Waves moving at an estimated 500 miles per hour surged onto the coast of Sendai, a city of roughly 1 million. The tsunami, caused by an 8.9-magnitude offshore earthquake, has left at least 30 dead so far, according to Japanese news outlets.
Once ashore, the tsunami took the form of a rolling, miles-wide sludge that consumed everything in its path. The fast-moving brown water, choked with power lines, homes and other debris, was captured by airborne videographers from NHK, Japan’s national public broadcasting company. Several homes remained on fire while bobbing in the sludge.
In Tokyo, roughly 250 miles away, structural damage was relatively minor. Still, the city remains paralyzed by gridlock after bullet train and other transportation services were cancelled for fear of continuing aftershocks.
Downed electricity lines have left at least 4 million without electricity and, soon after the quake, Japanese news anchors began broadcasting while wearing hardhats on live television.
Tremors were reportedly felt as far away as Beijing, according to Al Jazeera.
Other Pacific nations, including the Philippines and Indonesia, are also bracing for high waves. Experts warn of heavier casualties in nations lacking Japan’s preparedness, which include early warning networks and buildings engineered to withstand quakes.
Coming waves are “higher than some islands and could go right over them,” said Paul Conneally, spokesman for the International Federation of Red Cross and Red Crescent Societies, in a Reuters interview. “That is a scenario that nobody wants to see.” Authorities in Hawaii have also shut the island chain’s major airports and ordered people to evacuate inland.
In the main airpot in Sendai, the hardest-hit major Japanese city, security cameras captured rushing waters drowning the tarmac in a matter of seconds.
This quake is the biggest Japan has seen since 1923, when a 7.9-magnitude shook Hanshu island. Those tremors left between 100,000 and 150,000 dead, largely from rampant fires. Last year’s 7.0-magnitude quake in Haiti was comparatively less powerful.