TOKYO (Agencies) - The biggest earthquake on record to hit Japan rocked its northeast coast on Friday, triggering a 10-meter (33-foot) tsunami that killed hundreds of people and swept away everything in its path. Thousands of residents near a nuclear plant in Fukushima prefecture, north of Tokyo, were told to evacuate as a precaution after the 8.9 magnitude quake, but the government said no radiation was leaking. Up to 300 bodies were found in the coastal city of Sendai, 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. Tsunami warnings were issued across the Pacific but were later lifted for some of the most populated countries in the region, including Australia, Taiwan and New Zealand. Warnings were issued in some 54 locations stretching from Asias Pacific rim to the other side of the ocean, with the United States alerting Hawaii, the northern and central California coast, the Oregon coast, and parts of Alaska, and urging residents to clear beaches and stay out of marinas. Huge waves struck the isles of Hawaii. Other Japanese nuclear power plants and oil refineries were shut down and one refinery was ablaze. Television footage also showed an intense fire in the waterfront area near Sendai, the city hardest hit by the quake. A major explosion hit a petrochemical complex in Miyagi prefecture after the quake, Kyodo said. Japans small coastal town of Ofunato was hard hit with at least 300 houses destroyed and scores reported missing. After the latest undersea quake, more than 300 houses either collapsed or were washed away in the city, Jiji Press reported. The first quake struck just under 400 km northeast of Tokyo, the US Geological Survey said. It was followed by more than 40 aftershocks, one as strong as 7.1. We were shaken so strongly for a while that we needed to hold on to something in order not to fall, said an official at the local government of the hardest-hit city of Kurihara in Miyagi prefecture. We couldnt escape the building immediately because the tremors continued... City officials are now outside, collecting information on damage, she told AFP by telephone. 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. Stunning TV footage showed a muddy torrent of water carrying cars and wrecked homes at high speed across farmland near Sendai, home to one million people and which lies 300 km northeast of Tokyo. Ships had been flung onto a harbor wharf, where they lay helplessly on their side. The quake, the most powerful since Japan started keeping records 140 years ago, sparked at least 80 fires in cities and towns along the coast, Kyodo news agency said. A ship carrying 100 people had been swept away by the tsunami, Kyodo said. One train was derailed and another unaccounted for. According to reports, thousands of people went missing in the calamity. The tsunami also reached Sendai airport, submerging the runway while a process known as liquefaction, caused by the intense shaking of the tremor, turned parts of the ground to liquid. In Tokyo, residents who had earlier fled swaying buildings jammed the streets trying to make their way home after much of the citys public transportation was halted. Electronics giant Sony Corp, one of the countrys biggest exporters, shut six factories, as air force jets raced to the northeast coast to determine the extent of the damage. I was unable stay on my feet because of the violent shaking. The aftershocks gave us no reprieve. Then the tsunamis came when we tried to run for cover. It was the strongest quake I experienced, a woman with a baby on her back told television. The tsunami alerts revived memories of the giant waves which struck Asia in 2004. The Pacific Tsunami Warning Centre issued alerts for countries to the west and across the Pacific as far away as Colombia and Peru. The earthquake was the fifth most powerful to hit the world in the past century. There were several strong aftershocks. In Tokyo, there was widespread panic. An oil refinery near the city was on fire, with dozens of storage tanks under threat. Around 4.4 million homes were without power in northern Japan, media said. People are flooding the streets. Its incredible. Everyone is trying to get home but I didnt see any taxis, said Koji Goto, a 43-year-old Tokyo resident. NHK television 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 Yokohamas Isogo area. TV showed residents of the city running out of shaking buildings, shielding their heads with their hands from falling masonry. TV footage showed boats, cars and trucks tossed around like toys in the water after a small tsunami hit the town of Kamaichi in northern Japan. An overpass, location unknown, appeared to have collapsed and cars were turning around and speeding away. 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. Millions of people in greater Tokyo were stranded far away from home on Friday evening after the earthquake shut down the capitals massive subway system. Countless workers, who had earlier fled violently swaying office blocks, found themselves stuck far from their families - and unable to speak to them because the overloaded mobile phone system could not carry most calls. US President Barack Obama led international offers of sympathy and aid in what he called Japans time of great trial, while the Kan government called on help from US forces stationed in the country. The United Nations said Friday that search and rescue teams from more than 45 countries were ready to head to quake and tsunami hit Japan if the Asian state needs help. More than 68 teams from more than 45 countries are on standby, Elisabeth Byrs, spokeswoman of the UN Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (OCHA) told AFP. The search and rescue teams mobilised under a UN disaster response network are monitoring the situation and ready to help should Japan request aid, she explained. Japan sits on the Pacific Ring of Fire, which is dotted with volcanoes, and Tokyo is in one of its most dangerous areas where three continental plates are slowly grinding against each other, building up enormous seismic pressure. Meanwhile, more than 1,000 people probably died in the massive quake and tsunami disaster that devastated large parts of northern Japans Pacific coast, Kyodo News agency said early Saturday. The news agency report came as grim updates indicating appalling loss of life kept emerging from along the hard-hit east coast of northern Honshu island, where the monster wave destroyed more than 3,000 homes. The National Police Agency said 137 people were confirmed dead and 531 were missing while police in Sendai, Miyagi prefecture, separately said 200 to 300 bodies had been found on the shore. Fears rose for greater losses as reports came in of a ship with 100 people swept away, two trains missing, and a dam break flooding more homes. The defence ministry said about 1,800 homes in Minamisoma, Fukushima prefecture, were destroyed, while in Sendai authorities said 1,200 houses were toppled by the tsunami. The small town of Ofunato further north reported 300 house collapsed or swept away. More than 80 fires blazed in and around Tokyo and in the Iwate, Miyagi, Akita and Fukushima prefectures, Kyodo reported, quoting Japans Fire and Disaster Management Agency. The monster quake was the strongest recorded in the seismically unstable archipelago, located on the Pacific Rim of Fire.