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Japan hit by magnitude 9.0 earthquake

[Updated Feb. 10, 2012: See before and after images]

[Updated March 14 3:54 p.m.: USGS updates earthquake in Japan to magnitude 9.0]

A magnitude 9.0 earthquake struck off the northeastern coast of Japan on Friday, shaking office buildings in Tokyo and setting off a devastating tsunami that swept away cars and boats. The quake — the world’s fifth-largest since 1900, according to the U.S. Geological Survey — struck at 2.46 p.m. local time.

There were reports of injuries in Tokyo as officials tried to assess damage, injuries and deaths from the quake and tsunami, but there were no immediate details. Japanese television showed aerial footage of an ominous 13-foot muddy wave washing across land along the coast near the epicenter.

In various locations, live TV coverage showed massive damage from the tsunami, with dozens of cars, boats and even buildings being carried along by waters. A large ship swept away by the tsunami rammed into a breakwater in Kesennuma city in Miyagi prefecture. Waves could be seen splashing into city streets and over bridges.

All trains in Tokyo were stopped, and black plumes of smoke rose over the skyline. Office workers rushed out of their buildings. Subways were halted, trapping commuters underground. In the nation with the world’s third-largest economy, all airports were closed.

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