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THE SITUATION ROOM
U.S. Help With Quake Relief; Devastation in Japan; Possible Radioactive Leak in Japan
Aired March 11, 2011 - 17:00 ET
THIS IS A RUSH TRANSCRIPT. THIS COPY MAY NOT BE IN ITS FINAL FORM AND MAY BE UPDATED.
WOLF BLITZER, HOST: Thanks very much, Brooke.
We want to welcome our viewers in the United States and around the world for the breaking news coverage of this, the earthquake catastrophe in Japan.
I'm Wolf Blitzer.
John Vause is joining us this hour over at the CNN Center in Atlanta -- John, we've got a lot of news to cover today.
Let me just give our viewers some of the highlights of what's going on right now.
Here are the details.
It's now just after 7:00 a.m. Saturday in Japan. Survivors of the strongest earthquake recorded in that country's history are seeing the enormous destruction in the harsh light of day. And they're still being shaken to the core.
Two powerful new tremors measuring higher than a magnitude of 6 struck within the last hour alone. This after the 8.9 monster quake rocked Japan Friday afternoon, unleashing a huge tsunami.
Japanese media now reporting that the death toll could be higher than 1,000. Hundreds of people are missing. Some may be trapped alive or buried in homes that were simply washed away.
The tsunami sent water rushing sever six miles inland. One area of deep concern right now, Japanese authorities are trying to cool down the temperature inside a nuclear power plant rattled by the quake. President Obama says the United States is helping to monitor the plant for possible radiation leaks.
He also sent his condolences to the victims of this disaster.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
BARACK OBAMA, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: Today's events remind us of 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) BLITZER: The president obviously deeply concerned. He's also promising the United States will do whatever it can to help the Japanese people.
Right now, John, he says military equipment, lift equipment, whatever the United States can do, it will help. Help is on the way. And he says he's deeply moved by what has happened.
And, as you know, John, he grew up in Hawaii --
JOHN VAUSE, CNN INTERNATIONAL ANCHOR: Yes.
BLITZER: -- where there's a rich Japanese culture. He's very familiar with Japan, was just there. And he, like so many other people all over the world, millions of people, are very concerned, because this tragedy, John, could only get worse and worse, as it's now daylight and we begin to see the destruction.
VAUSE: Yes, absolutely. And we know that there is now military reconnaissance underway trying to assess just how much damage has been caused by this earthquake.
The best way to understand the raw power and fear generated by the quake is to see the video and experience it for yourself.
This iReport is from Harrison Payton.
He's an English language teacher and he's living in Japan.
VAUSE: That's really incredible video.
Did you see the shingles? Look at that, shingles just being shaken from the roof of that house.
Now, Harrison Payton tells us, understandably, he was still shaking long after the tremor stopped and he put down his camera -- Wolf.
BLITZER: And it's only just the beginning, because aftershock after aftershock after aftershock, John.
And we're just now getting some of the early daylight pictures thanks to our affiliate NHK in Japan.
I want to show our viewers some of these pictures. These are -- this shows the demonstra -- the devastation, the destruction.
John, look at that water surrounding all of those buildings there from the tsunami. The waves just came in and in and in. This is certainly the worst quake in Japan's history. But the tsunami, we're only now, as sun is beginning to go up over all of Japan, just after 7:00 a.m. Saturday morning, that we're only now, John, beginning to see the enormity. VAUSE: Sure. It's very difficult to know, looking at that footage, looking at those aerial images of where the coast begins and where it stops, where the sea is and where it is in land. And, of course, one of the things about an earthquake is that you can prepare for that, you can change your construction standards. But it is very difficult, as they are now finding out in Japan, to prepare for a tsunami this powerful -- Wolf.
BLITZER: You know, I want to keep these pictures up for our viewers because these are the first live pictures coming to us from Japan showing the demonstra -- devastation. And we want to thank our affiliate, NHK World, for these pictures.
I want you to look at these pictures as we bring in now Ashley Burns.
She's an American living in Tokyo.
She felt the earthquake.
Ashley is joining us via Skype.
Ashley, tell us what you felt, what you saw and what you heard.
