21 a.m. and it could take 20 to 30 minutes to cross.

8:03 a.m. In an extremely rare move, Google has put up a tsunami alert on its homepage:

"Tsunami Alert for New Zealand, the Philippines, Indonesia, Papua New Guinea, Hawaii, and others. Waves expected over the next few hours, caused by 8.9 earthquake in Japan."

8:01 a.m. State Department spokesman P.J. Crowley said via Twitter that U.S. Ambassador to Japan John Roos spoke with foreign minister Takeaki Matsumoto and "reaffirmed that we are ready to provide support as Japan identifies specific needs."

7:59 a.m. Fox News reports that the first wave is slated to hit Kauai at 8:07 EST.

7:58 a.m. Associated Press reports an updated death toll that's likely to keep climbing: At least 60 people were killed and 56 were missing, according to police. 

7:55 a.m. KHON2 News in Hawaii is reporting that the following airports have been closed in anticipation of the arrival of the tsunami: Hilo Airport, Lihue Airport, Kahului Airport, Honolulu International Airport.

7:53 a.m.  CBS has video from Hawaiian shore. The tsunami is expected to hit Hawaii in minutes, CNN reports.

7:47 a.m. Overnight, the U.S. military began to put in place the beginnings of a humanitarian relief operation when and if Japan asks for help, CNN reports.

If such a request is received, the U.S. and other international organizations are expected to step in, CNN reports, adding that three major U.S. Navy warships in the region getting ready to move to help Japan:

-- The USS Essex is in Malaysia and is getting ready to bring relief supplies, though it will take a few days to reach Japan

-- The USS Blue Ridge is in Singapore, loading up relief supplies there and heading off to Japan

-- The USS Tortuga is already in Sasebo, Japan, and is putting on board small landing craft to reach flooded areas where roads are washed out and get the relief operation underway

7:45 a.m. MSNBC reports that Russia and the Philippines are evacuating coastal communities. The Red Cross says the tsunami could wash over the Pacific Islands, according to the network.

7:41 a.m.  CNN's Barbara Starr reports that no U.S. ships are evacuating out of Pearl Harbor in Hawaii, or in San Diego, California on the West Coast. The U.S. military believe "they're going to ride it out in port," she said, but are still telling people to get to higher ground and move away from the shoreline.

7:36 a.m.  The State Department issued a travel warning for Japan, telling U.S. citizens to avoid travel at this time:

 "The Department of State strongly urges U.S. citizens to avoid tourism and non-essential travel to Japan at this time.  Tokyo airports are currently closed; other airports in Japan may be closed or have restricted access.  Public transportation, including trains and subways are closed in the Tokyo area, and service has been interrupted in other areas.  Many roads have been damaged in the Tokyo area and in northern Japan."

U.S. citizens already there should contact JapanEmergencyUSC@state.gov and register their travel at https://travelregistration.state.gov, the statement said.

7:29 a.m.  Four nuclear power plants closest to the quake were safely shut down, the U.N. nuclear watchdog agency said, according to CNN.

The International Atomic Energy Agency says the Japanese authority reports the fire at Onagawa nuclear plant has been extinguished, according to Sky News.

Kyodo News: 2,000 residents near Fukushima nuclear plant urged to evacuate.

7:26 a.m. State Department spokesman P.J. Crowley said via Twitter that U.S. Ambassador to Japan John Roos has moved the U.S. embassy's command center to an alternate location as a precaution given the many aftershocks in Tokyo.

7:24 a.m. National Journal is monitoring the stream of tweets about the #earthquake & #tsunami in #Japan. Check it out.

7:13 a.m.  The U.S. National Weather Service issued a warning spanning at least 50 countries and territories, though it added that "significant widespread inundation is not expected for areas in an advisory."

"Persons in tsunami advisory coastal areas should move out of the water... off the beach and out of the harbors and marinas," the warning said.

7:10 a.m.  CNN reports from Tokyo that "the most powerful earthquake to hit Japan in at least 100 years unleashed walls of water... that swept across rice fields, engulfing towns, dragging houses onto highways and tossing cars and boats like toys."

CNN cites local media as reporting at least 32 deaths, with more casualties feared.

The earthquake's epicenter was offshore 231 miles away from Tokyo, the U.S. Geological Survey said, according to CNN, but Tokyo residents felt more than 30 aftershocks afterward. The strongest measured 7.1, according to CNN. 

6:45 a.m.  U.S. Navy reports all personnel and ships accounted for in Japan.

According to Stars and Stripes, Commander Naval Forces Japan released this statement at 6 p.m. JST (4 a.m. EST):

“All U.S. Navy personnel, civilian employees, contractors and Japanese workers are requested to contact their respective commands and inform them of their personal status and whereabouts. If phone lines are busy please continue to find any means available to make your status known however your own safety is the first priority.”

6:40 a.m.   Vice President Biden spoke about the Japanese earthquake from a press conference in Moldova, where he is traveling on U.S. business. According to the White House pool reports, Biden said the thoughts and prayers of the American people are with the Japanese, who had experienced a “mega-earthquake.”

"We the United States stand ready to do anything we can to help our Japanese friends as they deal with the aftermath of this tragedy," Biden said. 

6:07 a.m.  President Obama's statement on the earthquake in Japan and resulting tsunami warning throughout the Pacific:

"Michelle and I send our deepest condolences to the people of Japan, particularly those who have lost loved ones in the earthquake and tsunamis. The United States stands ready to help the Japanese people in this time of great trial. The friendship and alliance between our two nations is unshakeable, and only strengthens our resolve to stand with the people of Japan as they overcome this tragedy. We will continue to closely monitor tsunamis around Japan and the Pacific going forward and we are asking all our citizens in the affected region to listen to their state and local officials as I have instructed FEMA to be ready to assist Hawaii and the rest of the US states and territories that could be affected."

White House Chief of Staff notified President Obama of the disaster around 4 a.m. EST.

6:00 a.m. An 8.9 magnitude earthquake hit northeastern Japan overnight, triggering a 23-foot tsunami in the region and tsunami warnings as far as the entire U.S. West Coast, South America and Canada.

The earthquake, the largest in Japan's history, was followed by at least 19 aftershocks. The aftershocks were felt in dozens of cities and villages along the eastern coastline, including Tokyo, and most were more than 6.0 in magnitude.

Rebecca Kaplan and Lindsey Boerma contributed contributed to this article.

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