Return to Transcripts main page
ANDERSON COOPER 360 DEGREES
Monster Quake Devastates Japan; Gadhafi Routing Opposition Forces
Aired March 11, 2011 - 22:00 ET
THIS IS A RUSH TRANSCRIPT. THIS COPY MAY NOT BE IN ITS FINAL FORM AND MAY BE UPDATED.
ANDERSON COOPER, CNN ANCHOR: Piers, thank you very much.
Good evening, everyone.
We are going to have some important and late developments to bring you tonight in the battle for Libya, including an attack on our team in Tripoli by government thugs.
But we begin of course with the breaking news, the terrible devastation in northeastern Japan, the destruction there simply epic, the death toll mounting, exact numbers unknown. Now a nuclear emergency, several badly damaged power station reactors with serious cooling problems, pressure building, reports now of radiation venting at two of them. We will talk to a woman whose husband was in one of the plants when all this began. He escaped. But she hasn't heard from him all day and is getting desperate for word.
All of it and everything else the result of the fifth largest quake in recorded history. Just look at that wave, followed by the wave, a fast-moving tsunami wave that turned everything in its path even miles inland into rubble. Watch as it hits those buildings head on. This is what it looked like as it made landfall.
You can see it's not just seawater we're talking about. There is deadly debris, cars, trucks, even small houses being swept along, smashing and battering everything in their path, the tsunami reaching all the way to the American West Coast, where several people were swept out to sea. That's how powerful the quake was, magnitude 8.9.
Look at those cars just being swept away. According to the U.S. Geological Survey, that's hundreds of times stronger than the one that leveled Port-au-Prince. Japan is maybe the best prepared country in the world for earthquakes, but nothing prepares anyone for this.
COOPER (voice-over): At 2:46 p.m. local time, an 8.9-magnitude earthquake strikes off the East Coast of Japan.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Oh, my God. The building is going to fall.
COOPER: It's the most powerful earthquake recorded in the country's history, the fifth most powerful ever recorded in the world. Its shockwave churns out walls of water up to 30 feet, traveling up to a mind-boggling 500 miles an hour. A tsunami bears down on Japan's coast in minutes.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: It looks like that tsunami wave is moving upstream rapidly. And we're still seeing large tsunamis moving and hitting the area of Sendai. That tsunami obviously is going to hit the coastal areas as we speak. We do not know the extent of the damage at this time, but obviously a huge tsunami.
COOPER: Within just 30 minutes of the earthquake, the tsunami crashes ashore. Homes are swallowed in an instant. Water roars six miles inland, devouring everything in its path.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: The tsunami has already engulfed some cities, fires breaking out due to the earthquake.
COOPER: Cars are tossed about. We still don't know if passengers got out before the tsunami hit. Just offshore, a giant vortex of ocean currents looks like something from science fiction, but it's all too real. The airport in Sendai, closest to the earthquake's epicenter, is now like much of the city, underwater, people stranded on its roof.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Now it looks like the Sendai Airport almost completely flooded.
COOPER: Oil refineries erupt in flames.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: It just blew up. Whew! Whew! This is crazy. It happened again. Holy crap!
COOPER: Two nuclear power plants just 150 miles from Tokyo declare a state of emergency after they lack power to cool their reactors.
JANIE EUDY, WIFE OF NUCLEAR PLANT WORKER: Everything was shaking and the next thing, they were told to get out, leave, evacuate.
COOPER: Thousands are feared dead. Many more are trapped.
As the death toll rises, along with the numbers of missing, an excruciatingly long night leads to daylight and the full horror of the destruction the tsunami has left in its wake.
COOPER: It is just past noon on Saturday now. We're live for two hours tonight, and we're constantly getting in new pictures. There's still a lot we have not yet heard from the worst-hit areas. We have reporters on their way there close by. You're going to hear from them in a moment. But information is coming in every few minutes in bits and pieces.
We need to tell you about those nuclear power plants we talked about -- word tonight of a second damaged power station venting radiation into the atmosphere, fears of a possible, and I emphasize possible, radioactive meltdown akin to the Three Mile Island nuclear disaster.