ASHLEY BURNS, AMERICAN LIVING IN TOKYO: Hi, Wolf.
Hi. Thank you.
Yes, I was -- I'm a junior high school teacher, so I was at school when the earthquake hit. And one of the most surprising things about it for me is how long it was. And I know everyone keeps saying that. And, you know, being from the Bay Area, being from California, I know we know -- we all know earthquakes. But this one was pretty long. It really freaked us all out.
Most of the teachers that I was with, we all ran out to the baseball field at the school that I work at. And we just waited it out there You know, some of the kids were still at school and screaming. And it was -- it was pretty chaotic.
BLITZER: You were in Tokyo, which is relatively far away. But you could clearly feel the enormous impact. 8.9 -- just to give it some perspective, the earthquake in Haiti, I think, was a 7.0. 8.9 -- this is the worst earthquake in Japan's history.
This -- these are live pictures, Ashley. They've created this helipad. NHK is showing us these live pictures, this helipad. This is where helicopters and lift equipment is going to be coming in.
I assume there are a lot of injured people that are going to have to be rescued in these areas right now. -- John, I want you to come into this conversation, as well.
Ashley Burns is standing by.
She's a teacher in Tokyo -- John, we've covered a lot of earthquakes and stories like this, but this one is -- I think, it's going to be enormous.
VAUSE: Yes, well, I mean the problem that we're having now for -- for Japan is that, obviously, they have prepared for this. But it was the sheer power of an earthquake which measures 8 or has a magnitude of 8.9. And it seemed that they are ready for an earthquake up to maybe 7 or 8.
But when you get to this power and this size of a tsunami, which has simply swept all before it -- we do know that the Japanese are very prepared. We do know that there was a wake-up call for this country in 1995, when the Kobe earthquake struck and more than 5,000 people were killed because of -- because of that. And we do know that every year, that they go through these evacuation drills and that they are prepared.
But -- and this country would be probably the best prepared country in the world to deal with an earthquake and a tsunami like this.
But when you look at these images, these first daylight pictures of all of that water and debris and mud inland, it seems that even in a country like Japan, which is a wealthy country, will certainly be struggling to recover from this.
And an interesting point, Wolf, when we talk about the Kobe earthquake, which happened back in 1995, the repair bill for that -- the damage, the economic losses back then -- and it was a much smaller earthquake -- it was estimated around 13 trillion yen, which is about $140 billion U.S.
VAUSE: And so the question now has to be asked, especially as we look at the damage here at first light, at these live pictures from our affiliate, NHK, you have to start asking not only the economic losses but, of course, more seriously, what will be the human toll in all of this?
The death toll now standing at 188 people. But, of course, that will surely rise as these search crews begin to fan out through -- amongst all this devastation and destruction and to try and find those people who survived this -- Wolf.
BLITZER: Stand by for a moment, because Kyung Lah, our correspondent in Tokyo, is now joining us -- Kyung, I know you've had an unbelievably difficult day today, but where are you now and exactly what's going on?
KYUNG LAH, CNN CORRESPONDENT: I'm about 150 miles south of the region that's been hardest hit, that Sendai region, where we've seen that tsunami come across and devastate all those agricultural plains, the airport, the town.
What we're heading to and trying to understand, now that it's daylight, is how extensive is this -- is this?
How -- what kind of a scope are we talking about?
All throughout the evening, everyone has been saying we're expecting this. Here are the missing numbers. But it's now, when the daylight has broken here in Japan, that we're really going to understand exactly what we're dealing with.
Rescue crews are trying to get there as quickly as possible. We heard the prime minister say that he's heading up here in a helicopter. The reason why -- most of the runways are out. Roadways are devastated. Highways are gone. They're also not allowing traffic on the highways because there's been so many aftershocks. The fear is, in fact, the highways could collapse.
But we're on a country road trying to move as quickly as we can to that region. But it's proving to be very difficult.
In the city of Tokyo, there has been absolute gridlock because the rail system is down. And without the rail system and without the highway system, the city roads simply cannot handle the amount of traffic that's going to ensue, with commuters trying to get in and out of city.
