A massive wall of water swept away cars, ships and even buildings after the 8.8-magnitude earthquake. It struck about 250 miles from Tokyo. Death and casualty tolls continue to rise as the nation begins to dig out amid a rash of aftershocks.
A spokesperson with the International Mission Board in Asia confirmed that all personnel in Japan are accounted for and suffered no injuries.
The tremor hit around 2:46 p.m. local time. Seismologists said it is the largest earthquake to hit Japan and the seventh largest to be recorded, according to the U.S. Geological Survey data. Tsunami warnings have extended to the Philippines, Indonesia, Taiwan, the Pacific coast of Russia and Hawaii.
Southern Baptist missionary Cornelia Walker was in her family's 10th-floor apartment when the quake hit, buckling the road in front of her home.
"It was rather scary to be in the hallway, with hands against the walls while things fell in the dining area and kitchen," Walker told Baptist Press. "We went downstairs to the yard with other folks and checked in with a few of the older people next door.
"Everyone was scared but OK," she continued. "Japanese children were walking home from school with their earthquake hats on, and there are still sirens going off outside."
The quake rattled buildings and toppled cars off bridges and into waters underneath. Waves of debris flowed like lava across farmland, pushing boats, houses and trailers. All trains in the country have stopped, as well as all airports shut down.
In Tokyo, crowds gathered in the streets and tried to reach relatives via cell phone but towers were down. International Mission Board personnel stayed in touch with families and friends via Internet.
Missionary Mark Bennett used Facebook posts to let people know his family was safe. "The boys said their school had 'cracks,'" Bennet said in one post. "The street in front of our house is buckled and tons of grey sand has filled the street. Utility poles down the street have fallen down but we still have water, electricity and Internet."
An estimated 4 million homes in Tokyo and surrounding areas were without power in the initial hours after the earthquake.
This quake was the latest in a series in the region this week. Early Thursday, an earthquake with a preliminary magnitude of 6.3 struck off the coast of Japan's Honshu island. Wednesday, a 7.2-magnitude earthquake struck near the same island.
As aftershocks continue to rock the nation and other countries in the area, missionary Lana Oue asks friends to pray for continued safety.
"There are still many strong aftershocks, so please continue to pray for safety," Oue posted on Facebook. "Pray for our personnel and for the many Japanese people who have been affected."
In the coming days, an IMB assessment team will evaluate and determine what response might be facilitated through local Japanese churches.
Baptist Global Response, an international relief and development organization, told Baptist Press it has allocated $100,000 for an initial response and is in touch with partners in the region to assess immediate relief needs.
If disaster relief specialists are needed, Baptist Global Response will mobilize teams from the Baptist state conventions on call, said Jeff Palmer, executive director of BGR. "We have notified our call-out states to be on standby," Palmer said. "Alabama is the first on call for the month of March."
In the U.S., tsunamis striking Hawaii and the West Coast after the Japan earthquake have had minimal impact and may not generate the need for Southern Baptist Disaster Relief response, reported Mickey Caison, disaster relief team leader for the North American Mission Board.
"We have made contact with all the western conventions -- including the Northwest, Canada, Alaska and Hawaii conventions -- and everybody has told us that the impact at this point has been minimal," Caison said.
"Veryl Henderson with the Hawaii convention said the waves have passed and clean-up has begun," Caison said, "but they're not sure whether a big DR response will be necessary."
However, Caison said further damage assessment will continue by West Coast state convention DR staff into next week. He said word is not yet in on American Samoa and some other Pacific islands, although no major damage was reported in Guam.
Next week, NAMB's Caison said SBDR relief work will continue in connection with recent flooding in Ohio, with disaster relief volunteers being mobilized from Ohio, Illinois, Indiana and Kentucky.
After a series of tornadoes in Louisiana, the Louisiana state convention DR team has deployed three chainsaw units, two shower units, chaplains and a 12-person feeding team for that state.
In the Texas Panhandle, Southern Baptists of Texas Convention disaster relief volunteers recently responded to wildfires in the Amarillo area, which torched more than 25,500 acres and destroyed 70 homes.
Susie Rain is a writer for the International Mission Board. Tess Rivers, also an IMB writer, and Mickey Noah, a writer for the North American Mission Board, contributed to this article. Baptist Global Response is located on the Internet at www.gobgr.org.
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