Police initially reported 200 to 300 bodies were found in the coastal town of Sendai.
In northeastern Japan, a nuclear reactor's cooling system failed triggering an evacuation of area residents.
More than 50 aftershocks have been reported, some of them with a magnitude of six or more.
The quake, with a magnitude of 8.9, was the fifth strongest in the last 100 years.
Many Chicago-area residents spent the day frantically trying to get word about loved ones in Japan.
Miki Yomekura of Schaumburg wiped away tears as she talked to her father in Japan. His words were what she wanted to hear.
"Everybody is safe," said Yomekura.
Yomekura's mother, brother and his family live in the hardest hit area near Sendai where there are countless scenes of the destruction
Yomekura's sister and her family, however, are still missing.
"I am positive about my sister. The Internet is not working around that area," said Yomekura.
Maps of Japan and relatives' pictures covered the table at Naomi Pooley's Oak Park house Friday. She learned that her aunt's relatives in Sendai survived. Her aunt and uncle who live in a hi-rise near Tokyo are also safe.
"They are fine. They had some power outages and some water but he said the power is back on," said Pooley.
Because of the destruction, it's been difficult to reach relatives.
Northwestern student Sung Wan Park tried to reach his mom in Tokyo but it took awhile.
"I called my mother. I couldn't get hold of her because the phone lines were clogged," Park said.
Park, who still had to study for a test Friday and was later part of a leadership panel, finally heard his mom's voice. She was safe -- and distraught.
"She thought she was going to die," Park told ABC7.
Kay Kawaguchi's thoughts were thousands of miles away Friday.
"I don't want to think about anything bad, but...it's hard. I can't tell right now," Kawaguchi told ABC7.
After several calls, Kawaguchi finally reached a cousin, but she still hasn't heard from a good childhood friend.
"I keep calling this morning until I come here and I couldn't reach them. And some said maybe because the telephone lines are really jammed. So they cut off. I tried sending an email, and I can't," said Kawaguchi.
Kawaguchi works at the Japanese American Service Committee on the North Side, one of several support organizations whose phones have been lighting up.
"I think, you know, work today is just really remaining calm and talking to individuals and comforting individuals who might call us and feel they might need some help and some moral support," said Susan Tybon, Japanese American Service Committee.
As the death toll from the quake rises so are fears of more after shocks.
Jeff Suzuki of Vernon Hills is currently living in Tokyo and says the shaking from Friday's quake lasted over a minute.
"When I stepped outside with the rest of my family, all I can say is it was much more of a wobbly feel. We saw a lot of structures that were swaying and light posts that were swaying. It was really quite a frightening experience," said Suzuki.
The stories and images have Tad Tanaka worried. He hasn't been able to reach two relatives.
"It's a very sinking feeling. You think of the worst situation, something happening," said Tanaka.
"Hopefully the country is going to find ways to very quickly cope with the immediate destruction, the casualties, and the immediate aftermath of this," said Bill Yoshino, Japanese American Citizens League.
The destruction was very much on the minds of some shoppers at an Arlington Heights Japanese market who expressed their frustration and worry about the safety of loved ones.
"We don't have any information," said suburban shopper Handa Iwao.Japan is still reeling from the disaster as many hope help will come soon to a region those familiar describe as a crucial industrial hub.
Miho Nakagawa's family in Tokyo is ok. She's trying to help her international exchange student who has been franticaly trying to reach relatives in Japan.
The student, Masatoshi Sawafuji, can't find any of his family living in the Miyagi province and now will try to get home to look for them himself.
Sawafuji told ABC7 he intends to fly home. "If I can," he said.