Update: This story was originally published at 11:54 p.m. PT March 10. CNET is continually adding to it, with the most recent update posted at 8:33 a.m. PT March 11.
An 8.9-magnitude earthquake and series of major tsunamis struck Japan on Friday, causing massive damage, triggering evacuations in several countries, and leading to tsunami warnings for Hawaii and the West Coast of the United States.
The quake struck Friday at 2:46 p.m. local time about 230 miles northeast of Tokyo. Aftershocks registered 7.1, 6.2, and 5.9, according to the U.S. Geological Survey's report.
The death toll has been climbing, and Nikkei reported that Miyagi prefecture police said they'd found 200 to 300 bodies of people believed killed by the tsunami. Japanese media said office workers tried in vain to make calls over jammed cell phone networks and were turning to Twitter to communicate with friends and family. Meanwhile an upswell of news and concern was apparent on social networks.
NOAA, the U.S. National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, issued a tsunami warning for Hawaii, for parts of Alaska, and for the West Coast of the United States from Oregon to Central California. Washington state and Southern California have a tsunami advisory.
"A tsunami warning means that all coastal residents in the warning area who are near the beach or in low-lying regions should move immediately inland to higher ground and away from all harbors and inlets including those sheltered directly from the sea," NOAA said. "Those feeling the earth shake, seeing unusual wave action, or the water level rising or receding may have only a few minutes before the tsunami arrival and should move immediately. Homes and small buildings are not designed to withstand tsunami impacts. Do not stay in these structures."
According to NOAA's tsunami arrival schedule, the first waves should reach San Francisco at 8:08 a.m. PT. "Tsunami amplitudes [wave heights] are expected to peak two to three hours after initial arrival along the North American coast," NOAA warned.
Television images of Japan on CNN showed waves exceeding 12 feet flowing inland (see video below), causing massive damage and carrying along cars, boats, and small buildings. Hundreds of people were evacuated from Tokyo's Shinjuku Station, purportedly the world's busiest, and train and subway services were halted, according to media reports. Tokyo's main airport was also closed.
In keeping with past efforts to assist in disaster relief, Google has launched Person Finder to help people search for information about others by name or leave information in Japanese.
Twitter captured the events as they happened. The number of tweets coming from Tokyo were topping 1,200 per minute, according to the Tweet-o-Meter, and Hawaii observers chimed in later. "Long lines at gas stations and supermarkets as Hawaii braces for tsunami," tweeted Jaymes Song, an editor for the Associated Press. "Tsunami warning sirens going off in Honolulu," he added.
Japanese media giant NHK showed footage of a refinery burning just north of Tokyo (see video below). YouTube's CitizenTube channel featured what it described as raw, eyewitness videos uploaded by people in Japan of the earthquake and its aftermath.
Two nuclear plants on Japan's Pacific Coast were automatically shut down, according to the Kyodo News Agency. One plant's cooling system failed, leading to a state of emergency and an evacuation of more than 2,800 people, though no radiation has been released, according to the AP.
Kristen McQuillin, a 44-year-old Pennsylvania native who is a longtime Tokyo resident, was at home with her husband, Tod, when the quake hit.
"When the shaking intensified, I secured an exit to the second-floor apartment," she told CNET in an e-mail. "Our five-story apartment building shuddered and rocked like a ship at sea; loose objects fell over or slid. We stood in the doorway watching the birds flap confusedly, trees sway, and every local structure rattle and moan. We are still feeling aftershocks now, three hours later."
"After the quake subsided and our initial panic abated, we went out to assess the damage and check in on our neighbors. Everyone was fine, with most damage being minor. Some stone lanterns had toppled over, a few sagging cable lines, some new cracks and crumbles, but nothing devastating," McQuillin said. "We live near Kasuga Dori, one of the main emergency arteries, and it was busy with people walking towards home--quickly and with determination, a rarity in a city that strolls--and packed with cars, off-meter taxis, and buses completely full."
"This is a rare major quake, and damages could quickly rise by the minute," Junichi Sawada, an official with Japan's Fire and Disaster Management Agency, told the Associated Press.
Online sites rushed to supply information for the crisis.
In a very unusual move, Google posted a tsunami warning on its main Web site, possibly the single most valuable piece of online real estate on the Net. "Tsunami Alert for New Zealand, the Philippines, Indonesia, Papua New Guinea, Hawaii, and others. Waves expected over the next few hours, caused by 8.9 earthquake in Japan," read a message below the search box.