Page last updated at 00:00 GMT, Sunday, 13 March 2011

As it happened: Japan earthquake on Saturday

  • A large explosion has occurred at the Fukushima No. I nuclear power plant in north-eastern Japan, close to the epicentre of Friday's earthquake. Officials say the container housing the reactor was not damaged, and sea water is being pumped in to cool it. But there are now problems with a second reactor at the same plant. Tens of thousands of people have been evacuated from the area
  • A mammoth relief operation has swung into action to help those affected by the earthquake and subsequent tsunami. The military has mobilised thousands of troops, 300 planes and 40 ships
  • Officials say more than 1,300 people are thought to have died, with fears that the death toll could rise significantly. One of the worst-hit areas was the port city of Sendai
  • Police say 300,000 people have fled their homes, and there are reports that whole villages have been swept away
  • The 8.9 magnitude tremor has been confirmed as the fifth strongest to occur anywhere in the world in the past 100 years. More than 50 aftershocks - many of them more than magnitude 6.0 - have also been reported
  • Live page reporters: Aidan Lewis, Victoria King, Peter Jackson, Philippa Fogarty, Joe Boyle and Patrick Jackson
  • All times in GMT

2357That concludes our live coverage for day two. Join us shortly for our reporting on day three.

2352The US navy's 7th Fleet is assisting with the rescue operation off the coast. A spokesman, Commander Jeff Davies, outlined the fleet's grim task for the BBC: "We have three destroyers that have joined the other two ships in (USS) Ronald Reagan's battle group and are conducting at-sea searches of the debris field. A tremendous amount of debris was washed out to sea following the tsunami and they're going to go through it very carefully and very methodically to make sure that if there are any survivors out there they are rescued, and likewise if there are any human remains that those are recovered."

2331Janie Eudie's husband, a US technician, was inside Fukushima No I when the quake struck. She explained what he experienced: "It was panic, a lot of panic going on. They're used to little quakes while they're on the job there, but this one was different - the ground started shaking and it was intense and everything was moving. And they knew something different and the local people began to get scared, which they took it from there that this is something that's way out of the ordinary. And that's when things started to fall from the ceiling, the glass, all the lights, and he said some of the ceiling and insulation all started falling and the debris was hitting them. And for the safety and all of this, they evacuated and they were just getting out as fast as possible."

2326The Japanese cabinet secretary, Yukio Edano, has been speaking on state TV. He said the third reactor at the Fukushima No. I plant was in danger but attempts were under way for a controlled release of air.

2318US nuclear experts warn that pumping sea water to cool a quake-hit Japanese nuclear reactor is an "act of desperation" that may foreshadow a Chernobyl-like disaster, AFP reports. "The situation has become desperate enough that they apparently don't have the capability to deliver fresh water or plain water to cool the reactor and stabilise it, and now, in an act of desperation, are having to resort to diverting and using sea water," said Robert Alvarez, who works on nuclear disarmament at the Institute for Policy Studies.

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2314Niel Bowerman writes: "Yokohama now feels a world away from the devastation of the North. Here the emphasis is on saving energy, so there are fewer lights on the skyline than normal. The aftershocks keep rolling in, but as they are relatively small most people here just exchange a glance and then get on with what they were doing. I feel as though the aftermath has brought a renewed sense of community here. What has really impressed me is the speed at which train lines were checked and services have largely returned to normal. Some sections of track remain down, but you can get most anywhere by public transport again."

2313Japan is likely to suffer a temporary economic hit and then enjoy a boost from reconstruction but the cost of rebuilding will worsen its already worryingly high public debt burden, a Reuters analysis piece says. While few expect the damage to exceed that of the Kobe earthquake in 1995. when the economy shrank by 2% before rebounding even further, the concern is that Japan's economy is much weaker today. It also is weighed down by the largest public debt among advanced economies, double the size of its $5tn gross domestic product.

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2309 David Williams in Tokyo writes: "Despite the severity of the earthquake, housing in Tokyo stood up well. We are still expecting a big aftershock so that kept us on edge through the night. The next problem is the supply of goods. I went to my local supermarket last night at 7pm and many of the shelves were uncharacteristically bare. In particular, water, instant food, batteries and toilet paper. Apparently there will be no deliveries today (usually there are on Sundays) or Monday, so for the time being at least the situation may well get worse."

2306Just a reminder for users outside Japan: the time difference with GMT is nine hours, so it is now 0806 local time.

2300The BBC's Rachel Harvey reports from Sendai: Just passed huge queue for petrol. Lost count after 160 cars. Queue of people lining up outside 7/11 store and water tap in park.

2252Reuters: Operators are preparing to release radioactive steam from the number three reactor at Fukushima No. 1 plant, after the cooling system failed there

2236The US Nuclear Regulatory Commission says that the two experts it has sent to Japan are specialists in boiling water nuclear reactors, and part of a broader US aid team sent to the disaster zone.

2224A recap: Fukushima has two nuclear plants; Fukushima No. 1, which has six reactors (three of which were offline at the time of the quake) and Fukushima No. 2, which has four reactors.

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2215 Michael Sammler in Akita Prefecture, Japan writes: "Another aftershock just hit my apartment. During the earthquake, at the junior high school where I work, all the students knew what to do. The length of the shaking was unprecedented and after about two minutes of shaking we lost power. Not knowing how long power would be out, no one was sure if using gas to cook was OK or not. The biggest worry was how long, and how much food do we have."

2212Some clarification: It is the number three reactor at the Fukushima No. 1 plant where officials have just announced that the cooling system has failed. This morning's blast took place at the number one reactor at the same plant. "All the functions to keep cooling water levels in No. 3 reactor have failed at the Fukushima No. 1 plant," a spokesman for the operator said.

