Hundreds dead after quake, tsunami slam Japan

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TOKYO -- A magnitude 8.9 earthquake -- the biggest in modern Japanese history -- slammed the island nation's eastern coast Friday afternoon, unleashing a 23-foot tsunami that swept boats, cars, buildings and tons of debris miles inland and prompting a "nuclear emergency."  The death toll could well top 1,000 by the time all victims are counted.

A second quake struck central Japan hours later, causing buildings to sway. There were no immediate reports of deaths or damage.

The tsunami reached Hawaii, with initial reports citing little damage. Warnings blanketed the Pacific, putting areas on alert as far away as South America, Canada, Alaska and the entire U.S. West Coast, where some moored boats were damaged.

According to Japanese police, 200 to 300 bodies were found in Sendai, the coastal city closest to the epicenter. Another 137 people were confirmed killed, with hundreds missing. At least 600 people were injured. 

TV footage taken from a military plane showed fires engulfing a large waterfront area in northeastern Japan. Houses and other buildings were ablaze across large swathes of land in Kesennuma city in Miyagi prefecture, near Sendai. The city, with a population of 74,000, has residential, light industry and fishing areas.

According to reports, police told the Kyodo news agency that a passenger train with an unknown number of people aboard was missing in one coastal area.

The government ordered 3,000 residents near a nuclear power plant in Onahama to evacuate because the plant's cooling system failed and pressure inside the reactor is rising. The reactor's core remained hot even after a shutdown, and officials said they would release some slightly radioactive vapor to ease the pressure. The plant is 170 miles northeast of