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YOKOSUKA NAVAL BASE, Japan — A massive 8.9-magnitude earthquake struck northeast Japan on Friday, shaking buildings across the country, setting dozens of fires in the Tokyo region, and prompting a tsunami warning from New Zealand to the west coast of the United States.

Aftershocks continued to strike the Tokyo area for hours, in what is being called the largest earthquake since a 9.0-magnitude quake struck the Banda Aceh area of Indonesia on Dec. 26, 2004, causing a massive tsunami that killed about 250,000 people in 14 countries.

U.S. military commands across the Pacific were scrambling to locate their people and put out information.

“We’ve issued instructions to our pierside ships in Yokosuka to stand by their lines to be prepared to quickly adjust them as necessary to prevent damage during any resulting tsunami,” said 7th Fleet spokesman Cmdr. Jeff Davis.

The Japanese Meteorological Agency has issued a two meter (six feet) tsunami warning for the Yokosuka area with Sagami Bay and Muira peninsula issued a three meter (nearly 10 feet) major tsunami warning. This area is expected to see the tsunami from 8:30 to 9 p.m. Personnel are advised to remain in their on base-residence. Off-base residence should follow the local area evacuation orders. At Misawa Air Base, the Commander Task Force 72 Patrol and Reconnaissance headquarters has been evacuated, Davis added.

Misawa personnel are all accounted for, according to a 6:30 p.m. update.

“At the region level, we have no reports of injuries or major damage at any Navy facility,” said Cmdr. Ron Steiner, spokesman for Commander Naval Forces Japan.

The command, however, released this statement at around 6 p.m. on its Facebook page:

“All U.S. Navy personnel, civilian employees, contractors and Japanese workers are requested to contact their respective commands and inform them of their personal status and whereabouts. If phone lines are busy please continue to find any means available to make your status known however your own safety is the first priority.”

The Commander Fleet Activities Yokosuka web site is warning anyone in low-lying areas potentially affected by a tsunami to move to higher ground.“The early reports we have are that all U.S. personnel are accounted for,” said Pentagon press secretary Geoff Morrell, at NATO meetings in Brussels with Defense Secretary Robert Gates.

The quake struck at 2:46 p.m. and was followed by five powerful aftershocks within about an hour, the strongest measuring 7.1. The U.S. Geological Survey upgraded the strength of the first quake to a magnitude 8.9, while Japan’s meteorological agency measured it at 8.4.

The quake struck at a depth of 6 miles, about 80 miles off the eastern coast, the agency said. The area is 240 miles northeast of Tokyo.

Most of the expressways around Tokyo were closed, according to Stars and Stripes editor Chris Carlson. “People streamed from buildings into the streets in downtown Tokyo,” Carlson wrote in an e-mail. “Traffic was at a standstill for more than a half hour as people moved among the cars. ...”

All public trains and subways in Tokyo were stopped, leaving many workers to walk home.

All Tokyo expressways were also closed as of 5:30 p.m., Japanese media reported.

Tsunami warnings were given to all areas in Japan on the Pacific Ocean and Sea of Japan shores, media reported. It warned people to stay away from beaches and rivers.

About 4 million homes in Kanto area were without power.The four runways in Haneda airport, which were closed immediately after the earthquake, were opened, media reported as of 5:30 p.m.

Tokyo Metropolitan Police reported a ceiling of a multipurpose event hall, Kudan Kaikan, has collapsed, leaving one person in cardiorespiratory arrest, 10 heavily injured and 25 minor injuries, according to media reports. It also reported three were injured at the American embassy in Tokyo. Twenty-five fires were reported in Tokyo, according to Tokyo Fire Department.

Hawaii

Tsunami warnings were issued for the Hawaiian islands, with any impact expected at around 3 a.m. local time.

Capt. Jeff Breslau, a public affairs officer with the U.S. Pacific Fleet in Hawaii, said: “The National Weather Service just put us under a warning. A Tsunami warning was issued here for the next three hours. We will monitor that closely and decide what action we need to take, if any.”

Sarah Kauppila, spouse of Marine Gunnery Sgt. Dan Kauppila stationed in Hawaii, said the warning system began sounding at about 11 p.m. with sirens and messages for people to move to the clubs and gym, which is a little further inland than housing.

“Yeah, the warning system on Marine Corps Base Hawaii Kaneohe Bay worked really well,” Sarah said. “They are evacuating some of the base housing in the low areas by the shore, but they aren’t evacuating our road even though we live about 200 yards from the ocean. We are just making sure we have all of our stuff incase we have to evacuate. We are in a tsunami safety area, so Dan is calm, but I’m freaking out.”