2157More on the USS Ronald Reagan, an aircraft carrier that is off the Japanese coast. With a 3,200-strong crew and 2,480 air personnel on board, the US military says it will serve as a platform for refuelling Japanese and other helicopters involved in rescue efforts onshore.

2145Reuters: The number of people exposed to radiation near Fukushima No. 1 nuclear plant could reach 160, an official from the Japan Nuclear and Industrial Safety Agency has said. Nine people have shown signs of possible exposure.

2141IAEA Director General Yukia Amano: "The IAEA's emergency centre is working round the clock to monitor the situation and share information."

2130AFP: The US Nuclear Regulatory Commission says it has sent two experts to Japan to help assist local authorities.

2123Reuters: The emergency cooling system is no longer functioning at the Fukushima No. 3 reactor, an official from Japan's Nuclear and Industrial Safety Agency has told journalists.

2114The Japanese Red Cross says it has sent 62 teams including 400 doctors and nurses into the quake-hit area.

2109 PacificFleet tweets: "USS Ronald Reagan arrived off coast of Japan, expected to provide refuelling support to Japan SDF helos conducting relief ops."

2055More on evacuations: According to an IAEA statement, 110,000 people have been moved away from Fukushima No. 1 plant. Another 30,000 have been evacuated from a 10km radius around Fukushima No. 2 plant. But full evacuation measures had not been completed.

2042Reuters: The IAEA says it has been told by Japan that 140,000 people have been evacuated from areas around two nuclear plants

2039Ian Hore-Lacy of the World Nuclear Association tells the BBC he believes the situation at the nuclear power plant - where sea water is being used to cool the reactor core - is under control: "The point is that the heat, decay heat from the fuel drops off very rapidly. So after an hour, an hour following the shut down, it's down to about 2 or 3% I think. And after 24 hours it's down to half a per cent. So the amount of heat you've got to cope with right now is a small fraction of what there was initially."

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2030 Dominick Okamoto in Tokyo writes: "Transport remained affected today but is getting back to normal, albeit with reduced services. Lots of people seem to be stocking up on essentials and many stores have bare shelves. Many people are just so shocked by the images; it is a strange feeling in Tokyo - we were close enough to be badly shaken by the quake but seem a world away from the devastation that the tsunami has brought."

2023Reuters: The IAEA says the operator of the plant has confirmed that the primary containment vessel is intact following this morning's blast.

2022Reuters: The IAEA says it has been told by Japan that levels of radioactivity near the Fukushima No. 1 plant have fallen in recent hours.

2019Tokyo Disneyland is to close for about 10 days for safety checks, its operator says.

2012 The Bank of Japan is to hold a policy meeting on Monday and has vowed to do its utmost to ensure financial market stability.

1958 More on power supply problems: Tokyo Electric Power Company, one of Japan's major suppliers, has suggested it could carry out intentional power outages on a rotating basis to tackle the problem, Kyodo reports.

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1944 Twitter user @Kombu_s in Onagawa, Japan says in the Global Voices blog: "Well, I'm alive. The town is dead though, and my rooms are a mess."

1938More on the effects of the quake around the world: In Peru, the mayor of the town of Pisco says tsunami waves damaged about 300 houses as they swept into the town square - about 400 people spent the night in tents, AFPs reports.

1928Japanese workers in masks and protective clothing are scanning evacuees from the Fukushima area for radiation exposure, Reuters reports. Seventeen-year-old Masanori Ono says: "There is radiation leaking out, and since the possibility (of exposure) is high, it's quite scary."

1927Across the Pacific, Chile has reopened its copper-exporting ports and recalled large ships that were sent out to sea to avoid the tsunami, but it warns fishermen to beware of continuing swells and currents, Reuters reports.

1917The lights have been turned off at some of Japan's landmark buildings including the Tokyo Tower, Tsutenkaku Tower in Osaka, Rainbow Bridge in Tokyo and Bay Bridge in Yokohama, to help save electricity after the loss of the Fukushima nuclear plant, the Kyodo agency reports.

1851The BBC News website has pulled together video reports from across the stricken region on a clickable map that you can take a look at here.

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1847 Brittany Smith in Sendai, Japan writes: "I was teaching at school at the time of the quake, but I have since returned to my apartment. My electricity, gas, and water were shut off all day, but the power has recently turned back on. We're still getting small quakes off and on here, but nothing nearly as strong as the first few."

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1829 Chinita in Kyoto writes: "It's been a really long and hard day for all Japan. Although I live in Kyoto where nothing happened, it's really depressing. What will be next? How will Japan survive this disaster? Everything feels like a really bad dream."

1820The World Health Organisation says the public health risk from Japan's radiation leak appears to be "probably quite low": "We understand radiation that has escaped from the plant is very small in amount," World Health Organisation spokesman Gregory Hartl told Reuters news agency.

1807If radiation has leaked from the Fukushima No. 1 nuclear plant, winds will likely blow it out over the Pacific Ocean, says the French Nuclear Safety Authority: "The wind direction for the time being seems to point the pollution towards the Pacific," said Andre-Claude Lacoste, speaking in Paris.

1758For those who are in Japan and may be in quake-hit areas, the Japan Times has compiled a page of contact numbers and websites that residents who need information or assistance will find useful.

1749 Netfluence tweets: "My friends in Japan are struggling to find a way home - they were in a Tokyo hotel when the quake hit. Most mass transit is not working well."

1739More from that unidentified official at Japan's Nuclear and Industrial Safety Agency on rating the incident at the Fukushima nuclear plant on the IAEA scale of 0-7: "Right now we are considering the accident should be rated four. The rating may be changed in accordance with the development of the condition."

1731 Marcus Olaoire tweets: "Got word that my friends in Japan, in Sendai are alright. It's a special type of relief."

1724For more on the chain of events at the nuclear plant, take a look at a piece by our Environment Correspondent Richard Black which explains in more detail.

