How bad is it? Dozens of people have already died in a quake that registered 8.8 on the Richter scale — a level that definitely qualifies as The Big One. NBC’s video below shows an English-language report from NHK World, Japan’s public-broadcasting news service, where the reader dispenses the facts with an almost eerie calmness as all hell breaks loose in the clips shown. The shots of the tsunamis sweeping through port cities looks more like a horror movie than a news broadcast, and the death toll noted is almost certain to rise rapidly as rescuers deal with the aftermath:

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I lived most of my life in Southern California, where natives take a blasé attitude towards most quakes, but a few of them are memorable.  My first day running an alarm center in Southern California was the day of the Northridge quake seventeen years ago, which only hit 6.7 on the Richter scale and killed 33 people, destroyed a freeway overpass, and did major damage.  The Richter scale is logarithmic, which means that an 8.8 quake released more than 1000 times the energy of a 6.7.

Small wonder this man told CNN that it was nothing like anything he’d felt before:

The magnitude of this quake will generate tsunamis throughout the region, and Hawaii is now bracing for the impact:

Thousands of people have been evacuated from the coast in Hawaii as it braces for a series of tsunamis in the wake of the Japanese earthquake.

The first warning sirens went off at about 2200 local time, (0800GMT Friday) and the first waves were expected at 1307 GMT.

US President Barack Obama said he was monitoring the threat to Hawaii, his home state, and the US West Coast.

About 30,000 residents live in Hawaii’s coastal inundation zones.

The first wave of the tsunami passed through Midway Island – a small atoll at the north-western end of the Hawaiian archipelago – at about 1125 GMT, bringing a wave of more than 8ft, the local Star Advertiser newspaper reported.

The disaster won’t just hit Hawaii and Midway. This is going to keep rolling for some time. We’ll update as developments occur, but be prepared for a humanitarian catastrophe in the Pacific islands.

Update: The Anchoress has a good roundup from earlier this morning with links to Ace, Ed Driscoll, and a nuclear emergency at a power plant, where cooling efforts are “not going as planned.”

Update II: Here’s a video from commenter Dongemaharu of a refinery explosion in Japan:

Update III: The Telegraph has eerie video of a huge whirlpool off of the coast of Japan: