Washington, March 12 (IANS): The massive earthquake that shook Japan and triggered a huge tsunami appears to have shifted the Earth on its axis and moved an island of Japan, a media report said on Saturday.
Kenneth Hudnut, a geophysicist at the US Geological Survey, told CNN: "At this point, we know that one GPS station moved (8 feet), and we have seen a map from GSI (Geospatial Information Authority) in Japan showing the pattern of shift over a large area is consistent with about that much shift of the land mass."
Reports from an Italian institute estimated that Japan earthquake shifted Earth on its axis by as much as 4 inches, CNN said.
The earthquake measuring 8.9 on the Richter scale rocked Japan Friday and spawned a tsunami that slammed into the northeastern coast, leaving about 1,000 people dead.
Shengzao Chen, a geophysicist, explained that the quake occurred as the Earth's crust ruptured along an area about 400 km long by 160 km wide, as tectonic plates slipped more than 18 metres.
The Japan quake follows the Feb 22 earthquake in New Zealand that killed 150 people.
14 aftershocks hit Japan: At least 14 aftershocks, with magnitudes ranging from 5 - 6.8, rocked Japan's eastcoast Saturday, a day after an 8.9-magnitude earthquake hit the country and left 1,000 dead.
The damage caused by the quake that struck Friday was amplified by tsunami waves slamming Pacific coastal regions in northeastern Japan. Up to 300 bodies were recovered in Sendai, the capital city of Miyagi prefecture, Xinhua reported, citing broadcaster NHK. A total of 725 people have still been unaccounted for in six prefectures, the report said.
The number of victims of the catastrophe is expected to rise to well over 1,000 people, the defence ministry said on Saturday. The National Police Agency said around 1,800 houses in Fukushima prefecture were destroyed.
Search and rescue efforts are being conducted with the help of the US military, with around 20,000 personnel, nearly 200 aircraft and 25 boats being dispatched to the hardest-hit northeastern region.
Prime Minister Naoto Kan on Saturday inspected a quake-hit nuclear power plant in Fukushima, where damage from a radioactive leak is feared. He also toured other affected areas. "I realised the huge extent of the tsunami damage," Kan told reporters after returning to Tokyo.
The operator of the Fukushima No. 1 nuclear plant opened the valves of the containers housing the reactors to reduce pressure, a move that led to the release of a small amount of radioactive steam.
Reactor building at Fukushima plant collapses: One of the four buildings at the damaged Fukushima I nuclear plant has been destroyed in an apparent explosion, Japan's NHK broadcaster reported on Saturday.
Witnesses heard the sound of an explosion and saw white smoke emerging from the plant, NHK reported. The cause was not known. Tokyo Electric Power Co, the plant's operator, said four people had been injured, according to the Kyodo news agency.
Technicians had been working at releasing pressure from the plant's reactors to avert a meltdown of the reactors.
Increased levels of radiation had been detected in the area of the power plant following Friday's earthquake. Radioactive caesium has been detected in the vicinity of the damaged nuclear plant in north-eastern Japan, Kyodo news reported, quoting the Nuclear and Industrial Safety Agency. The presence of the substance is an indication of a meltdown.
Earlier on Saturday, authorities extended the evacuation zone to residents living within 10 km of the Fukushima Daiichi plant, also known as Fukushima I, where the cooling system experienced troubles on Friday.