Most experts say that is unlikely, but they're watching it very closely. The evacuation zone has now been expanded to six miles outside the first damaged plant. Here's what it looked like at the plant during the quake, tremors apparently doing damage to the cooling system in one or more of the reactors. And reactors are shut down, but they're hot, and that's causing a dangerous pressure buildup inside the reactor core, making it necessary to vent radioactive steam to try to bring that pressure down.
A few moments ago, I spoke to a woman named Janie Eudy. Her husband, Danny, works at the plant. She got one call from him, but now has lost contact.
COOPER: So, Janie, when was the last time you talked to your husband, Danny?
EUDY: That was at 6:47 this morning our time.
COOPER: You haven't heard any word from him since then?
EUDY: No, not a word. I have been sitting by the phone patiently waiting to hear from him. The 12-hour time is up, I thought. I was looking to maybe get a call, if they could get any type of communication at daybreak, but nothing, nothing yet.
COOPER: Where was he when the quake hit?
EUDY: He was at Fukushima nuclear power plant.
COOPER: He was inside the plant working there?
COOPER: And what did he say it was like? When he -- I know he got one call through to you. What did he say happened?
EUDY: The quake hit. It was -- they're used to the quakes, but this one was different. It was hard. It was just shaking the building.
They knew this was different. It's something they have never experienced before. Even the local people who work and live there were getting scared, starting to panic. They called to evacuate.
When the light -- the buildings were shaking, the lights were falling from the ceiling. He said that the glass was going everywhere. They had -- the insulation, the ductwork, everything was falling and coming down. It was very dangerous. They had -- the big cranes were starting to sway. They knew it was a dangerous situation.
They called for evacuation, get them out. They were leaving to go outside, where it's safer, to get from anything falling on them. He had to go through -- a lot of them had changed, which they changed suitings, and they weren't totally in their dress attire to go out yet. That was why he was going through. He said they were just running, running out as fast as they could.
COOPER: So people running out even not fully clothed, just whatever they had with them?
EUDY: Whatever they had, just get out, and grabbing who they could to go with them. He went through glass. He told me he cut his feet. I don't know how bad. But it kind of slowed them down.
And that's when he told me that was the good thing, because with him slowing down like that, the little bit of time it took, it kept him from getting the time frame for being right in the path of the tsunami.
COOPER: So he actually saw the wave of water coming?
The way he explained to me was, he said 30-or-more-feet high. He said it was just this mass wall of water sweeping, he said, just everything in its path. And then he said that's what makes -- he said it makes you feel like you're -- how small you are on this earth when that powerful goes -- something that powerful goes by.
He said it was pushing anything and everything out of its way like it was nothing into the ocean.
COOPER: And the little town that he was in was -- is basically destroyed?
EUDY: Basically. The way he explained, it is -- it's not a little town anymore.
What they were -- you know, that's where they were heading, to the -- Tomioka is a little town they were staying in. The hotel, that's where they were all going together for the safe place. And they didn't know what had happened until they got there. And he said getting there was a problem, because the roads had -- they lost a lot of the roads, a lot of cave-ins. The grounds had split. Cars had fallen into the cracks.
COOPER: So, the hotel he -- the hotel he's staying at has been destroyed. I understand they grabbed some blankets, because, as you said, some of them didn't even have clothes or shoes.
COOPER: And when you actually talked to him, where was he?
EUDY: He was outside of the hotel at Tomioka. He said they were going for higher ground. The ground was still shaking. They had -- it sounded like a smaller van is what they were leaving in. So they were going to higher ground to get -- because they could hear the wind starting to blow.
They felt like the -- the water, the wave was coming back. Then, the rumbling sound, I could hear it over the phone so loud, the quake. He said, it's another -- it's another quake. And then it just kept roaring. He said, "The ground's shaking under my feet."
COOPER: And what a lot of people don't realize is, it's cold there. I mean, it was snowing, I understand, you said.
EUDY: It's freezing. It's snowing. And I was worried about that part by not having proper clothing. And where they had to stay, I don't know. I was told they found them. They were accounted for, but I still don't know where he's at.
COOPER: This has got to be a nightmare for you, waiting.
