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Massive Earthquake Rocks Japan; Tsunami Hits Parts of Japan; Tsunami Warnings Issued for U.S. West Coast

Aired March 11, 2011 - 15:00   ET


BROOKE BALDWIN, CNN ANCHOR: And hello to all of you. We continue our breaking coverage here. Welcome to this international edition of CNN BREAKING NEWS. I'm Brooke Baldwin.

JOHN VAUSE, CNN INTERNATIONAL ANCHOR: Hello, Everyone. I'm John Vause from CNN International.

Here's how it happened, 2:46 p.m. Friday in Japan.


UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Biggest one to date. Oh, my God. That is the biggest earthquake to date. It is still going. Oh, my God. The building's going to fall!


VAUSE: Magnitude 8.9. That's 8.9, the strongest earthquake ever in Japan.

Then this: a massive wall of water, this devastating tsunami. It swept ashore along Japan's northeastern coast, surging well inland, sweeping away cars, boats, homes, almost anything in its path. Hundreds of people are dead, with no way to know just how high that death toll will rise.

We will bring that back to you. But that's the situation developing right now. We have a situation at a Japanese nuclear plant. They're trying to cool down a reactor. The plant is called the Fukushima plant. It suffered a quake-related problem with its cooling system.

So, joining us right now is Cham Dallas. He's a professor of disaster management at the University of Georgia.

Mr. Dallas, just explain to us. The last we heard, they're trying to release some of this radioactive steam to try and relieve some of the pressure. What will that do?

CHAM DALLAS, UNIVERSITY OF GEORGIA: Well, what's happened is, is that about 11 reactors automatically went down, they stopped on purpose due to acceleration, ground acceleration to the ground. They're set for that. The Japanese have a very acute sense of sensitivity about earthquakes. And so they had an automatic shutdown. Now, in this one reactor, some of the safety plans didn't go as they wanted. And they had to divert some of the water in a way that they don't normally do so. They evacuated around the reactor, which shows the sensitivity of the Japanese to this kind of problem.

VAUSE: Yes, but the situation right now is that they have shut down the reactor, but this one reactor just simply isn't cooling down. So what can that lead to now?

DALLAS: Well, what can happen is, in a worst-case scenario, there may be some water or radioactivity might escape from the reactor, although not likely to be in dangerous amounts.

More than likely, what will happen is they will contain the water and the radioactivity inside the reactor as they go to their redundant backup systems.

VAUSE: The one thing which I heard though is that they don't have enough electricity to pump the right amount of water into the reactor to cool it down. Why would that be the case?

DALLAS: Well, the Japanese have a lot of redundant systems. And I work closely with the emergency management people in Japan, and they have learned a lot, for instance, from the Chernobyl experience back 20, over 20 years ago, where I worked for many years.

We learned a lot about backup systems, the Soviet systems. The Soviet nuclear power systems did not have necessary backup systems. The Japanese and others have learned from that and they have managed to get those in.

All these reactors, when you shut down them, it takes a long time for them to finally cool down. It's a long process, and one of the good things about that is even if your systems don't immediately work, you have time to correct the problem.

VAUSE: OK. Cham Dallas, thanks for being with us. We want you to stay with us for a little longer throughout the program.


VAUSE: Want it hand it over to Brooke right now.

BALDWIN: John, thank you.

And I just want all of us to get our bearings straight. So here is a gigantic map of Japan to sort of help you out. You see some of the major cities, obviously Tokyo here most definitely jolted by the quake. But the worst damage, you see the city just north of Tokyo, is the town of Sendai.

It's actually not a town. It's a city, about a million people. And so these are some of the places that took the one-two punch, first the quake and then the tsunami. And I want to call your attention to what's happening now in the city of Kesennuma. Much of this town, some 75,000 people or so, has been engulfed by this, this massive fire. By the way, we're getting some of these pictures from Japanese television. And unfortunately there's just not much information to accompany the pictures that we're seeing. Obviously the pictures though speak for themselves, fires burning out of control, more than 15 hours since that earthquake struck.

And I want to show you something else here. Look at this with me. This shows the actual tsunami hitting. And you see the cars floating along like toy trucks one after another after another. Also, in some of these pictures, you're going to see some boats just floating away.

And this is some of what's happened played over and over here when the giant wave crashed ashore. Keep in mind, this was afternoon, Friday afternoon, broad daylight, 2:46 p.m. local time, in Japan, when the earthquake hit.

