At least 45 Australians are known to be in the region in Japan hardest hit by the 8.9 magnitude earthquake and tsunami, Australian Prime Minister Julia Gillard said.

She confirmed the embassy was trying to contact the Australians and confirm their safety.

“What of course we know is there will be more Australians there than the 45 Australians who are registered – we don’t know the total number at this stage,” she said.

“The ambassador will be doing everything he can to get in contact with Australians and ascertain their safety and welfare.”

Gillard expressed her condolences to the Japanese people and government as she prepared to board a flight from New York to San Francisco – diverting from her intended trip to Hawaii because of a tsunami warning.

Meawhile, Australian members of parliament visiting Tokyo, including Stuart Robert, Stephen Jones, Amanda Rishworth, Senator Michaelia Cash and Natalie Hutchins, have been confirmed as safe and well.

The group was travelling on the bullet train from Kyoto and Osaka in the south when the quake hit and they were trapped on the halted train for hours.

After the train began moving, Robert tweeted that the MPs planned to disembark in Tokyo and walk about three kilometres to the Australian embassy.

He said the streets of Tokyo were packed with people walking home and bumper-to-bumper cars.

“Tokyo is awash with people walking, trying to get home, completely awash with them,” he tweeted.

He said the group got off at Shinagawa station.

“People in there thousands everywhere, calm, but everywhere.”

His account was echoed by Manami Kuriyama, who lives in Tokyo.

Still on edge, as the ground continues to shake in Japan’s capital, Kuriyama described chaotic scenes, as workers fled their office blocks and many making their way home on foot.

“I was at the office when the earthquake first hit. At first I thought I was just dizzy, but then it started shaking so hard and things started falling off from my desk.

“I grabbed my jacket, bag and a bottle of water and went outside with my colleague.

“It took more than four hours to get home from work. The trains were not working so I had to walk home. The streets were packed with people walking home. The buses were working but packed and taxis were all taken. Traffic was so heavy. I am deadly tired but the ground is still shaking.”

Manami said the government had warned people to evacuate their houses if they felt excessive shaking. They are also being told to conserve their electricity, after the earthquake shut down a nuclear energy plant.

Kuriyama, who works for a music production agency near Shinjuki in the centre of Tokyo, said many bars and clubs in the capital had cancelled their Friday night parties and instead allowed their venues to be used as evacuation centres.

Acting Australian prime minister Wayne Swan is to convene a meeting of the national security council on Sunday (Canberra time) to discuss what aid Australia could provide to earthquake-hit Japan.

The prime minister said the level of assistance had yet to be determined but could include search and rescue experts, hospital and medical aid and police reserves, similar to that provided recently to New Zealand.

“We don’t know the full scale of the devastation but it is really very apparent the Japanese people have been dealt an incredibly cruel blow by this earthquake and the tsunami following it,” she said.

Gillard had been scheduled to meet Admiral Bob Willard, the head of the US Pacific Command, in Hawaii on her way home from her week-long visit to the United States.

The meeting was put on hold as Hawaii prepared for a tsunami, but there were no reports of damage when the first waves arrived early on Saturday morning (AEDT).

Gillard, who will reassess her next travel step in San Francisco, told reporters she had been advised the tsunami would not affect Australia, but there were grave concerns for northern Japan.

“On behalf of the people of Australia I want to express our very sincere condolences to the people of Japan and the government of Japan on the death and devastation we are seeing following the earthquake and tsunami,” she said.

Meanwhile, Qantas has delayed three overnight flights following the quake, due to Tokyo’s Narita airport closing.