President Barack Obama makes remarks on education at TechBoston Academy in Boston, MA, March 8, 2011.

*President Barack Obama is assuring earthquake-ravaged Japan that the United States “stands ready to help” and said the Federal Emergency Management Agency is ready to come to the aid of Hawaii and West Coast states that could be hit by Pacific tsunamis.

The largest earthquake in Japan’s history – measured at a magnitude of 8.9 – pummeled the eastern coast of Japan this morning, accompanied by a towering tsunami. Hundreds of people are known to have perished.

Obama said in an early morning statement that his administration would “continue to closely monitor tsunamis around Japan and the Pacific going forward” and he directed FEMA to mobilize.

FEMA administrator Craig Fugate said tsunami warnings and watches have been issued for the U.S. territories of Guam, the Northern Marianas Islands, and coastal areas in Hawaii, Alaska, California, Oregon and Washington.

Fugate urged people living in those areas to monitor their local news for instructions from their state and local officials, and evacuate if ordered to do so. And the Coast Guard said it was making preparations to provide support where necessary.

Obama’s chief of staff Bill Daley notified the president about the earthquake in Japan at 4 a.m. Washington time. Obama said the U.S. is ready to support the Japanese people “in this time of great trial.”

“The friendship and alliance between our two nations is unshakeable,” he said, “and only strengthens our resolve to stand with the people of Japan as they overcome this tragedy.”

Obama had earlier scheduled a White House news conference for late-morning Friday and was expected to discuss the situation in Japan at that time.

“Michelle and I send our deepest condolences to the people of Japan, particularly those who have lost loved ones in the earthquake and tsunamis,” Obama’s statement said.