Want to show you another view here. This is the wave, and you can see it coming ashore. This is the airport. We mentioned the city of Sendai. And as you may have heard by now, this disaster has closed Japan's civilian airports. However, civilian planes are being allowed to land at several U.S. military bases on Japanese soil.

One more image I want to get to you. Here is the earthquake striking again, pictures inside a Japanese newsroom. I mean, imagine, total panic there. But the biggest damage, again, apparently caused by the massive tsunami. At last count, the official, and I want to emphasize official here, death toll was 151. Keep in mind authorities in Japan say it could climb to over 1,000 -- John.

VAUSE: Brooke, CNN's Kyung Lah based there in Tokyo. She was actually on the subway when the earthquake hit. She has filed a report now as she made her way to the most devastated part of the country.


KYUNG LAH, CNN CORRESPONDENT: I'm in the back of our news van. And we're trying to get to the northern area, the area that's been hard-hit by the tsunami.

But what we're finding is that it's very difficult to get up there because of the problems that we're seeing with Tokyo still down, really paralyzed with the problems that we have seen from this afternoon's earthquake.

More than 12 hours after the earthquake, you can see we're beginning to move a little bit, but there is still massive gridlock in the city, the highway shut down. The roadways, they're all backed up. People could not get out of the city.

So what people are doing, trying to get out of Tokyo on foot to their suburban homes or find a taxi or get a ride from someone. For the rescue crews that are heading up north, what they're finding is that it's certainly not going to be easy going trying to get up there very quickly.

So we're hearing from the rescue crews that what they're relying on is some sort of flexible movement where they can get in and out very quickly using helicopters. But we're hours away from daylight. At this point, we still don't know what the devastation is going to be.

But we can tell you that logistically Tokyo is still heavily impacted. People are still trying to cope with the loss of infrastructure in this city. Up north, though, rescue crews still trying to get up there, still trying to assess the exact scope of the devastation.


BALDWIN: And now I want to go to really the force here of the earthquake could be felt miles and miles from that epicenter in southern Japan.


BALDWIN: So let's go to Paula Hancocks. She's in Osaka, Japan, with the latest.

And, Paula, I know we are minutes away here, or perhaps it's more like 5:45 a.m. Eastern time when the sun will begin to rise there over Japan, where we will get the first glimpses of some of the devastation.

And I know the prime minister, Prime Minister Kan, will be hopping up in a helicopter. And where is he going first?

PAULA HANCOCKS, CNN CORRESPONDENT: That's right. Prime Minister Kan will be in a helicopter.

He's heading to the nuclear reactor that everyone is so concerned about at this point, the Fukushima, which is closest to the worst-hit area, the Sendai area. It's expected to be the worst hit at this point certainly.

And of course there is that huge effort to try to cool down the reactor. And that is something that is concerning a number of people. We did hear the U.S. president, Barack Obama, saying that Prime Minister Kan told him there was no radiation leak at this point and it did appear that it could be coming under control.

But the situation is very fluid. And there are some conflicting reports about that. So that is something he's going to do at the crack of dawn. And this is within the hour. We're 5:05 in the morning at this point. Within this hour, the sun will rise and we will start to get some kind of idea of the devastation in these areas.

Now, the footage that we have been watching overnight here in Japan has all been shot during the daytime. So, of course, that's when you see the devastating tsunami coming in on the eastern coast of Japan. Of course, when the sun rises today, what we will see is what is left and what the devastation exactly has been.

Now, we know that there have been at least 150 people killed. We understand that police in the province that Sendai is capital of say that 200, 300 bodies have been found because of that tsunami.

But of course these are just the big areas that have actually been found already. There's been no contact with so many other smaller areas along that eastern coast. Phone lines are down in the majority of cases along the coastal areas, and it's very difficult to get a mobile signal. So it really will be as the sun rises, the damage will become a bit more clear.

BALDWIN: Paula, let me pick up where you left off. I was curious for people perhaps within Japan and globally here who have loved ones, who friends in Japan, talk to me a little BIT about the signal, the phone lines. And what Kind of guidance are people getting within Japan? Should they be using their phones if it's not an emergency?

HANCOCKS: Well, what we're hearing in the northern, eastern part of the country, which is obviously the part that has been hardest-hit by both the earthquake and the tsunami as well, the phone lines are spotty at best.