EUDY: Just waiting to hear, and the more I hear on the news is that they're having problems with two more nuclear plants. So, now what? What are we facing now?
It's just one after another, another. I just -- they won't tell me where he's at. And I can't speak to him again. They just say he's safe.
And if you all have got ground people or anything that could -- they find them or whatever, let them know and let him know we are trying to get him home the best we can.
COOPER: Well, let me just say, we're trying to get people to the region, and, obviously, if we encounter Danny, we will pass along a message.
If -- it's possible. CNN is seen widely in Japan. If you want to try to send a message to him now in case he happens to be watching this, feel free.
EUDY: Danny, we're looking for you. We will do whatever it takes. If we can, believe we will -- whatever it takes, we won't stop. We are trying to get you home. We're trying to get all of you home. Now, be assured we will not quit.
We will keep after this hour after hour. If you can, any way, call. Let some family member know that you all are OK. Call anybody. That's the message.
And we love him. We're sending our prayers. We want him home.
COOPER: Well, we will pray along with you. And I said we're trying to get people there as fast as possible.
Janie, stay positive.
EUDY: I know there's a lot of people in need. It's just the -- the not knowing is the -- the sitting, the waiting, not knowing.
Well, stay strong, and we will be in touch with you.
EUDY: Thank you so much.
COOPER: Well, you can follow us right now on Facebook or follow me on Twitter at Anderson Cooper. I'm live tweeting tonight.
Just ahead, the very latest on the nuclear emergency that Danny witnessed firsthand. What went wrong? What more could go wrong?
Also, what it looked like as the tsunami rolled ashore, destroying everything in its path.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: The tsunami has already engulfed some cities, fires breaking out due to the earthquake. In northeastern Japan's (INAUDIBLE) pictures, tsunami waves of over four meters were observed.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
COOPER: New video coming in from the quake zone, the first images of people being rescued, a chopper with Japan's self-defense forces performing the mission here, obviously. I want to show you exactly what made it necessary, the tsunami, as it came ashore around 18 hours ago. Just watch this.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: The tsunami engulfing farms and homes, obviously, cars, trucks. You can see some of the tsunami and looks like some fire breaking out in Sendai, in the Sendai area after the tsunami has hit.
Major earthquake, that was revised to a magnitude 8.4, one of the largest earthquakes ever to hit Japan. Please, do not go near the waters. Move to higher ground as soon as possible.
The Pacific Tsunami Warning Center has been issued a tsunami warning for Japan, Russia, Marcus Island, Northern Marianas, Guam, Wake Island, and Taiwan.
And here is more live footage of Miyagi Prefecture, the Sendai area, live coverage of what the tsunami is doing in Miyagi Prefecture, in Sendai City. That tsunami obviously going upstream, engulfing some of the farm and homes in that area.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
COOPER: It's just extraordinary. More now on the nuclear emergency.
You heard a moment ago from Janie Eudy. Her husband was inside one of the crippled power plants when the quake hit. Things began getting out of hand.
More details now on how serious the problems are right.
Jeanne Meserve is following that.
Jeanne, what's the latest on the two malfunctioning nuclear plants? JEANNE MESERVE, CNN HOMELAND SECURITY CORRESPONDENT: Right.
They're both up in northeastern Japan. Reports are that at one plant there are elevated temperatures. At the other plant, radiation levels are up, according to the Kyodo News Agency, eight times the normal level at a monitoring station outside the plant, 1,000 times above normal in a control room inside the plant.
Here's what happens. The plant shut down during the quake, but the power into the plant was also disrupted, and that shut down the systems which cool the reactor core, which remains hot even after the plant is shut down. They had a backup system. Those were some diesel engines, but those were knocked out by the tsunami. They went to a battery system. That's what they're using now, but those have limited life. It is very much a stopgap measure, things of course being monitored very carefully, Anderson.
COOPER: So just how dangerous of a situation is this?
MESERVE: Well, that's a question of some debate. They're trying to get a better power supply to those plants.
There are reports they're trying to bring in more batteries, they're trying to bring in diesel generators to get more water pumped onto that core to keep it cool. But in the meantime, they have staged evacuations around one of the plants; it's now a 10-kilometer radius, around the other one, a three-kilometer radius -- Anderson.
