Over 1,000 killed in quake and tsunami in Japan

Tokyo: More than 1,000 people were feared dead in the massive tsunami triggered by Japan`s most powerful earthquake which wrought devastation in northeast coastal Japan forcing the government to declare emergency at two nuclear plants after their cooling systems failed.

Kyodo news agency reported that 217 bodies have been recovered while the toll could be over 1,000.

The cooling systems in two key nuclear power plants at Fukushima plant were disabled and Japan`s nuclear safety agency has said that the plant will release slightly radioactive vapour from the unit to lower the pressure in an effort to protect the reactor from a possible meltdown.

There has been no radiation leak.

Prime Minister Naoto Kan ordered evacuation of over 45,000 residents living within 10-kilometres radius of the nuclear plants.

A strong 6.7-magnitude earthquake hit the country`s mountainous Niigata prefecture northwest of Tokyo early this morning, causing landslides and avalanches and destroying some wooden houses.

Yesterday, the gushing waters following the 8.9- magnitude quake, the most powerful since the 1923 tremor in Great Kanto area in Tokyo and its vicinity which was 7.9 on Richter scale and had killed more than 140,000 people, swept houses, overturned ships, vehciles and set ablaze several buildings, including a petrochemical plant.

Most of the bodies were recovered from Sendai.

Japan`s military mobilised thousands of troops, 300 planes and 40 ships for the relief effort, Kyodo reported.

At least 60 people were killed in Iwate prefecture and other places. A 67-year-old man was killed after being hit by a crumbling wall in Chiba prefecture, while a woman in her 50s died after a portion of a roof of a hall collapsed in Tokyo.

The National Police Agency said 531 people were reported missing and 627 others were injured in the quake and the 33-foot tidal waves in the country`s northeast coast.

Television images showed fires raging in several building complexes as also a major petrochemical complex in Sendai. The tsunami also flooded the Sendai airport.

A ship carrying about 100 people was washed away by the huge tidal waves in Japan`s northeast coast and its fate was not known, public broadcaster NHK reported, citing Miyagi prefecture police.

A passenger train with an unknown number of people aboard, running near Nobiru station on the Senseki Line connecting Sendai to Ishinomaki, was unaccounted for, the Japanese new agency said, quoting the police.

Buildings, even in far away Tokyo, shook vigorously and live footage by NHK showed a wide, muddy stream moving rapidly across a residential area near Natori River in Miyagi, levelling everything in its path.

The quake struck at 2:46 pm local time (11:16 am IST) and alerts were issued across the Pacific, including areas as far away as South America, US west coast, Canada and Alaska.

Kyodo quoting the fire and disaster management agency said more than 80 fires were reported from Iwate, Miyagi, Akita, Fukushima, Ibaradi, Chiba and Kanagawa prefectures.

Over 600 people, many of them students, were seen stranded atop a school rooftop in Sendai after a fire broke out nearby.