So, to be honest, it sounds as though overnight they have not been able to get hold of many people at all. Now, we're actually south of Tokyo. Tokyo is south of the worst-hit area. We're south again of Tokyo in Osaka. And we have had trouble with our mobile phones as well, even though that we're not that close to the devastated areas.

So it certainly is going to be a problem, not just for those trying to get in touch with loved ones, but also the emergency teams and the aid agencies desperately trying to coordinate this effort. It's going to be incredibly difficult, a huge challenge for them.

BALDWIN: Of course.

VAUSE: And, Paula, it's John Vause here. I want to you talk about this disaster response, which will be ramping up when first light comes out in about an hour, less than an hour from now, because the Kobe earthquake, there was a lot of criticism that the Japanese government did not respond fast enough. This time, though, it's a very different situation.

HANCOCKS: Well, what we heard many hours ago was that they had 8,000 Japanese troops that were part of this emergency team.

You can only assume that that has doubled, maybe tripled over the nighttime and over the hours. And we also know that there have been offers of help from at least 40 different countries. Now, they have, the Japanese government has asked for help from the U.S. military. Bear in mind there are tens of thousands of U.S. troops in Japan, so that is ready to deploy.

And we understand that they are going to be helping quite strongly in this search-and-rescue. So the assumption at this point is that this has happened quite quickly. There has been a quick response. Even though Japan is ready to deal with earthquakes and tsunami warnings, nothing like this, nothing like this sort of scale has really been prepared for or could be prepared for.

BALDWIN: Strongest earthquake in some hundred years.

VAUSE: For Japan on record, yes.


BALDWIN: All right, Paula Hancocks in Osaka, thank you.

VAUSE: Well, coming up, where are those tsunami waves heading right now and why Japan is a target for natural disasters. We will go inside the Ring of Fire, so stay right here.



UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Looks like a bomb hit it. You can see there's some damage here. My -- all my pictures are screwed up. And my kitchen's a little bit in disarray.


BALDWIN: You can hear him almost out of breath.

VAUSE: Yes. That our iReporter Sean Crownover (ph) giving us a tour inside of his apartment there in Tokyo, showing us all of the aftermath, I guess, of this earthquake.

BALDWIN: It's amazing, these iReports that just keep coming in of people who experienced it firsthand.


BALDWIN: And it's by no means over in terms of the aftermath, the aftereffects and the waves.

Our weather team is on top of the very latest there.

I want to bring in CNN international meteorologist Pedram Javaheri. We call you P.J.

And, P.J., I know Japan is really about to here wake up, first bit of daylight in terms of assessing the damage from the most powerful earthquake in its history, or at least the last century. But the whole world is feeling the effects. And, in particular, talk to me about South America.

PEDRAM JAVAHERI, CNN INTERNATIONAL METEOROLOGIST: Yes, South America, Central America, as we said, the sun is going to be coming up in Japan. But conversely you're talking about South America, the sun just a few hours away from setting. And you take a look at this, this shows you the wave distribution, the tsunami threat and the distribution from Sendai right there in northeastern portions of Japan. And again take it look at it emanate outward. And as of the past say six, seven hours, it begins working its way towards the Hawaiian Isles.

Then you see the distribution take over North America, where we have some of the tsunami advisories. And you go back to last year after the Chile quake, we had that quake, 8.8. We had the first tsunami advisories along the West Coast of the United States since 1964. Fast-forward some 12 months and a couple of days, you're talking about another adviser advisory, of course this one with a far larger threat.

Around Crescent City, some of the issue is now with the wave heights being -- some of the harbors being reported, some damage from there, some of the boats that were docked in place. And take a look at this. This color (INAUDIBLE) depiction shows you the wave energy right along the coast of Japan, the darker colors showing you where the strongest wave energy is associated with that.

And, look, follow this and you can kind of see a plume of it that comes up and you can see a little orange line. That deflects right towards Crescent City. One of the islands, one of the atolls out here just outside of the Hawaii Islands, actually deflected some of this wave action. And you can see how it followed through all the way towards Crescent City and these of course travel at some 500-plus miles per hour.

And we calculated the distance where the energy, really the focus of it takes its track toward South America. That's 500 miles in itself, the width of it, that takes its energy. And inside the next hour to two hours, right there. Some of the more impoverished countries from Honduras, work your way towards Guatemala, El Salvador, Nicaragua, we're getting this region right here that is going to get some of the incredible tsunami wave action associated with it.