So it's been a very, very long night, both for the people trying to get in and out of Tokyo, but also, certainly, for the people hardest hit in this quake and tsunami -- Wolf.
VAUSE: Kyung, it's John Vause here at the CNN Center in Atlanta.
I just want to back up a bit to your experience. You were caught on the subway when this earthquake actually happened. So describe for us what that was like.
But I also understand that it was fairly calm, as well, at the time. There wasn't a great deal of panic, despite this earthquake, which happened at, what, about 2:46 in the afternoon local time.
BLITZER: I think we may have lost Kyung.
LAH: Yes, it's --
BLITZER: John, can you hear me?
It's Wolf in Washington.
I think, John, we lost her.
VAUSE: We seem to have lost Kyung.
BLITZER: She's having a difficult day -- a very difficult day. She's been on the road for hours now. She left Tokyo hours ago. I'm guessing seven, eight hours ago. She's been struggling with horrendous traffic on all the major highways heading north toward the epicenter, toward this area. We're looking at these live pictures courtesy of our affiliate, NHK. And you can see the devastation, the water from -- the flood, the waves just -- just ripping apart this area -- Kyung, I don't know if you're back with us yet.
Are you back there yet?
Kyung, can you hear me?
LAH: Our cells -- cells are really spotty (INAUDIBLE).
BLITZER: All right. Well, if you can hear me, Kyung, walk us through what it's been like trying to drive from Tokyo up north to this area of this devastation.
BLITZER: She's got a bad cell.
BLITZER: So we're going to let her continue to move, John, as we try to get a --
VAUSE: And these pictures are --
BLITZER: -- a better cell.
VAUSE: These pictures are truly incredible, Wolf, when we look at all of this water inland. And this is a situation very similar to what I'm told happened here in the United States during Hurricane Katrina. All of this water came in. It crossed over the coast and then that's where it stayed. And the problem that you're going to have now, that we're being told by experts who know a lot more about this stuff than I do, but what they're saying is that with all of this water now inland, there's going to be a very difficult time trying to -- trying to get it out, trying to get it back out to sea.
And in that water there's built up disease and debris. And so there's, naturally, the beginnings of a health crisis amongst all of this debris. You have no idea what is actually inside all of this water.
There's no electricity there. There's no clean drinking water for the people who now live in this part of Japan.
So this is -- the disaster may be over, Wolf, with the earthquake and the tsunami, but the catastrophe, really, is only just beginning.
BLITZER: Yes. People are going to be struggling for a long, long time. And as I sense, based on everything I've been hearing all day, it's only -- once we get the -- the evidence of the enormity of what's going on, it's going to be heartbreaking, indeed, around the world, especially for the people in Japan.
Japan has, also, in the meantime, declared a nuclear emergency. We're taking a closer look at deep concerns right now that the quake damaged nuclear power plants and Japan might -- repeat might start leaking radiation.
And hundreds of people are missing in the shaken and flooded areas of Japan. We're going to hear from one Japanese-American desperately trying to reach her 86-year-old mother to find out if she's OK.
Much more of the breaking news coverage out of Japan, right after this.
BLITZER: First an earthquake, then a tsunami. Look at this. This was the tsunami -- the disaster that occurred about 12, 14 hours ago, as this water just came in. And the devastation that it caused, it went on and on and on.
John Vause is watching this with us, as well. These are pictures -- John, no matter how many times you've seen the pictures, you can't believe the power of this tsunami.
VAUSE: Yes, absolutely, Wolf. And the real danger here is obviously the water. But when you look at what's happening, look in that water. Look at all of that debris -- the houses, the cars -- everything was just being swept away.
If you get caught in that -- emergency crews and rescuers say there really is very, very little hope for survival. And we saw that in places like Banda Aceh during the 2004 tsunami there.
But, obviously, this is -- this is the end result of a 23-foot tsunami.
VAUSE: Completely and totally devastating.
BLITZER: I mean and some of the -- some of that tsunami went at least six miles, or 10 kilometer -- 10 kilometers inland, destroying houses, buildings, homes, everything in its path as it was going on. And you can just see that destruction continuing.
