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The Ministry of Foreign Affairs and Trade (MFAT) has been able to locate all but "a few" New Zealanders registered as living in northeast Japan, which has been devastated by a massive earthquake.

The magnitude 8.9 quake struck at 2.46pm (6.46pm NZT) and sparked a 10m tsunami which inundated the country's northeastern coast. It is feared more than 1300 people are dead, and tens of thousands of residents are being evacuated from around two damaged nuclear power plants.

New Zealand Ambassador to Japan Ian Kennedy said earlier today up to 20 New Zealanders were thought to be unaccounted for in quake-stricken areas of the country.

"Over the last 24 hours the embassy has been able to contact most of the small number of New Zealanders registered with us as being in the area of northeast Japan most affected by the earthquake," the spokesman said.

"There are a few we have not yet been able to contact due to communications difficulties.

"At this stage there are no reports of New Zealand casualties as a result of the earthquake or tsunami."

About 3500 New Zealanders were registered with Japanese authorities as living in Japan and it was likely at least a further 3000 New Zealanders were visiting the country, the spokesman said.

"New Zealanders with concerns about family in Japan should try to contact them directly in the first instance," he said.

Anyone who could not make contact with people known to be in the northeast should contact MFAT on 0800 432 111 or, if calling from overseas, on +64 4 439 8000.

New Zealanders in Japan were asked to register their details on

The quake sparked widespread tsunami warnings, from Hawaii to New Zealand and the spokesman said MFAT staff in Wellington and at Pacific posts had monitored the situation closely overnight.

"To date there have been no reports of major damage. Many Pacific countries have now cancelled or downgraded their Tsunami warnings," he said.

Mr Kennedy, in Tokyo, described the quake as "pretty hair-raising".

"It seemed to be going down and then it started a rocking motion, which was very unnerving," he told Radio New Zealand.

"It must have been horrific for the people closer to the epicentre."

View Quake, tsunami wreak havoc in Japan in a larger map