An 8.9 Magnitude earthquake hit Japan today, one of the largest in history. Here are some stories, video clips, and images.

Hundreds killed in tsunami after 8.9 Japan quake

Yahoo! News reports Hundreds killed in tsunami after 8.9 Japan quake

A ferocious tsunami spawned by one of the largest earthquakes on record slammed Japan’s eastern coast Friday, killing hundreds of people as it swept away ships, cars and homes while widespread fires burned out of control.

Hours later, the tsunami hit Hawaii but did not cause major damage. Warnings blanketed the Pacific, putting areas on alert as far away as South America, Canada, Alaska and the entire U.S. West coast. In northeastern Japan, the area around a nuclear power plant was evacuated after the reactor’s cooling system failed.

Police said 200 to 300 bodies were found in the northeastern coastal city of Sendai, the city in Miyagi prefecture, or state, closest to the epicenter. Another 137 were confirmed killed, with 531 people missing. Police also said 627 people were injured.

The magnitude-8.9 offshore quake unleashed a 23-foot (seven-meter) tsunami and was followed for hours by more than 50 aftershocks, many of them of more than magnitude 6.0.

Dozens of cities and villages along a 1,300-mile (2,100-kilometer) stretch of coastline were shaken by violent tremors that reached as far away as Tokyo, hundreds of miles (kilometers) from the epicenter. A large section of Kesennuma, a town of 70,000 people in Miyagi, burned furiously into the night with no apparent hope of being extinguished, public broadcaster NHK said.

The quake was nearly 8,000 times stronger than one that struck New Zealand late last month, devastating the city of Christchurch.

“The energy radiated by this quake is nearly equal to one month’s worth of energy consumption” in the United States, U.S. Geological Survey Scientist Brian Atwater told The Associated Press.

Even for a country used to earthquakes, this one was of horrific proportions because of the tsunami that crashed ashore, swallowing everything in its path as it surged several miles (kilometers) inland before retreating. The apocalyptic images on Japanese TV of powerful, debris-filled waves, uncontrolled fires and a ship caught in a massive whirlpool resembled scenes from a Hollywood disaster movie.

The Advocate reports Shocking Video From Japan Earthquake

A giant whirlpool, an airport inundated by tsunami waves, and a refinery ablaze are among the myriad images coming out of Japan after a massive earthquake hit off the coast of the heavily populated island of Honshu on Friday.

Among the videos from Japanese television posted via YouTube by the Associated Press and the Daily Telegraph (see below): muddy waves taking over the runways of the Sendai Airport, flames engulfing a refinery, and a giant whirlpool formed off the island’s east coast.

Tsunami Strikes Airport

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Refinery Burns After Japan Earthquake

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88 Image Slideshow

Yahoo! News has an 88 Image Slideshow of the Japanese Earthquake. Here are a few images.

Houses are swept by water

Houses are swept by water following a tsunami and earthquake in Natori City in northeastern Japan March 11, 2011.

Vehicles are crushed

Vehicles are crushed by a collapsed wall at a carpark in Mito city in Ibaraki prefecture, Honshu island, after a huge earthquake rocked Japan on Friday

People watch aftermath covering port

People watch the aftermath of tsunami tidal waves covering a port at Kesennuma in Miyagi Prefecture, northern Japan, after strong earthquakes hit the area Friday, March 11, 2011.

Scientist points to seismograph

A scientist points to a seismograph registered for the 8.9-magnitude earthquake in Japan.

Houses swept out burn

Houses swept out to sea burn following a tsunami and earthquake in Natori City in northeastern Japan March 11, 2011

Japan Quakes Force Evacuation Near Reactor; Oil Refinery Burns

Bloomberg reports Japan Quakes Force Evacuation Near Reactor; Oil Refinery Burns

Residents near a Tokyo Electric Power Co. nuclear reactor were ordered to evacuate because of a possible radiation leak as Japan’s strongest earthquake in a century shut power plants and oil refineries.

Millions of homes were without electricity as utilities shut 11 nuclear power reactors. The shutdowns amount to about 20 percent of Japan’s 4.6 million barrels a day refining capacity and about 20 percent, or 12 gigawatts, of Japan’s total installed nuclear capacity, Sanford C. Bernstein analysts including Neil Beveridge said in a note today.

Tokyo Electric shut seven reactors at its Fukushima Daiichi and Daini atomic plants while three reactors at Tohoku Electric’s Onagawa station were halted, the trade ministry’s Nuclear and Industrial Safety Agency said in the e-mailed statement. Japan Atomic Power shut the No. 2 reactor at its Tokai plant, the agency said.

European Reinsurers Shares Slide on Japan Quake

Bloomberg reports European Reinsurers Shares Slide on Japan Quake

European reinsurers stocks fell sharply Friday on the prospect of being hit by big losses after a powerful earthquake with a magnitude 8.9 struck Japan, causing damage in Tokyo and sending a tsunami toward the country’s northeastern coast and Pacific Rim countries.

Shares in Munich Re, the world’s largest reinsurer, were 4.7% lower at €111.30 ($153.47), Hannover Re was down 4.2% at €39.13. In Zurich, Swiss Re, the second-largest reinsurer worldwide, plunged 5% to 50.90 Swiss francs ($54.61). Scor, a French reinsurer, fell 4% to €19.49.

Reinsurance stocks dropped much more than those of primary insurers. That was because reinsurance companies typically act as insurers of last resort for their clients, primary insurers. This means that in the event of a big natural catastrophe they often take the bulk of the losses, as their insurance clients can claim some of their costs back from them.

This year has already seen a higher-than-usual number of costly natural catastrophes. The recent earthquake in Christchurch, New Zealand alone could cost the insurance industry up to $12 billion, Swiss Re estimated.

Siwss Re expects its own pre-tax loss from the New Zealand earthquake to be around $800 million. Coming on top of floods in Australia recently, this means the reinsurer has pretty much used up the $1 billion budget for big natural catastrophes after little more than two months into 2011.

Swiss Re has market exposure in Japan and investors are worried about big losses, said Georg Marti, an analyst with Zuercher Kantonalbank. Swiss Re said it was too early to comment, while Zurich Financial Services AG said it was too early to provide estimates.

Best wishes to all my friends in Japan and anyone affected by this tragedy.

Mike “Mish” Shedlock
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