I want to show our viewers now some live pictures. That was 12, 14 hours ago. But these are now live pictures courtesy of our affiliate, NHK, in Japan. You can see the smoke still coming up. The fires -- that's been one of the byproducts of this disaster from this earthquake and the multiple, multiple aftershocks that have occurred. An 8.9 magnitude earthquake. Some of these aftershocks, John, have been in the range of 6 -- 6.5. These would, under normal circumstances, be horrendous earthquakes to begin with. But as aftershocks, they only have made the situation so much worse.
VAUSE: Yes. I think There was even an aftershock measuring up to a magnitude of 7.0 at one point. And they're actually saying normally, that would be considered a major quake in and of itself. And seismologists will tell that you that there will be a number -- a lot of these aftershocks in the days and weeks to come. So there is more misery in store for all of the victims. And there will be a lot of victims. A lot of people have been impacted by this earthquake and by this tsunami.
And, of course, there is a lot of rescue work to be done, a lot of rebuilding, simply just trying to get the water out of this area.
What we're being told about these live pictures is that they're actually on the Pacific side of -- of the island of Japan. And the -- the camera crew has actually been zooming in and out, looking at the tops of these buildings, trying to find anybody who may have maybe made it up to the roof of their home or their building and needs to be rescued, because right now, the sun has come up and there is light. We know that these rescue operations will get underway in full swing.
Over the past 12 hours or so, the Japanese military, the air force, have been flying reconnaissance missions to try and map out the disaster zone, to get out as much information as they can. Phone lines have been badly damaged. The cell phone system is down. And so they just have to go up there and have to see it for themselves.
And that is what they've been doing. Now that it is first light, they'll have a much better assessment, in the coming hours, of where those resources need to be placed to try and save as many people as possible -- Wolf.
BLITZER: You know, John, I want to bring back Kyung Lah.
We've reestablished contact with her on the phone. I know the cell service has been spotty, Kyung.
And I just want to reset.
You started off the day in Tokyo. Eventually, you got into a car and started driving north toward this area of the devasta -- of the devastation from the tsunami.
About how many miles or kilometers have you managed to get over the past, let's say, eight hours that you've been in this car?
LAH: The past eight?
Well, let's see, I've been in the car almost -- I want to say almost nine hours. And we've gone, let's see, about 100 kilometers or so --
BLITZER: Which is about 60 miles.
LAH: And we're still -- yes. We're still at least 140 miles away from the hard-hit area.
And I have to tell you, Wolf, we just drove -- drove through the small town of Sapporo City. And we noticed that there is no power in this town. It's 140 miles away from the hardest hit area and we're already starting to see the effects.
We have not seen any damage yet. But as we get closer and closer, we're anticipating that we're going to start seeing some.
There isn't that much traffic heeding up to this region anymore. And as we've experienced, communications is extraordinarily difficult out of this area, as well.
So, you know, we're certainly, at least from our viewpoint, we're going to start to understand the challenges that some of the rescuers are going to be facing as they reach this area.
BLITZER: I know you're driving toward the disaster area -- Kyung.
Is it -- is there a lot of traffic in the other direction, people trying to escape from that area?
LAH: There are a lot of trucks heading down through the region. But I can't quit tell if this is ordinary traffic or these are people just trying to escape. It's very, very difficult to tell. No one is speeding. It does not appear to be, you know, floods of people screaming out of the region. So everything does appear to be orderly as of yet.
And what we want to make clear is that we're on, you know, back roads. We're not on the main highway. So, you know, from what we can tell, it appears to be relatively calm.
BLITZER: And tell our viewers, if they don't know, why you're on the back roads as opposed to the main highway. These are -- by the way, we're showing pictures now from our other affiliate, Japan TV Asahi. And we see the flames still continuing as a result of this earthquake. This is a devastation that we haven't seen in a long time.
But go ahead -- Kyung.
LAH: The reason why we're on these back roads is because the highways are shut down for primary traffic. The reason why the highways are shut down is in Japan, many parts of a highway are elevated. That's for a number of reasons, you know, the primary thing being that you can travel much faster on that highway here in Japan.