And we saw the colors taper off to the light oranges. But right along the immediate coast, we bump it back to the reds, right along much of this coastal region. As the run-up occurs, the waves get themselves out toward the coastal regions and the increase in wave happens at the very last second.

And depending on how these beaches are laid out, some of these communities and again this region being very, very impoverished. We have homes that are on stilts, homes that are made from say debris just from the beaches. Any sort of wave action is going to cause substantial damage. And that's exactly what we're tracking out there at least for the next couple of hours, guys.

VAUSE: Thanks, Pedram.

The people in Crescent City were saying the damage caused by this tsunami was worse than 2004. So they're still counting the costs out there (INAUDIBLE) and more at high tide. BALDWIN: Plus, also I think to P.J.'s point, when you look at Central America, and I'm sure you have traveled there, as have I, and they're not prepared. Japan is said to be one of the most aware, disaster-aware places in the world, mitigating potential earthquakes. And then you look at places like Nicaragua, not.


VAUSE: Not ready for it, not like the Japanese. But still this was huge. And they are asking for help. And the international community is starting to respond to that.

Jill Dougherty will be up next. She will have all the details of which countries are helping and exactly what they're doing.


BALDWIN: Well, as you can imagine, pouring in here, international aid on its way to Japan.

I want to go to CNN's Jill Dougherty live for me at the State Department.

And, Jill, we know Secretary Clinton put out a statement very, very early on offering thoughts, prayers, condolences to those in Japan. But what are you learning as far as which countries are offering aid and what kind of help are they offering?

JILL DOUGHERTY, CNN FOREIGN AFFAIRS CORRESPONDENT: Well, we have an entire list, actually, Brooke. There are 38 countries. And that includes things like the European Union.

What specifically they're offering, some that are large countries like China, Russia. Others are very small countries, Mongolia, for example. So some of it is just an offer. At this point, a lot of people have to assess exactly what is necessary. And that in fact is what the United States is doing right now, looking specifically at what Japan could need, and indeed, perhaps, some of the other countries that could be affected.

One thing that President Obama said they definitely will need, and that is lift capacity. This is the ability to lift very heavy vehicles and concrete and things like that to begin cleaning up the infrastructure once all this is over. So that is what the U.S. can offer.

More immediately, though, the USAID here at the State Department is sending out DART teams. Those are disaster assistance relief teams. And they're usually composed, in fact, of 72 people. They have sniffer dogs. They have tons of equipment, in fact, that they take, and they have an assessor, an expert who assesses the situation and then goes to help.

So those teams have been mobilized. They're coming from Virginia right here in the suburbs of Washington, D.C., and also from Los Angeles. And then also the State Department, just briefly, big responsibility, of course, is helping U.S. citizens who are in the region. And they have a 24/7 team which they mobilized early this morning. They have been sending out information on Web sites and telephone numbers and e-mails that Americans both out let's say in the field who do need help or families can get to.

If you go on to the Web site for the State Department,, that will take you to a variety of different places. So they're trying to help. Literally there are thousands of Americans. But the good news so far is that there have not been any reports of Americans killed or injured -- Brooke.

VAUSE: Yes, Jill, it's John here. We're obviously keeping a close track on who has been hurt and who has died in this tragedy, be they Japanese or wherever they may have come from around the world.

The question, though, is that whenever there's been a disaster, be it China or Turkey, the Japanese have always sent in their specialists. But I think there's now maybe a perception out there that this very wealthy, the third biggest economy, well-prepared, doesn't actually need much assistance from the rest of the world. Would that be fair?

DOUGHERTY: Well, that I don't think would really be fair. Although of course, the Japanese are the people who deal with earthquakes probably the most of anybody in the world, and they have a highly developed economy, and they're used to dealing with things, but the magnitude of this is so huge, and you add to that the tsunami, that really they could require some help.

And that's why the United States and others are looking at that. And, again, as I mentioned, Americans not being killed, that is not to say that there's no concern here. It's just simply accounting for Americans. But they are very concerned here at the State Department about other countries that have fewer resources than Japan that might need some assistance.

VAUSE: Yes, absolutely. Jill Dougherty, thanks so much live at the State Department for us.