COOPER: I had seen some reports about maybe the U.S. government was trying to do something to help; is that true?
MESERVE: Well, they're monitoring the situation. They have offered to help. The energy secretary, Steven Chu, is a physicist; he's certainly someone who understands this situation and what needs to be done. But at this point, the Japanese have not requested anything.
The big fear here is, of course, that there won't be enough water in there, the core will get so hot we will see a meltdown, the pressure will build up, and we could have some sort of catastrophic event happen. They're trying to prevent that now by bleeding off some of that pressure with controlled releases.
There is some radiation in those controlled releases, but the experts I talk to say they are not life-threatening.
COOPER: But they have evacuated an area around at least one of the plants, right?
MESERVE: Around two of the plants, 10 kilometers around one, three kilometers around the other.
COOPER: All right, good information. Jeanne Meserve, thanks. We check in with you again.
As I said, we on for these two hours. Isha Sesay and I will be covering this.
As you might imagine, the affected area is cut off from the rest of Japan. Power, phone lines are out, rail connections shut down. Roads are very difficult to travel on. People are actually being kept off of a lot of the roads obviously so emergency vehicles can get around.
CNN's Kyung Lah has been making her way north from Tokyo, joins us now from just outside Sendai.
You've been headed toward the epicenter. What are you seeing where you are now?
KYUNG LAH, CNN CORRESPONDENT: What we're seeing is something that is represented actually just right behind me. The reason why we decided to pull off the road right now, Anderson, is because about where we are, about 100 miles outside of Sendai, we're starting to see a lot of this, a lot of houses with roof damage.
We're starting to see power lines that are leaning over or tipped over. And these houses, this particular house, if you look inside, we were pulling up, the homeowners were there sweeping up glass; many of the windows are shattered. So this is minor damage really if you consider and compare with what's happening up north.
But this is something we're seeing over and over again on our ride up to Sendai. I want to turn to this road over here. This is a two-lane road. We have been on this road for 15 hours. The reason why, this is the only way up there, up to the north, if you are traveling on the road, because the highways in Japan are shut down.
So, what does this mean for the rescue crews? Well, we have heard chopper traffic up above us pick up significantly. We have seen a large number of military choppers go back and forth, because helicopters, Anderson, are really going to be key to trying to rescue people.
We have already seen some of that video coming out of Sendai trying to pluck people off of roofs, but also trying to get supplies to people who are trapped in the tsunami areas -- Anderson.
COOPER: Do we know anything about the actual death toll? I heard one Japanese government official, I think it was the Japanese ambassador to the United States, saying 1,000 is what they have been able to kind of confirm at this point, but the numbers may go much higher. Do we know officially?
LAH: It's really difficult to wrap your mind around exactly what the scope of this devastation will be.
If you talk to people who live around here, what they will tell you is that they simply never imagined that a tsunami would reach six miles inland. And, so, many of these people were simply not prepared for this type of devastation, for the debris to come ashore.
And so the number of people who are affected by this is significantly high. And so, yes, we're starting to hear some of those reports from the government. But right now many people you talk to simply will not fathom a guess. The house -- the people who live in the house behind me, they lost a relative. If you stop and start talking to people, they will say, we lost a friend.
So the death toll is going to grow and it's going to grow as people try to figure exactly out who is missing, where their loved ones are, and what the answers to those questions are.
COOPER: And has there been a lot of traffic on that small road that you're on? Have you seen relief vehicles going up, military vehicles?
LAH: We have seen surprisingly few military vehicles on the ground. And actually traffic right now is barely anything. We have been in bumper-to-bumper traffic for much of the way up here. It's lightening up the further north we go. But, yes, no military vehicles, no ambulances. We think everything is happening via the airway.
COOPER: All right, Kyung Lah, appreciate the report. We are going to check in with you again later.
Coming up, the science behind the wave of destruction that hit Japan. We will show you some unbelievable images, what the earthquake looked like right when it hit, people in grocery stores, office buildings grabbing cameras, capturing the devastation as it happened.