1717Rescue teams from several nations are on their way to Japan; the first, from South Korea, touched down about two hours ago. A team from the UK is due to depart later this evening.

1712Meanwhile the latest report from Kyodo news agency puts the official death toll from the disaster at 687, with another 650 people missing. But it is not clear whether this figure includes between 200-300 bodies being transferred to Sendai city.

1705A quick recap: There is continuing concern over the quake-hit Fukushima No. 1 reactor after a powerful explosion there early this morning. Japanese officials say the container housing the reactor was not damaged and that radiation levels have now fallen. But experts say it is not clear whether the situation is under control.

1652Residents and companies across Japan are being urged to save energy because of supply problems caused by damage to power generation facilities, The Japan Times reports. By noon on Saturday 5.1 million households in northern Japan remained without power, the paper said.

1640 kobutamama in Tokyo tweets: "My daughter was so calm and strong when the earthquake happened. But now she is so fragile. I am so worried."

1631Some more: The International Nuclear Event Scale was developed in 1990 by the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA). The rating of 4 for the Fukushima plant incident comes from an as yet unidentified official at Japan's nuclear safety agency, news wires report.

1622More information on that figure: The 1986 Chernobyl disaster was rated 7 on the International Nuclear Event Scale; the 1979 Three Mile Island accident was rated 5.

1617AFP: Japan nuclear agency rates nuclear plant accident in Fukushima at 4 on 0-7 international scale.

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1615 Chris Hall in Tokyo writes: "I'm having trouble getting to sleep as there is an aftershock - small but big enough - every 10 minutes or so at the moment. The quake yesterday was the most frightening thing I have experienced. My partner and I ran out into the street and stood with other people from several buildings. Concrete walls bent and flexed as if they were made of rubber and I still can't believe they didn't snap or crumble. Near our flat there was a gas leak. My biggest worry is the nuclear plant. And it has been hard to get information."

1609The BBC's Rachel Harvey in Sendai: "It is a very patchy picture - in the centre of the city there is power, traffic on the streets, but the shops are mostly closed and the place feels eerily quiet. If you drive out of the centre, there are areas in complete darkness. There are huge queues at every petrol station that is operating. I spoke to one man who said he had been in that queue for five hours. Now the station is rationing fuel to 20 litres per vehicle."

1602 US nuclear expert Joseph Cirincione tells CNN the full picture of what it happening at the Fukushima No. 1 reactor has yet to emerge: "The big unanswered question here is whether there's structural damage to this facility now. We saw the explosion early this morning. Are there other structural damages that may make a meltdown all but inevitable? We don't have any information from the power company on that."

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1555 Andrew Coad in Tokyo writes: "A strange hush still hangs over Tokyo with noticeably fewer cars on the roads. Taxis are operating and trains are getting back to normal schedules. Not such a good story in the stores - shopping today for bread, milk and water in several stores and there was none. The shelves are barren of all the key essentials as well as snack foods. Plenty of beer still, though."

1549A five-member South Korean rescue team has touched down in Japan, Kyodo says; the first international team to arrive.

1539Russia's Deputy Prime Minister Igor Sechin says Japan has requested more deliveries of coal and liquefied natural gas (LNG) to boost energy supplies: Reuters.

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1531 Paul Ashton in Okayama City, Japan writes: "I have just returned from Kumamoto Island, in the south west of Japan by car. The journey was about 500 km. We passed 50 to 60 Japanese Self-Defence Force vehicles travelling in convoy in the direction of east Japan. The vehicles were carrying huge supplies of water, many large electricity generators, gasoline and large earth moving machinery. The whole country is in shock."

1526Japanese Foreign Minister Takeaki Matsumoto to attend a G-8 ministers' summit in Paris next week but cancel trip to Britain: Kyodo.

1520 Journalist Mark MacKinnon tweets: "Watching Japanese TV, automated alerts warning of yet more aftershocks a regular part of the experience..."

1515Prime Minister Vladimir Putin says Russia will increase LNG supply from reserves on Sakhalin island to Japan if necessary: Reuters.

1511All available personnel, vehicles, aircraft and vessels of Japan's Self Defence Force have been mobilised for relief efforts, up to a total deployment of 50,000, local media reports.

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1501 Rachel in Narita airport, Tokyo writes: "Right now I'm sitting in Narita airport, where I'll be spending the night before catching my delayed plane back to Sydney. When the earthquake hit I was right in the middle of Shibuya. At first I thought I was going to faint until I sensed the hush that spread across the square, as all the usual music and traffic noise ceased. Despite my continued shock at the devastation, my overwhelming impression is of the admirable way in which the Japanese people have handled the aftermath."

1459At least three residents evacuated from a town near quake-hit Fukushima No. 1 plant have been exposed to radiation, both Kyodo and NHK report.

1454US Ambassador to Japan John Roos says America is "absolutely committed to helping Japan in any way possible". Air Force personnel and Marines based on the island of Okinawa will be sent to help with the rescue effort.

1450Two bullet train lines have resumed operating, NHK reports, and local train lines in Tokyo are slowly returning to normal.

1443Kyodo News: The four workers injured in the blast at the Fukushima No. 1 nuclear plant are conscious and their injuries are not life-threatening.

1432NHK shows images from the centre of Sendai city, which appears to have suffered far less damage than its coastal suburbs.

1427More than 300,000 people have now been evacuated from homes in northern Japan and that number will rise as the government increases the exclusion zone around the Fukushima nuclear power plant, Kyodo reports.

1422A US navy vessel is loading aid supplies in Singapore and will sail for Japan shortly, NHK reports.