But they don't want a lot of commuters or a lot of traffic or certainly any truck traffic on elevated roads, especially when you consider the number of aftershocks we feel.
We actually just experienced an aftershock where we were traveling relatively slowly in our car. And our car has a sensor. And it warned us that we were experiencing an earthquake. So these aftershocks are still coming. They are coming one after the other. And while they're not, you know, very alarming, where we feel something significant while we're moving in a car, certainly as -- as we're getting a little bit closer, you know, you do feel the aftershocks a bit more forcefully. BLITZER: Kyung, stand by.
We're going to be touching base with you. We're going to be checking in with you frequently, because we know you're heading into that disaster area.
Be careful on this drive -- John, I can only tell you and what our viewers already can see now that it's daylight in Japan, this destruction, this devastation. It will become more and more apparent with each hour.
VAUSE: Yes, absolutely, Wolf.
And footage continues to come in of the devastating power of this massive earthquake in Japan. We'll show you more that have dramatic video.
And you'll see and hear those terrifying moments all caught on tape. We'll show you a shocking report from one of our CNN iReporters, plus more live pictures as the sun rises over Japan.
You're in THE SITUATION ROOM.
BLITZER: We're getting some live pictures. Look at this devastation. Look at this destruction. These cars obviously from the tsunami, from the earthquake, destroyed. You see the fires courtesy of our affiliate now. These are pictures coming in from TV Asahi right now. This is still going on, what, 12, 14 hours after this earthquake struck, an 8.9 magnitude earthquake. These are -- these are NHK pictures coming in, as well.
Wow! These pictures are -- this devastation is still going on.
John Vause is here in THE SITUATION ROOM with us.
We're watching this.
And as the sunlight is up now, clearly, over all of Japan -- it's early Saturday morning there -- we can begin to appreciate the enormity of this tragedy.
VAUSE: Yes, Wolf. This -- this is the first chance we've had to see just how bad, how much damage has been caused by this tsunami.
Take a look at this. These are cars which have been swept together because of the power of this tsunami. In some earlier footage that we've seen from our affiliate there at NHK, they were -- they were on and fire going from one vehicle to the other. This appears to be a fire at what looks like an oil refinery. And, of course, there are some taped pictures from the evening. It must have been a terrifying night for everybody in Japan, with so many aftershocks being recorded over the past 12 or 16 hours or so. Japanese emergency crews have been working through the night and into the morning. The earthquake rescue and recovery operation will likely go many days, many weeks.
The United States is promising to help.
So let's bring in our Pentagon correspondent, Barbara Starr -- Barbara, what's the U.S. military doing?
BARBARA STARR, CNN PENTAGON CORRESPONDENT: Well, John, the U.S. military is trying to weigh in and help where it can very rapidly.
What they are doing right now is trying to get some assessment information from the Japanese to see where the priorities are. The devastation is widespread and so terrible that, you know, somebody has to prioritize and decide where to begin on all of this, where to start looking for survivors who may be trapped.
So as that assessment takes place, as we see daylight unfold, dozens of U.S. Navy assets may get involved.
I want to just show you the map that we have plotted out. These -- these dots will show you where about eight Navy warships already across the Pacific are getting underway and setting sail for Japan.
Just off Japan's East Coast, the lead is the aircraft carrier Ronald Reagan. It has a number of helicopters on board that will be able to help. Other ships coming from Malaysia, from Singapore, U.S. Navy ships all over the place.
What you are going to start seeing, as things get prioritized, is some of those heavy lift helicopters begin to conduct operations offshore Japan. They can go in, work with Japanese self-defense forces, carry in water, food, tents, medical supplies, help carry out survivors, those who need critical medical care. It will be very important to get people help as rapidly as they can.
What you are now seeing is the USS Blue Ridge earlier today in Singapore, the first humanitarian relief supplies loading up on this U.S. Navy warship in Singapore. It is setting sail for Japan, as well.
Expect to see the U.S. Navy get involved, the U.S. military, John. But, of course, other nations around the world weighing in, government organizations, relief organizations, everybody getting involved as rapidly as they can -- John.
