Broken chinaware is scattered on the floor at a porcelain shop in Tokyo following a massive 8.9-magnitude earthquake in Japan.
Broken chinaware is scattered on the floor at a porcelain shop in Tokyo following a massive 8.9-magnitude earthquake in Japan. - 


Jeremy Hobson: The largest earthquake to hit Japan in 140 years hit at 2:46 p.m. local time today. That was just after midnight New York time. A powerful tsunami quickly followed, causing major devastation in the city of Sendai, north of Tokyo. Home to about a million people. Tsunami warnings have been issued for Hawaii with a possible impact just after the top of the hour. And for the entire U.S. West coast later this morning. We'll go live to our reporter in Honolulu in just a moment. And later we'll hear about the economic effects across the world. But first let's bring in our Asia Bureau Chief Rob Schmitz in Shanghai for the latest. Rob what can you tell us?

Rob Schmitz: Well, many people are still missing and a ship with a hundred people aboard was swept away by the tsunami. Japanese air carriers have canceled hundreds of flights in and out of the country, so that means 35,000 passengers are stuck. Officials have shut down Narita, Japan's largest airport. As far as damage goes, there are reports that at least 80 fires have been triggered by the quake and tsunami, one big one at an oil refinery north of Tokyo has been burning for hours.

Hobson: And Rob, I saw that a state of emergency was declared at a nuclear power plant in Japan -- although no radiation leaks are being detected so far. How is the country's infrastructure holding up?

Schmitz: Well, Japan has built its infrastructure with earthquakes in mind, so the hidden story here might be how bad it could've been. But this was simply an historic earthquake. You mentioned the nuclear plants: The government has shut down four nuclear power plants in the area hit by the quake. Authorities have issued emergencies at two of them. One of those plants was on fire, and residents have been told to stay indoors in case of a radiation leak. The other thing to keep in mind is the economic impact of shutting these plants down. Japan's economy really depends on nuclear energy -- it makes up a third of the country's power supply. I spoke with economist David Cohen about this today.

David Cohen: That could be a risk of putting out of commission of some of their power-generating capacity, that could hamper the rest of their economic activity.

But, at this stage, is secondary to the human toll that we still don't even know.

Hobson: Marketplace's Rob Schmitz in Shanghai. Thanks Rob.

Schmitz: Thanks Jeremy.

Follow Jeremy Hobson at @jeremyhobson