A massive earthquake shook a large part of Japan on Friday afternoon, sparking a major tidal wave that washed through coastal communities and leaving a death toll that by evening was mounting into the hundreds, according to police reports.
Telephone service, both wired and wireless, was immediately put under stress. Many calls went unconnected and those that managed to connect to the network were often met with a record message advising calls were not possible because of congestion. Internet service in Tokyo appeared unaffected.
Electronics companies in the region reported suspension of work at their factories. Sony has six factories in the region and several other major IT manufacturers maintain bases near the affected area. Detailed information on the current status at the plants has not been released.
The quake struck at 2:46pm (5:46am GMT) and was centred 10 kilometres under the Pacific Ocean off Japan's eastern coast. It was measured at magnitude 8.8, making it the largest earthquake since Japan's records began in the 1800s.
A 7-meter tsunami triggered by the quake washed ashore within minutes. TV images showed a wall of water and mud washing across farmland near Sendai, north of Tokyo. It was carrying cars, trucks, houses and larger buildings and tossing them around like toys.
The Pacific Tsunami Warning Center in Hawaii has warned tidal waves from the quake will reach most of the Pacific basin, including South America.
In Tokyo, several hundred kilometers away from the epicenter, buildings shook violently and items were thrown from shelves. Some people evacuated buildings.
Transportation across a large section of Japan has been thrown into chaos. Hundreds of thousands of people are stranded in Tokyo after trains stopped running. Roads are gridlocked, hundreds of flights have been cancelled and there are long lines for taxis.