VAUSE: And Barbara, there's 38,000 U.S. military personnel stationed in Japan. All of them are accounted for, 45,000 dependants as well. But I understand there is a formality here before U.S. military personnel who are currently stationed in Japan can actually come to the assistance of the Japanese government. Walk us through that.
STARR: Well, right. I mean, look, we've seen this, sadly, in so many disasters around the world -- in the 2004 tsunami, in the Pakistan earthquake, in Chile, in Haiti. The U.S. military, you know, to overstate the obvious, doesn't just go into a country and start operating. They work out the details with the host government that needs the help. They get permission. They work out all the rules of the road, the engagement, the access. And really, to a large extent, once they get this worked out with the Japanese government, it again comes back to that issue of priorities.
They want to know, what are priorities? The Japanese government is flying these reconnaissance flights. The U.S. is already helping with that.
They are trying to map out from above, from the air, where the top priorities are. You know, the urge is to just send everything in at once. That doesn't do anybody very much good. They have to set priorities and look where they can do the most good, as rapidly as possible, and get the survivors out, get medical care in and try to help as many people as they can --. John.
VAUSE: OK, Barbara. Thank you.
Barbara Starr, live for us at the Pentagon.
Let's go back to Wolf.
BLITZER: You know, the pictures, as we look at the pictures, especially the live pictures coming in from TV Asahi, from NHK, John, in Japan, and you see this devastation, it's hard to believe that Mother Nature could cause this kind of destruction, an 8.9 magnitude earthquake, followed by an enormous tsunami. This is something that's going to be hard for a lot of us to comprehend in the coming days --
BLITZER: -- as we watch this unfolding, not only the floods and the destruction but the fires that are still continuing as well.
VAUSE: And, of course, we're looking at the area which has been flooded by the tsunami, which is one of the coastal areas in the north of the country which has been particularly hard hit. But this earthquake was felt up and down the country, and what was interesting is the situation in Tokyo, the capital, is that buildings there continued to sway for 30 minutes after this earthquake struck just as an indication of how powerful it was.
And the other point, too, to make, is that it did not cause panic or chaos because the people of Japan are very much used to this, at least in the city of Tokyo. We don't know what the situation would have been like in the north of the country.
What you see there, vehicles piled up there, like in a used car lot, just simply tossed around and then left in this waterlogged field. And, of course, getting rid of that water is going to be the next problem. And here's another problem, those oil refineries which continue to burn now and, of course, there continues to be that problem with the nuclear power plant -- Wolf.
BLITZER: Just multiply all of this by a lot, and you know the devastation. These are just little areas that we're seeing.
Certainly, John, a lot of concern about whether a nuclear plant in Japan has a radioactive leak or not. We're keeping a close watch on the situation, the danger, if there is in fact a leak, and also the path of destruction. We'll map out where the quake hit and how it unleashed that enormous tsunami.
Much more of our special breaking news coverage here in THE SITUATION ROOM, right after this.
VAUSE: And to our viewers around the world and in the United States, welcome back to our continuing coverage of the earthquake and tsunami in Japan.
Right now we are looking at live pictures from our affiliate, TV Asahi. It is now 7:36 a.m. in Japan. This is first light, the first scene after this devastating magnitude 8.9 quake, and we are seeing people on rooftops who are waving for help. And amongst all of that water, as the camera zooms in, maybe we can see what is happening down there on the ground.
People actually -- they look to be stranded because of the water. That's some kind of fire there, Wolf.
Obviously, there are many, many people here who will need to be rescued in the coming hour because so many area have been inundated by this tsunami, which was a 23-foot tsunami which has just dumped water inland. In some places, as far as the eye can see -- Wolf.
BLITZER: You can see these people waving as helicopters are flying by. And this TV Asahi The helicopter flying by with its own camera on board, and you can see people on rooftops.
Look at those folks on top of that roof over there. They're simply waving. They want help. They need help right now.
It's been 12 or 14 hours, I'm guessing, since that earthquake and tsunami struck this part of Japan, and these people are desperate. It sort of reminds me, John, of Hurricane Katrina, when people were out on rooftops, simply trying to get a white flag out there to say help, help, help. These are desperate people that we're watching right now.