COOPER: President Obama today said he's heartbroken by the devastation in Japan. He said he has a close connection to the Japanese people in part because he learned a lot about the culture growing up in Hawaii. The president said he's confident Japan will come back stronger than ever and that the United States is ready to help.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
BARACK OBAMA, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: Today's events remind us just how fragile life can be. Our hearts go out to our friends in Japan and across the region. And we're going to stand with them as they recover and rebuild from this tragedy.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
COOPER: It was nighttime for many of us when we heard about this, but it was 2:46 p.m. local time in Japan when the earthquake hit. In office buildings, in grocery stores, the streets outside their homes, people grabbed cameras, capturing Japan's strongest ever earthquake as it was happening.
And here's some of the remarkable sights and sounds.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
(NOISE OF ITEMS FALLING IN EARTHQUAKE)
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: (speaking foreign language) (END VIDEO CLIP)
COOPER: That gives you the feeling of what it was like. To give you a better idea of the forces behind the wave of destruction, I want to bring in CNN -- CNN's Chad Myers and Jim Garrity, a seismologist at Columbia University's Lamont-Doherty Earth Observatory.
Chad, why was the tsunami as big and powerful as it was? Was it just because of the magnitude of the quake?
CHAD MYERS, CNN METEOROLOGIST: And the closeness and the proximity to Japan, in general. It was only really about five minutes away, technically, speed-wise. So when the earth below the water thrust itself up, the crust literally, the surface of the ocean bottom was pushed up by the earthquake, all the water moved, as well.
And the water moved very quickly into Japan and didn't have any time to what we call attenuate. Attenuate is kind of a big long-term, but think about this. If you take the power of a blow dryer, and you put it really close to your head, it's really hot. If you take it and put it away a couple of feet, it's not so hot. Well, it's the same blow dryer. It's the same heat coming out. But if you take it away and you just let that heat spread out, or you let the water and the waves spread out over many, many miles and let it kind of slow down a little bit before it got to the U.S. or South America, the wave's not so big.
COOPER: Was there something, Jim, about this particular area in Japan that makes it vulnerable to these kind of earthquakes or tsunamis?
JIM GARRITY, SEISMOLOGIST: I mean, this -- this part of Japan is along the -- kind of the ring of very large faults that surround the Pacific basin.
GARRITY: And where basically two tectonic plates are coming together; one is thrusting beneath the other one. And it's those kinds of faults that tend to generate some of the largest earthquakes we've ever observed, and they also tend to be just offshore and so that they often are linked with these tsunamigenic events.
COOPER: You were watching the footage we were showing of the earthquake. And you've really never been in something like that, even though you studied it. And kind of seeing it on camera allows you a whole new way of looking at it.
GARRITY: Absolutely, absolutely. There's -- I mean, most of us who work in this field are fortunate enough to have not ever been in an event like this, been in one. And so this -- this whole area of video technology has really brought new pieces of information. So it's really remarkable to watch shaking like that.
COOPER: Chad, has the danger to the U.S. at this point dissipated?
MYERS: Oh, I believe so, yes. Now, that said, this aftershock or all of the aftershocks we've been getting today, some as big as 6.8, are still making tsunami advisories up and down the Japan coast. But there was a 7.2 earthquake in the exact spot two days ago.
Now, we thought that was the main quake until today, and then were just kind of aftershock, until today when this 8.9 came in, and we realized that two days ago that 7.2 was a foreshock, not an aftershock, kind of a foreshadowing shock to the big one. We didn't know that at the time until this big 8.9 happened today.
There's still a threat that there could be a very large aftershock still around the maybe 8.0 region. But right now we don't see that. Most of the after shocks are around 5, 5.5, somewhere in there. But one only about an hour and 45 minutes ago was 6.8. That's a big quake all by itself.
COOPER: Jim, how would this compare to the earthquake, like, in Haiti?
GARRITY: Many times worse. Many times larger.
COOPER: I mean, how many times larger?
GARRITY: Hundreds of times larger.
COOPER: Hundreds of times.
GARRITY: In terms of the way we actually calculate, estimate a size quantitatively, it's hundreds of times larger.
COOPER: And the Indian Ocean tsunami, which killed more than 200,000 people back in 2004, how does this tsunami compare to that?
