Key developments in the earthquake and tsunami

AP News
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Posted: Mar 12, 2011 1:40 AM
Key developments in the earthquake and tsunami

One of the largest earthquakes ever recorded struck Friday off the coast of Japan, spawning a tsunami whose violent effects were felt across the Pacific region _ from the Far East to South America to the U.S. West coast. Hundreds of people were killed, and many more were missing or injured. A summary of the day's developments:

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IN THE FAR EAST:

The 8.9-magnitude quake and tsunami devastated northeastern Japan, killing hundreds and wreaking horrific destruction: Giant waves carried away houses, cars and even light planes. Fires burned out of control. A ship was caught in the vortex of a whirlpool at sea. Tokyo was largely shut down.

States of emergency were declared for five nuclear reactors at two power plants after the units lost cooling ability in the quake's aftermath, and officials were checking whether a meltdown had taken place at the Fukushima Dai-ichi power plant.

An official with Japan's nuclear safety commission said that even if there was a meltdown, it wouldn't affect people beyond a six-mile radius. Thousands of residents were evacuated as workers struggled to get the reactors under control.

More than 125 aftershocks _ including a 6.8 quake just before noon Saturday _ followed Friday's massive temblor.

Basic commodities were at a premium. Hundreds lined up outside supermarkets, and gas stations were swamped with cars. The situation was similar in scores of other towns and cities along the 1,300-mile-long (2,100-kilometer-long) eastern coastline hit by the tsunami.

Scientists said the quake ranked as the fifth-largest in the world since 1900 and was nearly 8,000 times stronger than one that devastated Christchurch, New Zealand, last month.

A global investment banking group estimated overall losses of about $10 billion and President Barack Obama pledged U.S. assistance following what he called a potentially "catastrophic" disaster.

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IN THE U.S.:

Soon after the quake hit, sirens blared in Hawaii, warning of a tsunami that swamped Hawaii beaches and pushed waves into hotel lobbies on the Big Island. The West Coast pulled back from the shoreline, fearing the worst. Residents were warned to stay away from beaches. Fishermen in northern California took their vessels out to sea and safety.

Harbors and marinas in California and Oregon bore the brunt of the damage, estimated by authorities to be in the millions of dollars. Boats crashed into each other, some vessels were pulled out to sea and docks were ripped out.

Outside Brookings, Ore., four people went to a beach to watch the waves and were swept into the sea. All either got out on their own or were rescued. In Crescent City, Calif., rescuers searched hours for a man who was swept out to sea while taking pictures.

In Oregon, hotels were evacuated and shops stayed shuttered in the northwest tourist town of Seaside.

In the end, the damage was nothing like the devastation in Japan.

Hawaii Gov. Neil Abercrombie said the islands were "fortunate almost beyond words. ... All of us had that feeling that Hawaii was just the most blessed place on the face of the Earth today."

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ELSEWHERE:

Tsunami warnings were extended to a number of areas in the Pacific, Southeast Asia and Latin America, including Japan, Russia, Indonesia, New Zealand and Chile. In the Philippines, authorities ordered an evacuation of coastal communities, but no unusual waves were reported.

Latin American governments ordered islanders and coastal residents to head for higher ground. Coastal officials from Mexico to Chile hauled boats from the sea, closing ports and schools and preparing to evacuate thousands of people ahead of the tsunami's expected arrival.

Thousands fled homes in Indonesia after officials warned of a tsunami. In Guam, the waves broke two U.S. Navy submarines from their moorings, but tug boats corralled the subs and brought them back to their pier.

In the Canadian pacific coast province of British Columbia, authorities evacuated marinas, beaches and other areas.