Prime Minister Naoto Kan said the government is doing its utmost to ensure the public’s safety and minimize the damage, including dispatching the Self-Defense Forces for rescue operations, following the massive earthquake and tsunami that hit the Tohoku region Friday.

“I ask the people to act with calm and continue to listen carefully for information via television and radio,” Kan said in a televised address. He said some nuclear power plants stopped operations but the government detected no radiation leaks.

Eleven reactors automatically shut down at the Onagawa plant, Fukushima No. 1 and No. 2 plants and Tokai No. 2 plant, the Ministry of Economy, Trade and Industry said, adding there were no immediate reports from monitoring posts of fires or other abnormalities near the plants after the 2:46 p.m. quake.

“We are dealing under the assumption that this is the worst earthquake ever,” said Chief Cabinet Secretary Yukio Edano. “We will do our utmost to carry out rescue operations and prevent further damage.”

Edano said other countries have offering support and aid, but so far the government was doing what it could by itself.

Ministers rushed to the crisis management center in the prime minister’s office soon after the earthquake hit and a task force was set up to gather information.

SDF personnel were dispatched to Miyagi and Iwate prefectures at the request of their governors, while Edano said troops would likely be dispatched to Fukushima as well.

He warned of aftershocks as well as tsunami of similar scale or even larger.

The government is prepared to seek assistance from abroad if necessary, he added.

Edano said the central government was able to maintain communications but failed to reach some of the Tohoku governments hit hard.

Financial response

Kyodo News

Financial institutions and companies took swift action to stem the economic impact of Friday’s earthquake.

The Bank of Japan set up a task force led by Gov. Masaaki Shirakawa, saying its online network system that processes transactions between the bank and financial institutions was operating normally.

While no problem was detected in a data transmission network connecting financial institutions, some banks including Bank of Tokyo-Mitsubishi UFJ and Sumitomo Mitsui Banking saw glitches in their ATMs.

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