Hundreds dead after huge earthquake and tsunami hit Japan

Death toll expected to increase following biggest earthquake in country's recorded history; up to 300 bodies found in Japanese coastal city after apparently drowning; 25 Israelis in Japan have not yet made contact.

tsunami hits Japan_311 reuters (photo credit: KYODO Kyodo / Reuters)
tsunami hits Japan_311 reuters
(photo credit: KYODO Kyodo / Reuters)
Up to 300 bodies were found in the coastal city of Sendai, in Japan, after a massive earthquake and tsunami hit the island state on Friday, media said.
NHK television said the victims appeared to have drowned. The extent of the destruction along a lengthy stretch of coastline suggested the death toll could rise significantly.   
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Friday's 8.9-magnitude earthquake was the biggest to hit Japan since records began 140 years ago.
A ship carrying 100 people was swept away by the tsunami which was triggered by the massive earthquake, Kyodo news agency reported.
Meanwhile, the Foreign Ministry announced that it has not heard from 25 Israelis in Japan following the earthquake.
The ministry stressed that it may be difficult for the Israelis to contact their families because of the collapse of communications networks in Japan due to the quake.
Foreign Ministry officials have also issued a travel warning to Israelis residing in Japan and other countries in the Pacific to stay away from areas close to the shore and obey instructions from local authorities.
The 8.9 magnitude quake caused many injuries, public broadcaster NHK said, sparked fires and the wall of water, prompting warnings to people to move to higher ground in coastal areas.
Some 3,000 residents living near a nuclear plant in Fukushima prefecture, north of Tokyo, were told to evacuate but the government said no radiation was leaking. It said the evacuation was a precaution after a reactor cooling malfunction.   
Other nuclear power plants and oil refineries were shut down after the 8.9 magnitude quake, while one refinery was ablaze. A major explosion hit a petrochemical complex in Miyagi prefecture after the quake, Kyodo said.   
Political leaders pushed for an emergency budget to help fund relief efforts after Prime Minister Naoto Kan asked them to "save the country", Kyodo news agency reported.     Kyodo news agency also said that Tokyo's Narita airport had been closed.
TV pictures showed the tsunami carrying the debris and fires across a large swathe of coastal farmland near the city of Sendai, which has a population of one million.
NHK showed flames and black smoke billowing from a building in Odaiba, a Tokyo suburb, and bullet trains to the north of the country were halted.
Black smoke was also pouring out of an industrial area in Yokohama's Isogo area. TV footage showed boats, cars and trucks floating in water after a small tsunami hit the town of Kamaichi in northern Japan. An overpass, location unknown, appeared to have collapsed into the water.
The US Geological Survey earlier verified a magnitude of 7.9 at a depth of 15.1 miles and located the quake 81 miles east of Sendai, on the main island of Honshu. It later upgraded it to 8.9.