VAUSE: And, of course, in a situation like this it is now -- I make it coming up to 17 hours since that earthquake struck. And for these people in this part of Japan right now, there would be no running water, there would be no electricity.
As you say, Wolf, they are desperate for help. And this will be the focus of these operations, of these rescue operations which will be under way, we would imagine, momentarily, which is why the U.S. has sent the aircraft carrier Ronald Reagan into the area.
We can see a man spelling out the word in English "Help" on the roof of that building. Others nearby have also been waving to try and attract the attention of this camera crew and the helicopter belonging to TV Asahi, our affiliate there, one of our affiliates there in Japan. But, of course, this is a desperate situation for so many people.
And, of course, we're only now just finding out how bad it is for so many people up and down the coast of Japan.
BLITZER: Yes. And I suspect they are also writing the word "Help" in Japanese as well. I don't read Japanese, but it looks like the Japanese characters are there.
These people are on top of this building, and it looks like they are desperate, desperate, desperate. And I assume that if this helicopter from TV Asahi continues to fly over this area, we're going to see a lot of people on top of these buildings. People who survived the earthquake, survived the tsunami are simply begging for help, get me out of here --
VAUSE: And we spoke to General Honore, who led the recovery and the rescue in Hurricane Katrina, and he told us earlier that the main effort now is to get assets in place, to get helicopters, to get rescuers there to simply try and reach these people. He said it doesn't have to be pretty, it doesn't have to be organized in any major way. It just has to start happening.
And that is what I imagine we'll start seeing in the hours ahead now that there is daylight over this area which has been so badly impacted by this earthquake and this tsunami. And as we say, that is why the U.S. is sending the aircraft carrier Ronald Reagan, because it does have a number of helicopters on board which can do heavy lifting and can be involved in the rescue of people like this.
And that's not to say that the Japanese military doesn't have substantial capability as well. We know they, too, have been involved in reconnaissance already to assess the full scope of this situation -- Wolf.
BLITZER: Yes. You can see if that camera pans out a little bit, you see all the water surrounding this building, especially on the right side of the screen.
In the meantime, these folks are just waving white flags, anything they can to get the attention of some of these helicopters flying overhead. Once we go wide here, you'll see the water surrounding this building, and it's obviously a major area.
These people can't leave the roof and go down because it's water all around. The tsunami came in and literally engulfed this entire area.
VAUSE: There is simply nowhere for these people to go, and on that closer shot what we could see was a number of vehicles, cars and trucks, which appear to have slammed into the side of that building there, just to give you an idea of how powerful this tsunami is. You have to wonder how much damage that building has sustained, and how it's still standing right now given everything that it's gone through. But obviously right now a number of people on the roof of that building desperate for help -- Wolf.
BLITZER: It's 7:41 a.m. local time, Saturday morning in Japan right now, so at least they've got daylight out there. Can you imagine how scared these people must have been when it was dark?
There's no power in this area, no electricity. All of that power was lost with the earthquake, followed by the tsunami. At least now they're out and about on top of the roof. They can't go down, but they're desperate. And I'm sure there's similar scenes going on all over this area.
One thing about our coverage, John, of this tsunami and this earthquake, Japan is very technological, very sophisticated. We'll see images over these coming hours that we probably wouldn't have seen in many other countries because of the very nature of the sophisticated television ability of TV Asahi and NHK and other TV stations in Japan. We'll get access to images I suspect many of us won't want to see, but it's part of our job to bring these pictures to our viewers.
VAUSE: Absolutely. And another point about the fact that this has been so widely covered and captured, be it on cell phone footage or by TV crews, that this is providing valuable information for oceanographers and for scientists in actually understanding how tsunamis happen and their impact.
Now, many of these images have been very disturbing when we've seen the destruction and the damage and the devastation which is being caused, but this is really the first time, we're told, that a tsunami like this has been caught on video and recorded, providing valuable information. Not much help for these people right now, but it will help in future situations and in efforts trying to make future provisions to withstand future tsunamis.