1416In Fukushima residents are lining up in town centres to collect drinking water as helicopters airlift the injured to hospital, Reuters reports.

1401 The BBC's Rachel Harvey reports: "Stopped at fire station on edge of Sendai. Group of fire fighters said they have been looking for people all day. One small team among many, they said."

1355 At least 1.4m homes are without water following the quake, according to government officials. 59 water trucks have been sent to the worst-hit areas. Some 3m are without power and utility companies say it will take some time to restore supplies.

1349 A team from the National Institute of Radiological Sciences has been despatched to Fukushima as a precaution, reports NHK. It is reportedly made up of doctors, nurses and other individuals with expertise in dealing with radiation exposure, and has been taken by helicopter to a base 5km from the nuclear plant.

1344 The Washington Post's Chico Harlan tweets: "Big aftershock right now. Screen shaking as I type."

1341 A bit more from Japanese PM Naoto Kan. He says more than 3,000 people have so far been rescued following the quake.

1335 Robert works in the Fukushima district. He contacted to the BBC describing his decision to leave the area: "We have heard that some areas of the prefecture have been evacuated, but we were not asked to leave. We were staying some 90km away from the power plant. But three friends and I decided we would feel a lot safer if we moved further away from the plant. So all four of us drove 45 minutes south, and are now staying in a hotel. I didn't see any sign of panic on the roads, there seemed to be as much traffic travelling in the opposite direction. Things are disturbing because there is a lack of information. And as a foreigner it's even harder to work out what is fact and what is hearsay."

1330A magnitude 6 earthquake hit Fukushima at 2215 (1315GMT) on Saturday, Japan's NHK reports.

1326The BBC's Rachel Harvey reports: "Have reached Sendai. Downtown looks OK. Power, traffic moving. Couple of patches of glass damage. Train station is closed - yellow tape across entrance. Stopped at petrol station about 40km outside city - rationing. 20 litres per vehicle."

1323From Kyodo news: 9,500 people unaccounted for in Miyagi's Minamisanriku: local gov't.

1320 Noriyuki Shikata, from Japanese PM's office tweets: "TEPCO's [Tokyo Electric Power Company] efforts to depressurize the container was successful. Additional measures are now taken tonight using sea water and boric acid. "

1318Newsreader on Japan's NHK says: "Right now we are feeling an aftershock."

1316 Noriyuki Shikata, deputy cabinet secretary for public relations for the Japanese prime minister tweets: "Blast was caused by accumulated hydrogen combined with oxygen in the space between container and outer structure. No damage to container."

1305The International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) says Japanese authorities are making preparations to distribute iodine to residents in the area of both the Fukushima nuclear plants. The IAEA has reiterated its offer of technical assistance to Japan, should the government request this.

1257Peter Old, of search-and-rescue charity RapidUK, told the BBC's World Service that while most people think of tsunamis as made of water, by the time the wave reaches inland, it is more like a mudslide. "Those people that would have been on the ground are likely not to have survived," he said.

1254And Kyodo news has published photos of Rikuzentakata, where hundreds of people are feared dead. They show houses smashed to fragments - a scene of total devastation.

1252Japan's Fuji TV has run a screen caption saying that as many as 10,000 people are missing in the town of Minamisanriku in Miyagi prefecture.

1235Meanwhile, a huge rescue and recovery operation is under way as Japan tries to deal with the aftermath of Friday's 8.9 magnitude earthquake, which has caused devastation in parts of the country. Stay with us for more minute-by-minute updates, reports from our correspondents on the ground, and your reaction from around the world. You can contact us via email, text or twitter.

1227So, attention has focused over the last few hours on the risk to two nuclear plants in north-eastern Japan, one of which was the site of a spectacular explosion that sent a cloud of dust and debris into the air. But officials say damage from the blast appears to be limited.

1218It seems clear now from Mr Edano's comments that the nuclear plant building that was blown apart earlier did house a reactor, but the reactor was protected by its metal casing.

1216Government spokesman Yukio Edano says the pressure as well as the radiation at the Fukushima-Daiichi nuclear plant has fallen following this afternoon's explosion.

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1214 Nick Gentle in Tokyo writes: "I just got off the phone with a friend who lives in Ibaraki, thankfully away from the coast. He's about 150km from the power plant. He and his family are trying to follow the news and warnings on mobile phones as power has been cut so they cannot watch TV or check the internet. They have little water but feel safe because supply lines with Tokyo are still up and his town hasn't suffered too much physical damage."

1211More from Japanese PM Naoto Kan. He says the government will do its best to make sure "not a single person will suffer health problems."

1207 Voice of America's Steve Herman tweets: "In Fukushima-ken. We have 3G mobile sig but no internet access. Most places have no water. Electricity on however."

1202Government spokesman says the nuclear reactor container at the Fukushima-Daiichi plant has not been damaged, and the level of radiation has dropped following the explosion earlier on Saturday, AFP reports.

1157More from Damian Grammaticas in Sendai. "The streets are covered in mud that was swept inland. There are dozens and dozens of cars that were carried along, twisted and turned, and crushed by the wave. The gas and water have been cut off, fires burning are close to the seaside, and locals say hundreds of people died in this area."

1151Damian Grammaticas has just arrived in Sendai. He says there are truly astonishing scenes of devastation at the harbour, there are shipping containers that have been swept inland and smashed against buildings and trees and rubble strewn across the streets.

1147Naoto Kan: Safety of people around the Fukushima nuclear plant is our number one priority - first we need to save lives, then we need to make it easier for people in shelters, based on experience from Kobe, he says. After that, reconstruction efforts.

1143Naoto Kan: More than 50-60 countries have expressed sympathies, US President Barack Obama has called.

1142Naoto Kan: "This is an unprecedented disaster that we are suffering."

1141Prime Minister Naoto Kan urges people to take "responsible actions", to listen to the media.