GARRITY: The earthquakes were a very similar size that the -- this one was a bit smaller than the Indian Ocean one. The tsunami that they -- it sent out is comparable -- roughly comparable in size. That one was also a little bit larger, as well. That one happened to hit some regions that were not very prepared for tsunamis. The local populations hadn't been educated. They didn't -- we didn't really have a sophisticated tsunami warning system, Indian Ocean based at the time so the devastation from that one was significantly worse.
COOPER: But Japan is very prepared for something like this?
GARRITY: As prepared as you could be anywhere in the world, I think.
COOPER: And there have been a lot of aftershocks, many above 6.0 on the Richter scale. Does that concern you, that there are so many?
GARRITY: It's completely expected, actually. I mean, the chatter is right. We might expect an aftershock as large as about as one magnitude unit smaller than the main shock. That could still happen. So...
COOPER: Do we know how long -- is there any way to predict how long?
GARRITY: The aftershocks in general are going to go on for months and over time the size of them will peter out, most likely, and the rate of them will peter out. But -- but they'll continue on for months, and we'll be continuing to monitor them.
COOPER: It's just -- it's fascinating and terrible. Jim Garrity, appreciate your expertise. Thanks very much. And Chad Myers, as well.
Japan's earthquake is the biggest story in the world tonight, but we have not forgotten about another disaster that's happening right now, a manmade disaster in Libya. Gadhafi's son promising to crush the opposition. Ben Wedeman says that opposition is kind of falling apart as they retreated from the town of Ras Lanuf. We'll have a report on that.
And our team in Tripoli, Nic Robertson attacked by Gadhafi thugs. We'll talk to him, as well.
COOPER: Well, the devastation in Japan is certain to take some of the world's attention off -- off the fighting going on in Libya. This program, however, we are committed to continuing to report on what is happening there.
Tonight, opposition fighters in Libya are retreating to the eastern part of the country that they still hold, and it appears that Colonel Muammar Gadhafi's forces, his armed forces are on the move after them. Gadhafi's son, Saif, vowed to crush the opposition, and today Gadhafi's troops pounded the key oil port city of Ras Lanuf, routing the opposition that once controlled it.
CNN's Ben Wedeman reports that Gadhafi's forces bombarded the city, set part of an oil refinery on fire. Despite mounting international pressure against the regime, the Gadhafis are vowing to retake all territory held by the opposition.
Yesterday they launched a violent assault to oust opposition fighters from Zawiya. Today, our Nic Robertson was there as Gadhafi supporters celebrated. Watch.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
NIC ROBERTSON, CNN CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): this is completely the reverse of what we saw here about two weeks ago. This square was full of government opposition. Now it's filled with gunfire, blaring horns and the government celebrating victory. More gunfire going off.
But here's the truth. Here's what happened here. Look at the trees over here. Look at the devastation. Look at the destruction here. This is what the government wants us to see, these people celebrating their victory here.
But this is the truth about what happened in Zawiya: tank tracks through the park in the middle of the city. This had been turned into an impromptu graveyard by the government opposition.
And over here you can see the scale of the destruction, and you can see, as well, more green-flag-waving supporters of Muammar Gadhafi being trucked in so they can show us they've got control.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
COOPER: They're trucking in supporters. They're trying to destroy the evidence of what many reporters said was a massacre there. Earlier tonight, I spoke to Nic Robertson and Ben Wedeman.
COOPER: Ben, what's the latest from Ras Lanuf?
BEN WEDEMAN, CNN CORRESPONDENT: What we've seen, Anderson, is that the opposition forces are really beginning to fall apart, fall away from Ras Lanuf.
We were on the outskirts of the city, because they no longer allow the media inside the town. But we saw the town getting pummeled for hours by artillery, by what appeared to be mortar or rocket fire.
We saw airplanes flying overhead. One of them flew over the refinery, and just minutes later, the refinery, there was a huge plume of black smoke coming out of it.
You definitely get the sense that they're losing confidence in their ability to stand up against the forces of Muammar Gadhafi, who obviously outgunned them by several factors. They're moving further back towards the east, and there's a sense that there's a possibility that this offensive that's been begun by the forces of Tripoli could start moving steadily eastward in the direction of Benghazi.