And we have some new information just coming in to us. Four trains have lost contact with the East Japan Rail Company. They were last seen running along the eastern coastline. Now, there is a concern that those people are unaccounted for. That will obviously send this death toll up much higher. We know that the death toll will surely rise as daylight breaks over Japan in the next 30 minutes or so and this rescue operation gets into full swing -- Brooke.

BALDWIN: Michael Gakuran is a well-known blogger who writes about his Japanese excursions, joins us from Nagoya.

Michael, from -- walk me through, explain, describe what it was like. The earthquake first hit, what was it, 2:46 p.m., really now yesterday for you.

MICHAEL GAKURAN, BLOGGER: When it first hit for me?


I was in work, so, yes, 2:46, just after lunch. And I'm located in Nagoya. So I'm not in the epicenter. I'm quite far away from it. But we still felt the whole building. I'm like on the fifth floor. And the whole building was swaying for like several minutes. And it wasn't enough to make people panic and dive under the desks or anything, but it certainly got people's attention.

And then I started searching on the Internet for what it was and then basically all this sort of news of fires and buildings collapsing just came out and we realized just how big it was.

BALDWIN: How many aftershocks have you felt? We know that the strongest aftershock reported in the country, magnitude 7.1. How many have you felt? And what's that been like?

GAKURAN: Personally, I have only felt an aftershock, probably only one or two, like in addition to the main one that I felt.


GAKURAN: And that was just about half-an-hour ago actually. And there was like a level six earthquake in Nagano, which is a couple of hours' drive from where I live. So we got sort of the outskirts of that basically.

And it was only a -- a really small tremor. And I only sort of realized because I was sort of looking at the Twitter at the same time when it was being updated. And, so, really, there's not a lot of damage, I think, or sort of influence over here in Central Japan.


VAUSE: And, Michael, just curious. I know you're a fair way from the epicenter of the quake, but describe how people have been reacting there, because I understand that, despite this terrible disaster, this incredibly powerful earthquake, people are being very orderly.

BALDWIN: Not much panic.

VAUSE: It's all been -- not much panic. It's all been very calm. Is that a fair assessment?

GAKURAN: Certainly, where I was working, it was very calm.

But, as I said, it was nowhere near as bad as it was in Tokyo and Sendai and places like that. From the reports -- I have been sort of gathering information on the Internet for the last 12 hours or so. And from what I have been seeing, people have been really orderly. Like, people have been updating me on Twitter, my friends in Tokyo.

And they have been having to walk like three -- three hours or so to get home, because all the trains have been stopped. And it's all been going very, very smoothly, like no violence or things like that. It's just very orderly.

BALDWIN: Obviously, Michael, you have the Internet. Is your phone line working?

GAKURAN: My mobile phone is working, but I sent a message to my host family in Akita, actually, which is the northern region of Japan. And I got a reply six hours later. So, I think it's working, but it's very slow. It's backlogged.


BALDWIN: Michael, we thank you for talking to us. And stay safe there.

But, again, I mean, I think that reiterates the point that so many people, I think, many people on the receiving end of many -- and that earthquake there, and so for him, particularly being farther away from the epicenter, fairly orderly, he says.

VAUSE: But it's also the Japanese character, too. They're very polite people. I heard a fabulous report that there was -- even very close to the epicenter, where there was still electricity, people were still stopping at traffic lights. It was all very orderly --

BALDWIN: Really?

VAUSE: -- going about their business. It's very much the Japanese character. And you know, have to say they prepared for these, for these moments.

BALDWIN: Very prepared.

VAUSE: Even as bad as this is, they are prepared.

Well, more than 50 countries have been put on alert for this quake. Coming up next, we will talk with someone on a coast where boats have been crashing into each other and there are now reports of one person being swept away. That's coming up next.


BALDWIN: I want to take a look at this picture here. This is a picture, we can't be totally specific as to where it was shot, but it was somewhere along the east coast of Japan. As John Vause and I were looking and thinking this was very reminiscent of not too many years ago, 2004, that massive tsunami in Banda Achi, killing some 200,000 people.

VAUSE: When you look at this photograph, you can really see the force of the tsunami, with all of that debris churned up in the water. This is what they say. It's not just the water and the wave which is so deadly, but it's also the debris which it brings with it. It sweeps everything before it.

And if you get caught up in this, this is why the death toll can often be so high. What they have said about Japan, you can prepare for the earthquake, build buildings stronger, you can have all the construction standards that you want, but sometimes it can be just impossible to outrun --

BALDWIN: To prepare for a tsunami.