1138From the BBC's Rachel Harvey: "Passing through outskirts of Yamagata. Long queues at petrol stations. Thick snow on the ground."

1135Alan Margerison, a British businessman living in Tokyo, describes the scene there as relatively calm. "I went out into Shibuya, one of the downtown areas, it's normally very busy on the weekend. Today there were not as many people around... there were people getting their hair done in the salons, I saw some people having their nails done. I think in Tokyo, people are trying to get back to life as it normally is, but they're also very worried about the news they're hearing."

1128 Car manufacturer Toyota says it will suspend operations at all 12 of its factories in Japan on Monday while it confirms the safety of its employees. One of its subsidiaries, Central Motor Company, has a factory in Miyagi prefecture, near Sendai, which produces the Yaris model.

1125Chief Cabinet Secretary Edano also said that the current level of radioactivity at the power plant was "within the range that was anticipated" when it was decided that steam would be vented from the reactor to release pressure.

1122A full quote from Chief Cabinet Secretary Yukio Edano's press conference: "As reported, we have been informed that there was some kind of an explosive phenomenon at Fukushima No 1 nuclear power plant, although it has yet to be confirmed whether [the explosion] was that of a nuclear reactor itself. At present, after the talks among political party heads held a while ago, government officials including the prime minister and the minister of economy, trade, and industry, along with experts, are making all-out efforts to get hold of and analyse the situation, and to take measures."

1112UK Foreign Secretary William Hague says he has spoken to his Japanese counterpart and offered help with search and rescue, and victim identification. He says further details of the UK's assistance package will be announced later.

1110An attempt to explain the risk to the Fukushima nuclear plants following the earthquake: The plants are designed to shut down automatically, which halts the main nuclear fission reaction, but there is a residual amount of intense heat within the system. Back-up generators should kick in to power the cooling mechanisms needed to dissipate that heat - but if they fail, as appears to have happened here, temperatures rise. If this isn't stopped, the reactor vessel itself could eventually melt and leak.

1103Japan's Kyodo news is also reporting that the four people injured in the nuclear plant explosion are conscious and their injuries are not life-threatening.

1057Japan's Nuclear and Industrial Safety Agency says serious damage to the nuclear reactor container is unlikely despite the explosion at the Fukushima-Daiichi plant - Kyodo news.

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1052 Neil McKeown in Nakameguro, Tokyo writes: "The evacuation zone has been extended to 20km by the government. However TepCo [the Tokyo Electric Power Company] appeared in a news conference and promised to release new radioactivity readings after 6pm. It is now 7.30pm and they have not done so. People are getting extremely frustrated at the lack of news coming from TepCo and the government - they have yet to confirm if the building that suffered an explosion housed a reactor, and we have no indication how much radiation has been released or in what direction winds are blowing."

1047 Michael Cockerham in the UK tweets: "As someone who survived the Kobe quake, I have great sympathy with the people of Japan - my prayers are with you all. The Japanese government has clearly passed its first test and asked quickly for international help. In Kobe they delayed too long."

1045BBC environment correspondent Roger Harrabin says local officials believe the release of radiation following the nuclear plant explosion is likely to be small. He adds that nuclear incidents aren't always as serious as they may sound or appear, and actually, in terms of loss of life and destruction, accidents at hydroelectric plants are far more dangerous.

1040Japanese authorities say troops found between 300 and 400 bodies in the coastal city of Rikuzentakata, which was devastated by the tsunami - NHK.

1037 Sayaka Matsumoto, from the Red Cross in Tokyo, says the organisation has sent more than 60 medical teams - some 450 doctors and nurses - to the worst-hit area. Those who have arrived in Sendai have opened a tent clinic in front of the city's main government building, she tells the BBC.

1023Japanese authorities are extending the evacuation zone around the two Fukushima nuclear plants from 10km to 20km, according to local media.

1021From the BBC's Chris Hogg: "Driving through Ibaraki prefecture north east of Tokyo it's clear vast swathes have no power. There are long queues at the few petrol stations openn as we approach the worst affected part of the prefecture. Presumably that's for fuel for generators. We're starting to see the first signs of damage. It's taken six hours to make a journey that should take an hour or so. The highways are off limits to all but emergency vehicles, the police told us."

1016The BBC's environment correspondent Roger Harrabin says he understands the blast at the nuclear plant may have been caused by a hydrogen explosion - also one of the possibilities laid out by Walt Patterson of Chatham House. "If nuclear fuel rods overheat and then come into contact with water, this produces a large amount of highly-flammable hydrogen gas which can then ignite," our correspondent says.

1011More from Walt Patterson of Chatham House. He says the presence of the radioactive caesium in the surrounding area does not pose a huge threat to public health in the immediate aftermath of the explosion. "What would be serious is if there was an explosion or fire that lifted this stuff high in the air, meaning it could get carried over a wide area."

1009"This is starting to look a lot like Chernobyl" Walt Patterson, an associate fellow with Chatham House, has told the BBC after seeing pictures of the explosion at the Fukushima-Daiichi nuclear plant. "The nuclear agency says that they have detected caesium and iodine outside the unit, which certainly indicates fuel melting at the very least," he says. "Once you have melting fuel coming into contact with water, that would almost certainly be the cause of the explosion."

0957From Richard Black, BBC environment correspondent: "Although Japan has a long and largely successful nuclear power programme, officials have been less than honest about some incidents in the past, meaning that official re-assurances are unlikely to convince everyone this time round."

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0951Lan Murata in Kaneyama writes: "The heater has gone off hours before and now it's freezing. It was the biggest I ever felt. I always thought the earthquake drills were the waste of time at school. But I was wrong, I felt thankfulI that I didn't panic, our family is lucky that we have a drawer full of emergency goods. My mum is one who survived the earthquake in 1995 in Kobe. Some of the boards are loose on the stairs. But I can't move any further because a bookshelf is blocking the stairs."

0948Hirofumi Yokoyama, an official at Japan's Meteorological Agency, says people living along the Pacific Coast should remain on alert: "The possibility of tsunami with a height of 10m or higher is getting slimmer but we're still calling on people living along the coast of Tohoku region to be cautious because tsunami as high as three metres or more could still hit the area."

0943Japanese Chief Cabinet Secretary Yukio Edano has confirmed the explosion at Fukushima-Daiichi. "We are looking into the cause and the situation and we'll make that public when we have further information," he is quoted as saying by Reuters.

0937The BBC news website has an explainer on nuclear fuel reactors which includes a description of a water cooling system similar to the one that failed in Japan.

0927Japan's Nuclear and Industrial Safety Agency is investigating the explosion at the Fukushima-Daiichi plant. Meanwhile, Chief Cabinet Secretary Yuko Edano, has told journalists: "As to the evacuation of the residents, of course we will have to ascertain the level of the radiation and, of course, we will have to cope and take appropriate measures. But once we do the analysing and once we know the facts we will let you know."

0923Before the explosion, the government had declared a state of emergency at five nuclear reactors after the generators pumping cooling water at the reactors failed.

0919So, just to recap, there are growing fears about damage to two Japanese nuclear plants following Friday's 8.9-magnitude earthquake. There's recently been an explosion at a building at one of the plants, which is called Fukushima-Daiichi, or Fukushima I. It's not clear what the building contained.

0914Japanese authorities have extended the evacuation area at the Fukushima-Daini plant - also known as Fukushima II - to 10km, the same distance as for the Fukushima-Daiichi, or Fukushima I plant.

0908The International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) is urgently seeking information about the explosion at the Fukushima-Daiichi plant.

0905Japan's NHK TV says officials measured the level of radiation at the entrance of the Fukushima-Daiichi plant at 1529 Japanese time. If people are exposed to this level of radiation for an hour they'd receive the same amount of radiation they normally would in a year, the report says.

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0859Tomoaki Furuno in Tokyo writes: "We Japanese appreciate offering of aid and heart-warming messages from the world. After the earthquake, I walked to the government offices to pick up my pregnant wife who works as a civil servant. I passed through thousands of people walking, because all trains stopped. We could not go get back home. Finally, I found something to eat and a building to stay in. We borrowed the blanket and stayed one night inside the building."

0857The BBC's Nick Ravenscroft was on his way towards Fukushima, but about 60km from the plant was stopped by the police and told it was too dangerous to proceed. He says there is lots of traffic coming in the other direction. Authorities in vehicles with sirens are making public announcements to the crowds.

0855Some pictures have come through now on Japanese TV of that explosion. It looks very strong. You can see debris being blasted from the building, then a cloud of smoke mushrooming up from the plant.

0850Japan's Kyodo news agency reporting that four people have been injured in an explosion at the Fukushima-Daiichi plant.

0847NHK TV carrying advice to people to protect themselves against radiation. Experts say people should cover their mouths and noses with wet towels. Exposed skin should also be covered and people should wash after coming indoors. People should also avoid vegetables and other fresh food, as well as tap water, until authorities give the all-clear.

0841Malcolm Grimston, a nuclear energy expert from Imperial College London, has told the BBC that as long as any nuclear meltdown is small-scale, it can be contained: "For example, there was one in the Chapel Cross plant in south-west Scotland in the 1960s, and at the end of that it only affected two of what they call the fuel channels, the long tubes where the fuel is put. They simply sealed those off, there was no release of radioactivity offsite and the plant continued to operate for 30 years."

0828Japan's NHK TV showing before and after pictures of the Fukushima-Daiichi plant. It appears to show that the outer structure of one of four buildings at the plant is no longer there.

0822The Associated Press cites Fukushima Prefecture official Masato Abe as saying the cause of the white smoke seen above the plant is still under investigation, and that it's unclear whether there was an explosion.

0814 tlaszuk in Japan tweets: "I know people that walked nearly 30km home last night!"

0810Japanese media reports say that radioactivity has risen 20-fold outside the Fukushima-Daiichi plant.

0806NHK TV says the number of dead across Japan has reached 1,000.

0803Japan's NHK TV also has that report of an explosion, which it says was "near" the Fukushima-Daiichi plant. The Tokyo Electric Power Company - which runs the plant - says some workers were injured, NHK reports.

0755AFP says an explosion has been heard at the Fukushima-Daiichi plant, and says Japanese TV is showing a white cloud above the plant.

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0752Ayako Miki in Tokyo writes: "Although a day has passed since the earthquake happened, little information comes from the northern part of Japan. Everybody in Tokyo is just worrying, and nobody knows what will happen. Just scary and uneasy."

0746Some 5.6 million Japanese homes are reported to be without power, and more than one million without water.

0741The Bank of Japan is to hold an emergency meeting on Monday - it says it will do its best to guarantee market stability.

0731More from NHK TV: People outside a 10km radius from the Fukushima-Daiichi plant should be safe. About 80,000 people live within a 10km radius of the plant, and evacuations of those people began at 1000 local time.

0728NHK TV says authorities are pumping water into the Fukushima-Daiichi nuclear plant to try to cool it but that the level of cooling water is sinking.

0725Japanese public broadcaster NHK is reporting that caesium has been detected around the nuclear power plant Fukushima-Daiichi. It quotes an expert as saying a small part of a fuel rod may have melted, but that fuel is almost entirely inside reactor.

0715The BBC's Roland Buerk in Tokyo says people there are rushing to shops to stock up, worried that supplies will run low.

