President Barack Obama said today that he has instructed the Federal Emergency Management Agency to be ready to assist Hawaii and other U.S. states and territories that may be affected by a tsunami.
“We are asking all our citizens in the affected region to listen to their state and local officials,” Obama said in a written statement released by the White House today.
Obama is likely to address the federal response at a 12:30 p.m. news conference that had previously been scheduled for 11:15 a.m. to discuss rising energy prices.
Japan was struck by its strongest earthquake in at least a century, an 8.9-magnitude temblor that shook buildings across Tokyo and unleashed a tsunami as high as 10 meters, engulfing towns along the northern coast.
As many as 300 people were killed, a Japanese police official said, speaking on condition of anonymity in line with department policy. Many are missing after the quake and waves as high as 23 feet swept ashore. Airports were closed and bullet train services suspended, and an emergency evacuation order was issued for a nuclear power plant north of Tokyo.
The U.S. “stands ready” to assist the people of Japan, Obama said.
“The friendship and alliance between our two nations is unshakable, and only strengthens our resolve to stand with the people of Japan as they overcome this tragedy,” Obama said.
Call to Kan
Obama called Japanese Prime Minister Naoto Kan at about 10:15 a.m. Washington time to discuss the effects of the quake and tsunami.
The U.S. State Department issued an alert saying U.S. citizens should avoid non-essential travel to Japan.
Obama said he and the first lady “send our deepest condolences to the people of Japan, particularly those who have lost loved ones.”
White House Chief of Staff William Daley said later that the fears of major destruction from the tsunami hitting Hawaii “seem to have dissipated.”
At the United Nations in New York, Ambassador Li Baodong of China, which holds the rotating presidency of the UN Security Council this month, told reporters the panel would observe a minute of silence at the start of today’s meeting in sympathy for earthquake and tsunami victims.
“On behalf of the council I express our deep condolences and sympathy to the people who lost their lives and property in Japan,” Li said.