VAUSE: And they have all of their exits marked and well maintained roads to higher ground. When you look at something like this, there are so many fears that the death toll is going to skyrocket when the rescue operations get into full swing in the coming hours. That's what the true concern is when you look at a photograph like this. How many people have been caught up in this?

BALDWIN: We will begin to figure that out once sun begins to rise over Japan, right around 5:57 eastern time. That is when we'll see those first pictures and assess the damage and someone who knows much about damage and response efforts, Russell Honore, instrumental in helping the United States gulf coast recover after the Katrina disaster along Mississippi, Alabama. He's joining me.

General Honore, as you watch these pictures -- do you have a monitor in front of you? Were you able to see the picture from Japan after this massive wave swept across this piece of land?

LT. GEN. RUSSELL HONORE, CNN CONTRIBUTOR: Absolutely. And it brings to mind the impact of water. The elevation in Sendai is about six feet. The water in some places were recorded up to 50 feet high. So Brooke, what you have on the coastal plain is the water coming in now in many places is trapped, which make the whole place look like a large lake.

But again, remind you, the elevation in the community as well as the size of the wave, so there may be to a point where they have to pump the water out much like we did in New Orleans.

VAUSE: General, it's John Vause here with Brooke.

I'm curious, as we get into first light, what's the first order of business for the Japanese rescue crews here and for the military? I think they just to have assess the damage. We hear military aircraft have been flying doing reconnaissance missions to work out how bad this is. What happens after that?

HONORE: Well, the first point of order is to remember the first responders who know this area the best are victims, themselves. So taking that into consideration is finding those first responders and getting them organized with the search and rescue teams that are coming from throughout Japan.

Remember, Japan is only about the size of the state of California, so their ability to quickly get there by air will be good. The problem is the air field of Sendai still under water or small patches of it still available. So the first order of business is getting there and linking up with the local first responders and establishing a search and rescue grid so they can go house by house to try and help people. Most of the people will be saved by neighbors by the time the first responders get there. BALDWIN: General Honore, two questions. One I want to follow-up on your point about how a lot of these first responders are victims, themselves, so how difficult is it to get a group together to respond? And number two as you look at all of this, what's the biggest challenge here these responders/victims are facing now?

HONORE: First of all, I think Japan is one of the best prepared countries in the world. They have what I speak to a lot of time, a culture of preparedness. Day will be helping one another with the capabilities they have in the communities, neighbors helping neighbors.

What they will need is helicopters to be able to go in and lift people off roofs because much of the water now has debris in it which may make it impassable for a lot of the small boats that may be able to navigate the water.

So the idea is how do you go in and organize an air rescue operation with the capabilities you have working with the local first responders and being able to talk to people? You know, the communication grid is severely degraded at this point in time. People that had cell phones on, they're about the 12th hour of operating them and many of those batteries are going to be going down.

So it is a complicated event. This will probably turn out to be the largest naval operation we have conducted in the pacific since Vietnam because the Navy will have the assets to be able to get off the coast and get helicopters in there quickly and be able to help the Japanese people.

BALDWIN: General Honore, it's good to see you as always. We thank you for coming on.

Now I want you to listen to this.


UNIDENTIFIED MALE: I left and it blew up again.


BALDWIN: This iReporter who shot the scene, look at the smoke. See that fire? That is an oil refinery exploding. We'll be speaking with him from Japan when we come back.


VAUSE: Welcome back to our special coverage here of the earthquake in Japan. You know, Brooke, we've been getting a lot of images coming in from iReporters around the world. One of them is August Armbrister, student with the University of North Carolina here in the United States, currently studying in China. He joins us now via Skype.

August, you shot some very dramatic footage of an oil refinery fire. Tell us what was happening. You're with your host family. The earthquake happened and then what?

BALDWIN: Did we lose him?

VAUSE: I think we may have technical problems there with August who shot incredible footage of this oil refinery fire not far from where he's staying with his host family. He grabbed his camera, raced out, he shot this footage. We know there have been a number of fires burning across Japan because of this very powerful earthquake.

Are we still working to get August back? OK. We're still trying to get him back. We've gotten him back.

BALDWIN: August, are you with us?


BALDWIN: This is Brooke Baldwin in Atlanta. We're looking at your iReport video. I can see, it looks like partial blue sky, partial blackness. Describe this for me.

ARMBRISTER: The smoke, after about the second explosion, the smoke completely, the sky, it turned it pitch black.

BALDWIN: Did you talk to anyone who works in that refinery? Did they describe the heat to you?

ARMBRISTER: One Japanese man as he was leaving, a group of his co-workers, and he spoke really fast. It was hard to understand everything, but he told me there were at least six explosions, and he told me that heat was unbearable. That's all I pretty much -- that's all I understood from the conversation.

VAUSE: August, the question has to be, why did you run toward the fire?


ARMBRISTER: Very good question. There's a Japanese saying, in English, "live life to the fullest, live each moment to the fullest." I can stay at home and watch it on TV or go there and see it live. So I chose to get my camera and run over there.

BALDWIN: So you are clearly, August, making the most out of your study abroad experience in Japan, never in a million years probably would have thought you'd be experiencing this. Are you told to stay inside? I know it's still very, very early there for you Saturday morning, but have you stuck your head outside at all? Is it still fairly smoky?

ARMBRISTER: At the time, a couple fire trucks came around and told us to go back to our homes, so I came right back after that. But it's pitch black right now. It's 5:30 a.m., so it's still dark. I can't really tell if it's smoke or if it's the sky. Hopefully later on it will clear up so I can tell. BALDWIN: So as you were chasing down this fire here with your cell phone, and again, we're looking at these amazing pictures, what was the sense from people on the street? We keep talking over and over about how there wasn't a huge sense of panic, but have to look at this and think there had to be a degree of that.

ARMBRISTER: There was a little bit. I noticed cars pulling over on the side of the road, and what the Japanese would do is get out of their cars and talk to each other. It was like a community. Even though they were strangers, they wanted to help each other out, update each other on what was going on. It was very cool.

VAUSE: August, apart from the fire, which we're watching the video of now, how much damage is there where you are in Japan?

ARMBRISTER: In Ichihara, only -- the aftershocks were pretty severe, but most of the houses I feel are built to withstand earthquakes. So nothing in my house actually fell over. It shook a lot. I managed to brace everything down, so it was not that bad.

BALDWIN: August, quickly, before I let you go, I don't know if your parents are watching you back in the United States. You have a quick message for them? You want to tell mom you're OK?

ARMBRISTER: Family and friends, I love you guys. I'm safe, don't worry about me. And go Tar Heels.

BALDWIN: Hey, they won the basketball game today. I'm a Tar Heel well. August, I appreciate it there, in Japan. How about that?

VAUSE: I'll translate that for the international audience. That was basketball stuff from some university. But OK.

BALDWIN: No comment.

ARMBRISTER: Coming up next, we'll talk with someone on the west coast of the United States where boats have been crashing into each other, a result of the tsunami waves sweeping across the Pacific. There is now a report that someone has been swept away in California. Our coverage from Japan and around the world, that's coming up next.


BALDWIN: Welcome back to our breaking coverage here. You know, the devastating earthquake in Japan unleashed a powerful tsunami felt across the Pacific Ocean to the United States. And we are now just learning that the U.S. coast guard is searching for a person off the coast of northern Florida. Apparently the man was swept to sea after he and a couple friends went to the shoreline to take some photos.

VAUSE: Bad move, huh?

BALDWIN: Bad move. Do not do that. Do not try to get close to the shoreline is what everyone's saying. Most of the damage on the west coast of the United States is concentrated along the northern California area. I want to speak to Lisa Ekers, the port director for the Santa Cruz port district, Santa Cruz about 80 miles south of San Francisco. Lisa, I know you work by the water. You work with a lot of boats. Tell me how big the waves are that you've seen and what kind of impact that's been on the boats there.

LISA EKERS, PORT DIRECTOR, SANTA CRUZ PORT DISTRICT, (via telephone): We've started experiencing surge from the tsunami, the first tsunami around 8:00 this morning. And the wave height is not what's been significant but rather the surge through the harbor. Our harbor is oriented north-south, and we see a massive input of water that comes in and traverses all the way to the north.

So far we've experienced a significant amount of damage in the north harbor. And we are urging residents in the area to please not come to the Santa Cruz harbors to spectate. We're still in a disaster response mode and really do need to keep roadways and access ways open for emergency responders.

VAUSE: It's John Vause here. Maybe you can make a comparison for us. The 2004 tsunami impacted crescent city and Santa Cruz as well. Is it worse than it was in 2004, beginning of 2005?

EKERS: This is quite a bit worse. I've been with the port district now since about the middle of 2010, and so that occurred before I was working here, and my understanding is that it was a six to eight-inch tsunami wave that came in and did do some structural damage on our dock.

This event, we've seen some of the surge height that appear to be well in excess of two feet, which does not sound dramatic but that's two feet of amplitude equals a four foot essential differential in the harbor, and there's quite a bit of water rushing in and out of a 15 to 20-minute cycle.

So we are continuing to experience damage. We have a significant amount of debris floating around. We've lost portions of docks and have several boats have that gone adrift. The harbor patrol is in the process of securing all of those vessels as they can, and we have maintenance crews deployed throughout the harbor to further secure.

But really, we do need the public to not come down. Please, do not come down and get in the way of the emergency responders.

BALDWIN: Quick estimate here, Lisa, and we're looking at some of these pictures. I don't know if it's Santa Cruz or elsewhere where some of these boats toppled, damaged. What would be your quick estimate of damage here?

EKERS: It was in the Santa Cruz harbor. Our preliminary assessment of the damage to the harbor facility alone is in excess of $10 million. That does not account for all the privately owned vessels that are moored here and berthed here that may have sustained damage.

BALDWIN: Lisa Ekers, from Santa Cruz, Lisa, thank you. Good luck.

VAUSE: Sure, $10 million, whatever. I guess that's a lot, but nothing compared to what's happening in Japan right now. They are putting the estimates. It could be around $100 billion to repair the damage from this earthquake. It's still early days.

But the world is not only watching Japan, but they are feeling the impact as well. Some powerful world leaders are weighing in there offering their support. We'll have that next.


VAUSE: U.S. president Barack Obama held a news conference a few hours ago, and he extended his condolences to Japan.


BARACK OBAMA, (D) PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: I'm heartbroken by this tragedy. I think when you see what's happening in Japan, you are reminded that for all our differences in culture or language and religion, that ultimately humanity is one.

And when we face these kinds of natural disasters, whether it's in New Zealand or Haiti or Japan, then you think about your own family and you think how would you feel if you lost a loved one or if your entire life savings were gone because of the devastation.


VAUSE: Ed Henry is at the White House with more on President Obama's response to the disaster in Japan, and Ed, I guess apart from offering condolences, what else is the U.S. doing?

ED HENRY, CNN SENIOR WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT: More than anything the president has been trying to monitor the situation because as you know very early this morning he was woken up by chief of staff. The early reports were there were tsunami warnings and watches in Hawaii and the west coast. So in addition to making sure the try to U.S. get some quick aid to Japan, he also wanted to make sure the U.S., the American people were going to be safe and sound, and so far it looks like that is the case.

I think what you saw there in that sound is beyond just sort of the mechanical, let's react to this and get some aid out there. To Japan, this was a president reacting on a personal reason, for two reasons. One, he was born and grew up in Hawaii. He noted himself there's a lot of Japanese people who have moved there, live this. The culture is very much a part of Hawaii and he's familiar with it, number one.

And number two, he was asked that question by a Japanese reporter who says, what's your message to the Japanese people? So I think he got a little more personal there, and wrapped it up, by the way, by saying, look, this is a huge enormous challenge, but this is a country in Japan that is very developed, has a very strong economy, and in his words it's going to bounce back. VAUSE: It's a very strong country and well prepared for all of this, but there is also this other story. This could be a wake-up call for the U.S., for their own nuclear facilities because we've seen a nuclear power plant having trouble cooling down. There's an emergency under way. Is there any response from the station, you know, about the preparedness in the United States for this kind of emergency?

HENRY: Well, certainly that's been a huge issue, and that's why it's been well more than a decade since there's been another nuclear power plant built in the United States. By the way, the news conference today, the president was talking about high oil prices and gas prices here in the U.S., and we've got to find some alternative energy, and one of those alternatives might be nuclear power.

But you're right. This incident now and the concerns about that nuclear power plant in Japan certainly is one of the reasons why there have been many Americans concerned about building more nuclear power plants here in the U.S., and it's sort of been a debate that's been stuffed for years and years because of that very safety issue.

VAUSE: Ed Henry at the White House, thanks very much.

HENRY: Thank you.

BALDWIN: The sun is rising this very second in Japan, and it will be the first time that many people will get a look at the destruction here firsthand. We'll take you there live to Japan next.