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0706 Tom Summersall in Tokyo writes: "A harrowing day yesterday full of mixed emotions of fear and relief has been followed by a bizarre feeling today as a degree normalcy returns to Tokyo, with open shops and supermarkets, thrown into stark contrast by what we see on our TV screens of the poor souls up north, and the growing emergency at the Fukushima reactor 150km up the road. Meanwhile, the aftershocks keep bumping along."

0657From the BBC's Damian Grammaticas: "In Sukagawa city, 130km south of Sendai almost all shops and businesses have closed - petrol filling stations, superstores, fast food outlets are all shut because of the earthquake. We passed one three story building that pancaked down. It was apparently a watch factory but nobody was hurt when it came down. The only petrol station we have seen was open, there were queues of people. The highway to Sendai is closed to traffic."

0650Teacher Michael Tonge in Sendai tells the BBC: "You see a lot of army around, heading out to the worst affected areas. There's a lot of people coming round with hats on to check the buildings and make sure everyone's safe. An evacuation centre has been set up. A lot of supermarkets are giving away cheap food but there's obviously long lines to get that food."

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0641 Eri in Osaka, Japan writes: "Osaka hasn't been affected by the earthquake but I'm really shocked. My friend who lives in Tokyo spent last night in a shelter. My mother's friend lives in Miyagi but my mother can't contact her. I'm praying for everyone who has been affected by this horrible tragedy."

0631A BBC news team lands at Fukushima airport, which shows no signs of damage. The team describes seeing 20 helicopters, including some emergency teams.

0625The quake death toll rises to more than 700, the AFP news agency reports

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0606Masayuki Okumiya, in Tokyo, writes: "It is uncannily quiet. There are fewer people in department stores and it is much less crowded on trains. It is probably because we are tired of the pandemonium of yesterday, but also because we are just worried about the victims of the northen part of Japan. Can't describe this powerlessness, just watching the footage of tsunami and being unable to do anything for them."

0552Clare Gollop, from search-and-rescue charity Rapid UK, tells the BBC: "We've had people here today packing kit and just checking that everything is ready to go. We've been organising flights... and we're literally just waiting for a request to go to help."

0548The plant's operator, the Tokyo Electric Power Company, tells AFP: "We believe the reactor is not melting down or cracking. We are trying to raise the water level."

0529Back to the quake-damaged nuclear power plant Fukushima-Daiichi, and worrying reports on the AFP news agency, quoting Japanese media, that it "may be experiencing nuclear meltdown".

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0515John Little, in Komagane-Shi, writes: "We're currently seeing pictures of an army helicopter making very daring landings on the narrow, congested roof of a hospital in Miyagi-ken to ferry the injured in and out. At the same time, people can be seen elsewhere hanging out of top-floor windows waving blankets and emergency flares to attract attention. Already this morning we've seen news helicopters (which aren't equipped for winching operations) directing rescue helicopters to trapped survivors."

0511Japan scales back its tsunami warning for much of the country, and revokes "large tsunami" warnings for all but a stretch of the Pacific coastline closest to the epicentre of Friday's earthquake, Reuters reports.

0449Naomi Van Holbutt-Kirk adds: "While I was waiting on the street the next quake came, which was very frightening and can only be likened to the feeling of riding a wave on the pavement. Frightened mothers were screaming and crying, nobody knew where the safest place to be was and everyone was looking up at the shaking buildings... minutes later we were allowed into the building to collect our children."

0446British mother-of-three Naomi Van Holbutt-Kirk describes emotional scenes at a school in Tokyo as she and other parents were about to collect their children. She says: "I could actually see my seven-year-old daughter crouched under a desk with her classmates... the building was swinging like a giant pendulum and I was just waiting for the sound of a crash from the adjacent building where my five-year-old son was still in his classroom. It did not collapse and the quake eventually stopped."

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0432Christopher Craig, in Sendai, writes: "Electrical power was restored this morning and the government has announced that some grocery stores will be opened to provide food and water. Aftershocks hit regularly, with almost continuous tremors since the first quake, but nothing has approached the strength of the initial shock."

0430Thousands of people remain trapped in buildings surrounded by swirling floodwaters in Miyagi prefecture, authorities there tell the AFP news agency.

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0419Yukinori Mesuda, from Tokyo, writes: "We are in an historical, deep grief. Thousands are searching for their families with no luck, and can only pray or cry now. We will never lose hope. We shall get back into peaceful life with unity, wisdom and love. Please be with us."

0411More from the BBC's Mariko Oi in Tokyo, who says more than four million households remain without electricity in northern Japan. She says phone companies are offering free public calls because mobile phone lines have been disrupted.

0401More than 215,000 people are taking refuge in emergency shelters in the east and north of the country following Friday's massive quake, Japan's national police agency tells the AFP news agency.

0350Sayaka Matsumoto, from the International Red Cross in Tokyo, says: "This is one of the largest disasters we've ever experienced, so the situation is very much unpredictable. But so far, we have mobilised more than 60 medical teams and more than 450 medical personnel."

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0336Naoto Kobaashi, from Tokyo, writes: "Situation in Tokyo is becoming normal now. But most of the information is in Japanese, so unfortunately the foreigners cannot understand them. So please report to the English speaking community in Japan the following : if you are in the hazard area, calm down and try to make a community to help each other. Also please do not use candles. If you have to leave the car out in the road leave the key inside. Emergency vehicles may have to use the road. If you are not in the hazard area please save electricity. All the power plants in Japan are sending their energy to north Japan. To do that all of Japan has to save the energy. Try not to call unless it's an emergency. There is a limit in phone line and save them for the people who really need it. Try use the 171 service or twitter for the information. Thank you for reading and your help can save lives."

0327The earthquake sparked 206 separate fires, Japanese broadcaster reports on its website.