COOPER: Nic, I understand you and your team got roughed up today by government thugs. What happened?
ROBERTSON: Well, this was a pretty organized campaign by the government. As you know, they don't let us go to some places, even though we've been told we're here, we're free to go where we want, when we want to.
But the reality is different. There were no government officials to go out with us, when we wanted to go to Friday prayers today, which was a week ago today. That's when the protesters were fired upon with -- by the police with tear gas. And boy, we wanted to go out there today.
A lot of journalists headed to the east of the city here, and we got out there. We were barely on the street, talking to a couple of guys at the side of the road in an entrance to a building and two cars pulled up. A couple guys got out with AK-47s and motioned for us to get into the car. Tommy Evans was kicked as he was dragged out of a car. We were pushed into a car, our phones taken away.
And this was so well planned and coordinated. They knew exactly who to call, because they knew they were after journalists. This just wasn't random. They didn't happen upon us. They were planning to get us off the streets and grab us off the streets. By the time we got back to the hotel, several dozen journalists, we found out, had all been picked up in the same area. This was a government now only stopping protesters getting out, but making a controlled, concerted effort with government I guess security forces, plain clothes guys with AK-47s, making sure we didn't get the story. Of course, what they say is they're worried if we're there, they'll protest. The protesters feel safer when we're around them.
Even though journalists were present last Friday after prayers, nevertheless government forces shot at them, even though journalists were present. The regime, Nic, also took you to Zawiya today, which is the city that has now fallen, which last report we had from another journalist who was there, was they were desperately trying to clean up the evidence of what -- of what other journalists had called a massacre. What did you see?
ROBERTSON: Well, Bill Neely from ITN, who you talked to yesterday, described it as a mix between a massive IRA blast, a tank battle, and an artillery barrage. His analysis and description couldn't have been better. That's exactly what it looked like. The destruction was so bad. There's no way the government could clear all this up.
They managed to take away some of the destroyed vehicles. What they've done to cover up this tank fire that had gone on, blasting at rebels in the building. We know that happened because I talk to a soldier, and he told me that they used tanks to blast at the building where the rebels were. They'd hung these big white and green drapes down the side of the building, seven stories of them, anchored by rocks on the ground to try and sort of cover up the destruction there. But of course, you can't cover up destruction like that.
We know we found one very forlorn sign, a poster that the protestors had had out there on a square a couple of weeks before, and it said, "We will overcome." And they were wrong. They were overcome by the government forces.
The other thing we've heard from the government tonight, Anderson, is that they're going to take us -- they say they now feel confident as the rebels lose confidence in the east, as Ben is telling us here, the government said it's going to take us to Ras Lanuf tomorrow. That's how confident they feel. Of course, if they do, we'll believe it when we see it. We've heard this before. But this is how confident they're feeling in the east now, Anderson.
COOPER: Ben, Saif Gadhafi told "TIME" magazine, and I quote, "The big war is over," the main opposition has basically been broken. What's to stop them now from -- the government forces from getting to Benghazi, which is the second largest city?
WEDEMAN: Anderson, they did suffer a defeat in Ras Lanuf, but they haven't been defeated. A lot of the rebel forces have simply pulled back, and they are being reinforced. So I think it's by no means over.
And certainly the hope is that they'll be able to reinforce their defenses around the town of Berga, which is about an hour's drive to the east of Ras Lanuf.
And you need to keep in mind something. This is not a situation where one side can basically lose and live. If the Gadhafi forces come to eastern Libya, come to the city of Benghazi, which has been so openly in revolt against his rule, there will be a massacre. There will be another massacre. There will be a blood bath.
And so I think, even though the opposition forces may have overextended themselves in pushing toward Ras Lanuf, if they are pushed back further toward Benghazi, they'll put up an even bigger fight.
They had problems, though. They're clearly apparently running out of ammunition. A lot of it has been wasted firing in the air. But they don't have the sort of supplies, the arsenals, the armaments that the government in Tripoli has. So they're being pushed to the wall. But the closer they get pushed to that wall, I suspect the harder they're going to fight. This fight is not over, in no sense -- Anderson.