Misawa

Stars and Stripes editor T.D. Flack said Misawa Air Base was hit hard; there was no power and little in the way of comunications. People rushed to stores for whatever food and water they could find, ready to brave the night in sub-zero temperatures.

Yokosuka

Reports from Yokosuka Naval Base were that computer systems were working, but personnel were being kept out of tall buildings and being sent home. Located on Tokyo Bay, there is a high alert for a tsunami.

Yokota

Yokota Air Base near Tokyo began accepting aircraft being diverted from Japan’s Narita international airport Friday afternoon, which closed following the quake. Narita terminals sustained damage, and evacuated passengers. Airport officials were handing out water, crackers and blankets as evening arrived.

“Not leaving anytime soon,” one passenger texted a Stars and Stripes editor.

No major damage or injuries were reported on Yokota Air Base, located about 35 miles from downtown Tokyo. Eleven commercial planes from Narita international airport were diverted to the base in the aftermath of the earthquake late Friday afternoon.

Some 537 passengers aboard two Delta airliners were being housed overnight at Yokota’s community center until the planes could fly out Saturday, base spokeswoman Capt. Tania Bryan said. The other nine aircraft were expected to leave Yokota later Friday night, and no additional diverted planes were expected at Yokota, she said.

Narita was schedule to re-open at 6 a.m. Saturday, Bryan said.Yokota commander Col. Otto Feather urged troops and civilians to contact loved ones back home to relay that Yokota was OK during an address on AFN’s local Eagle 810 radio station.

“We’re looking pretty good,” Feather said. “Be ready to help wherever you can,” he said. Yokota “will play a significant role in the recovery.”

The American Red Cross at Yokota was setting up a call center at the base community center Friday afternoon to help relay messages from troops and Defense Department civilians in Japan to relatives in the United States.

Sasebo

Stripes personnel at Sasebo Naval Base reported no damage.

Okinawa

Marine Corps Bases Japan announced that is has activated its Base Emergency Operations Center to monitor the situation and coordinate Marine Corps actions. Residents in low-lying areas on Camp Foster, lower Camp Lester, and Camp Kinser to an elevation of at least 30 feet/10 meters have been evacuated as a precautionary measure.

The III Marine Expeditionary Force and its attached sailors have not been directed to provide assistance in response to the earthquake and tsunami in Japan.The U.S. State Department is the lead agency for the U.S. government, and is coordinating any requests for assistance by the Government of Japan,according to the announcement.

South Korea

In South Korea, several U.S. military spokesmen said the few troops that had been deployed from Japan for the annual Key Resolve exercise, which began Feb. 28th, had left or were soon leaving. The joint U.S.-South Korean exercise ended March 10th.

Readying for the call

The U.S. 7th Fleet is repositioning its ships to provide disaster relief in Japan if needed, 7th Fleet officials said Friday evening.

The flagship USS Blue Ridge, which arrived in Singapore this morning, is loading a disaster relief kit and preparing to depart Saturday morning, Cmdr. Jeff Davis said.

The Sasebo-based USS Essex, with the embarked 31st Marine Expeditionary Unit, was preparing to return to Japan on Friday evening after arriving in Kota Kinabalu, Malaysia, earlier this morning.

“To reiterate, this is simply a posturing of forces,” Davis wrote in an e-mail response. “We currently have no direction to conduct disaster response operations. Such a direction would come only following a request from the Government of Japan.”

There has been no reported injuries to personnel or damage to any 7th fleet ships currently ported at Yokosuka, Sasebo, Okinawa or anywhere else in Japan, Davis said.

Ships in Guam have been directed to deploy to sea if feasible, Davis said. Ships unable to deploy are beginning personnel recalls and standing by to adjust lines during changes in sea level.

In Misawa, the Commander Task Force 72 Maritime Patrol and Reconnaissance Force headquarters in Misawa was briefly evacuated. It continued to be without power and was operating from a generator Friday evening.

The Commander Task Force 76 Amphibious headquarters in White Beach, Okinawa, has moved its watch to higher ground at Kadena Air Base, Okinawa, in anticipation of tsunami activity, Davis said.

To track the latest tsunami and earthquake developments, go to www.jma.go.jp/jma/indexe.html

Stars and Stripes reporters Seth Robson, Charlie Reed, Ashley Rowland and Kevin Baron contributed to this report.

slavine@pstripes.osd.mil

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