More than 160 people are feared dead after a giant tsunami wave rolled across Japan sweeping homes, cars and debris with it early this morning as we slept. The victims include 100 passengers on a cruise ship that was swept away by the tsunami. Shocking images of the carnage dominated national and international headlines this morning.

The 33-foot tsunami wave reached Japan’s shores hours after the sixth largest earthquake in history devastated Japan.

In the photo above, a small pleasure boat became trapped in the center of a gigantic vortex created by the tsunami. The boat went under water taking an unknown number of souls with it.

According to The Daily Mail, the Japanese declared a state of emergency at a nuclear power plant in Fukushima after the 8.9 quake caused the cooling system to fail. Massive fireballs caused by explosions at an oil refinery scorched the sky.

People fled for their lives as the tidal waves crashed ashore. Others saw their homes and cars float past them as the huge wave of muddy water and floating debris moved over the mainland.

The death toll in Japan is expected to rise into the thousands even as the first waves of the tsunami reached the shores of Hawaii and other islands in the pacific. Luxury hotels in Hawaii implemented “vertical evacuations”, moving guests to higher floors to escape the muddy waters.

A tsunami is formed when an earthquake shifts the ocean floor hundreds of miles out in the ocean. The pressure from the shifting plates creates a ripple effect in the water that gathers strength as the giant waves roll out from the epicenter toward land.

A receding tide is usually the first sign of an approaching tsunami.

Photos by: AP, Getty Images, Reuters