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(Reuters) - The biggest earthquake to hit Japan in 140 years struck the northeast coast on Friday, triggering a 10-meter tsunami that swept away everything in its path, including houses, cars and farm buildings on fire.
At least six people were killed, five in Fukushima prefecture north of the capital, Tokyo, where four million homes were without power, and one in eastern Tochigi prefecture, media said. A hotel collapsed in the city of Sendai and people were feared buried in the rubble.
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.
The Philippines, Taiwan and Indonesia all issued tsunami alerts, reviving memories of the giant tsunami which struck Asia in 2004. The Pacific Tsunami Warning Center issued alerts for countries to the west and across the Pacfici as far away as Colombia and Peru.
There were several strong aftershocks. In Tokyo, buildings shook violently. An oil refinery near the city was on fire, with dozens of storage tanks under threat.
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"I was terrified and I'm still frightened," said Hidekatsu Hata, 36, manager of a Chinese noodle restaurant in Tokyo's Akasaka area. "I've never experienced such a big quake before."
Stunning TV footage 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. The pictures suggested the death toll was going to rise.
Sendai is 300 km (180 miles) northeast of Tokyo and the epicenter at sea was not far away.
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.
Thick 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.
Kyodo news agency said there were reports of fires in Sendai where waves carried cars across the runway at the airport.
The western prefecture of Wakayama ordered 20,000 people to evacuate after further tsunami warnings.
"The building shook for what seemed a long time and many people in the newsroom grabbed their helmets and some got under their desks," Reuters correspondent Linda Sieg said in Tokyo.
"It was probably the worst I have felt since I came to Japan more than 20 years ago."