0324Michael Tonge, a teacher from Sendai, tells the BBC: "Going to take a few days for things to get a bit better. Still experiencing strong aftershocks. No trains running so many people stuck and sleeping rough in freezing conditions as had heavy snow storm just after quake when people running to go to evacuation points in parks."

0319The BBC's Mariko Oi in Tokyo says Tokyo Electric is warning that demand for electricity will outstrip supply by the early evening, so the firm is urging residents in the capital to save electricity.

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0314Kana Akabane, from Chiba, writes: "Due to no transportation, my colleagues went back home on foot. They walked more than 20km to their home and it took five hours. I stayed at my office with four other colleagues overnight. During the night, we felt many earthquakes, some were small but the others were big. Our place is 400km away from Miyagi, but there are many cracks on the road. Water and clay comes out from the ground, so many cars stack. We want to go home, but recovery of trains is very slow and stations are packed with people who want to get on trains, which is very dangerous."

0311A resident of a town near to the worst-hit city of Sendai tells the BBC: "We were shaken very badly by the quake. Unable to stand, everything inside the house just fell down. A large number of people in this town have actually had to be evacuated to schools and gymnasiums because they had no water, no power. It's pretty overwhelming, people here are just like looking gobsmacked by the whole situation.")

0308The Union of Concerned Scientists is publishing updates on its website covering technical aspects of the nuclear difficulties in Japan.

0304Mr Lyman goes on to raise the spectre of Chernobyl: "In the worst case the entire core could melt through the steel reactor vessel and escape into the containment building, and then the containment is the only thing that is standing between the radiation in the reactor and the atmosphere. There is a chance if that does occur that there will be over pressure, the containment can fail and you might have a release on the order of the Chernobyl accident."

0302A similar warning, but with a more doom-laden tone, comes from Edwin Lyman, a senior staff scientist at the Union of Concerned Scientists. He tells Reuters: "We don't have all the information but every indication is that the type of event that occurred there is one of the most serious things that can happen to a nuclear reactor."

0258Mr Acton adds: "If there is nothing worse than radioactive steam being released into the environment, then there's unlikely to be significant lasting damage to people outside of the plant. If the integrity of the core is lost and the core starts to melt, and much more radioactive steam is leaked out into the environment, then we could be in an extremely serious situation."

0256More on the nuclear fears: James Acton from the Carnegie Endowment tells the BBC that releasing vapour from the reactors shouldn't damage the environment.

0253Clever techies launch a Google maps widget that allows people to search for their loved ones or get updates on the situation across Japan, as reported by ZDnet.

0239Another powerful aftershock - with a magnitude of 6.8 - strikes the east coast, according to US seismologists quoted by the AFP news agency.

0232Back to concerns surrounding two stricken nuclear power plants: Steve Kerekes, from the Nuclear Energy Institute in Washington DC, says: "Even if there were to be a release of radiation, that in itself is not necessarily something that means the public is being harmed... the question would be 'what are the levels'?"

0220As reports emerge of people calling for help, trapped under rubble, Gillian Dacey from search-and-rescue charity Rapid-UK, assesses their chances of survival. She tells the BBC: "In the right conditions they can survive at least four, and up to seven days. In some earthquakes, if the person who's trapped has some water or food, they can maybe survive 10 days, and we have heard of some extreme cases of up to 14 days, but the conditions have to be right."

0203New Zealand's Prime Minister John Key, whose country is dealing with the aftermath of its own earthquake crisis in Christchurch, confirms a rescue team will be sent to Japan. He says: "It's likely that the complete team of 48 will be leaving within the next 24 to 48 hours. We want to offer whatever support we can."

0143Tokyo Electric Power releases more radioactive vapour from a second stricken reactor, AFP reports.

0135If you're just joining us, here's a quick recap on the main events in Japan: An 8.9 magnitude earthquake struck north-east Japan on Friday, killing at least 300 people - although that figure is widely expected to rise. As a huge relief mission gets under way, states of emergency have been declared at two nuclear plants. Up to 300 bodies were recovered from the port city of Sendai, in Miyagi prefecture, and a third of Kesennuma, a city in the same region, is said to be under water.

0107Reaction just in from flight attendant Mark Richardson, who was on the sixth floor of Narita Airport when the quake struck: "It was absolutely terrifying, computers were flying off the office tables and it seemed to go on for ever," he says. "Now watching the footage of this quake on TV, I count myself very lucky. Aftershocks are still rattling our nerves every half an hour or so and my house looks like it has been raided by burglars."

0059Tokyo Electric Power, which runs the two stricken nuclear power plants, confirms it has released a small amount of vapour into the atmosphere to reduce pressure on one of its reactors. It tells AFP there are no health risks.

0050Reaction to events at two nuclear power plants 250km (160 miles) north east of Tokyo, where states of emergencies have been declared. Environmental group Greenpeace tells the AFP news agency "Japan is in the middle of a nuclear crisis with potentially devastating consequences". Campaigner Jan Beranek adds: "While the immediate focus is on minimising radiation release and keeping local people safe, this is yet another reminder of the inherent risks of nuclear power."

0033Naval and coastguard helicopters airlift all 81 people to safety from a ship that was swept out to sea by a tsunami, the AFP news agency reports, quoting Japanese media.

0023People living within a 3km (two-mile) radius of the Fukushima-Daini nuclear plant are told to evacuate, the AFP news agency reports.

0014Japan declares a state of emergency at the Fukushima-Daini power plant, where three of its reactors failed, the Associated Press reports. It says a state of emergency is already in place at the nearby Fukushima-Daiichi plant, where two reactors failed.

0008Welcome to the second day of our live coverage of Japan's earthquake disaster. We've archived Friday's minute-by-minute updates, but you can still access them on a separate page of the website.

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