COOPER: Do opposition leaders worry that the outside world may have given up on them? And the first -- I've got to tell you, one of the first thoughts I had when I saw the tsunami hitting Japan and the earthquake there, is I thought this is the best thing that could have happened for Muammar Gadhafi, if the world stops paying attention to what's going on in Libya.
WEDEMAN: There's a real change of atmosphere at the front line. Whereas before, until basically today, we were always welcomed by the fighters. They were happy to see us. They were shooing us toward the front lines.
Now they're very hesitant. They're even a bit suspicious, and there's an element of resentment. They were hoping that there would be some sort of foreign support. A no-fly zone. Many of them are hesitant to the idea of foreign forces in Libya. But they feel like they've been let down.
They feel like, you know, they revolted against Muammar Gadhafi, a dictator of 42 years. They talked about their desire for democracy, for freedom, and they thought -- they were expecting, and we've seen this from the moment we entered Libya, that the world, the so-called free world would come to their defense.
And now they've gone as far as they could militarily. They're starting to be pushed back, and they're saying where is the world? So there really is a change of atmosphere here from this sort of buoyant, optimistic, enthusiastic sense, to one -- one that they may be facing what could be annihilation -- Anderson.
COOPER: Ben Wedeman, stay safe. Nic Robertson, as well. My best to your crew, Nic. Thanks.
Still ahead, Isha Sesay with some other important stories we're following. And our live coverage from Japan continues at the top of the hour. The very latest from the center of the devastation and new details of a nuclear emergency that may be getting worse by the minute. Details ahead.
COOPER: Before we check in with Isha on the other stories we're following, I want to show you some new video we just got in. As I said, we're going to be live all throughout this next hour, because we're getting new video, new information all the time.
And look at this. It was shot in a place called Ofinato (ph), a small coastal city north of Sendai. Clearly, this is debris which has been picked up by the tsunami water and then deposited there. And as the water retreated, it's left all of this behind.
But you get just a sense and a look at the power of the water, what it has picked up and what it has changed. Sobering. There's not much more you can say about it, other than our prayers go out to everyone in the quake zone. That's a look now at the coastal area. More from Japan ahead tonight.
But first Isha Sesay has a "360 News & Business Bulletin" -- Isha.
ISHA SESAY, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Anderson, today Governor Scott Walker of Wisconsin signed into law the controversial bill that restricts the collective bargaining rights of unionized public employees. It also requires most state workers to contribute more money to their retirement and health care.
Great news about Congresswoman Gabrielle Giffords of Arizona. One of the doctors calls her condition, quote, "remarkable" and says her speech and memory have improved and she's walking. Giffords was shot in the head at point blank range while meeting constituents in January. Six people were killed in that attack.
Nearly 30 years after the assassination attempt on President Ronald Reagan, the Secret Service has released an audiotape of radio traffic between agents. It shows that they did not initially realize that the president had been shot.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
ASSISTANT RAY SHADDICK, SECRET SERVICE: Advise, we've had shots fired. Shots fired. There are some injuries -- lay one on.
You want to go to the hospital or back to the White House?
AGENT JERRY PARR, SECRET SERVICE: We're going right -- we're going to Crown.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: (UNINTELLIGIBLE)
SHADDICK: Back to the White House. Back to the White House. Rawhide is OK.
AGENT MARY ANN GORDON, SECRET SERVICE: Go ahead, Drew. AGENT THOMAS DREW UNRUE, SECRET SERVICE: Roger. We want to go to the emergency room of George Washington.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
SESAY: Well, as it turns out, crown was the Secret Service code word for the White House, and Rawhide was the president's code name.
And Anderson, today in an L.A. courtroom, actor Mel Gibson pleaded no contest to a misdemeanor battery charge involving his former girlfriend. As part of a deal with prosecutors, Gibson will be on probation for three years and undergo anger management counseling -- Anderson.
COOPER: All right. Isha, as I said, we are on for the next hour live, as well, bringing you the latest out of the quake zone in Japan. Isha and I covering both of this, covering all of this. Our coverage continues with that at the top of the hour. We'll be right back.