BLITZER: Take a look at this. Yes, pretty shocking stuff.
All right. We have a lot more to watch. This breaking news is continuing.
There's a new tsunami alert 17 hours after the initial tsunami. We'll tell you where that is, a tsunami warning, I should say.
Also, nuclear fears as a result of the nuclear power plants in Japan, radiation leaks. How serious are they?
Jeanne Meserve is working that story. We'll continue the breaking news coverage right after this.
VAUSE: And welcome back to our coverage of the earthquake in Japan.
This was the moment the earthquake struck. This supermarket, in the capital, Tokyo.
You can see the power of this magnitude 8.9 tremor as the shelves in this supermarket are rattled. Produce and cans fall to the floor, and the staff inside this supermarket head for cover as this quake rattles not just this supermarket, not just Tokyo, but all of Japan.
After that earthquake, then came the devastating tsunami, which we have seen the end result of as the sun rises over Japan. But that was the moment of the earthquake as it struck in Tokyo -- Wolf.
BLITZER: Yes. And that was just in Tokyo, where the real epicenter was not that close to Tokyo. You can only imagine, John, what was going on further to the north, where that 8.9 magnitude earthquake really, really hit.
Kyung Lah, our correspondent in Japan, is now on the road towards that devastation.
Kyung, you just stopped. Tell us where you are and what's behind you.
LAH: The reason why we stopped, Wolf, is that we're starting to see the effects of the earthquake and the tsunami, and they are minor here, but we just wanted to stop and show you something, because anyone who is familiar with Japan will know exactly what this tells you.
What you're seeing over my shoulder here, that is the famous Japanese bullet train. The bullet train is simply not moving. They are stopped.
There are two train lines that we can see here stopped, one behind the other. We don't know if there are passengers aboard there.
From what the rail lines have said, they have tried to evacuate people as quickly as they can, trying to get people out of the rail lines. Kyodo News is reporting north of where we are, there are four train lines that are currently missing, four trains that at this point are unaccounted for. So these two, we can tell you, they are here. But these Shinkansen, the Japanese bullet trains, they are on average delayed only 30 seconds. We just met with --
BLITZER: All right. It looks like that signal --
LAH: -- the train folks this past week -- so to see them halted like this, this tells us that there is a national emergency going on here.
BLITZER: When you see that bullet train just stopped there -- and a lot of us have seen video of those bullet trains in Japan -- simply zooming along, that train has no place to go. Why? Because the tracks have been destroyed? Is that what I'm sensing, Kyung?
LAH: You know, just because I've actually met with the rail line people this past week, we know exactly how the earthquake system works. All along the lines there are earthquake sensors. If there is an earthquake and the rail line becomes slightly askew, they stop the train lines. If they feel that the rail lines are going to be compromised in any manner, stop.
They are highly magnetized. These trains run at an extraordinarily high rate of speed. There has never been, according to the rail people, any sort of collision involving the Japanese bullet trains.
There have been accidents with some of the local rail lines, but not with the bullet trains. And so to see these magnificent vessels, really, for this country stopped on the rail lines, this really does tell you that there is something very serious going on in this country.
We're still about 130 miles southwest of where the tsunami struck this coastline. So, as we head for the north, we're expecting to see many more signs and much more devastation as we head toward that area. But we just wanted to stop and give you a look at that.
VAUSE: And Kyung, it's John here at the CNN Center in Atlanta.
One point about the bullet trains and rail network is that this is a country that relies on the rail network. Ten million people a day take the train.
Now, how is this going to impact the country in the days and weeks ahead?
LAH: Well, you're talking about a country that simply can't move. Now, we have heard that certain lines have begun opening up to the west of Tokyo, further south of this area, that those are starting to move. But without the rail lines for the country of Japan, this is a country that is simply paralyzed.
It is much faster to get anywhere on the rail lines versus a car. You know, we're experiencing it ourselves. If you don't have the high-speed rail system, it just takes a very long time to get around.
So that's why rescue crews today are going to take to the air. And again, taking to the air, they're going to have to go to helicopters, because the runways here are compromised. So there are a number of logistical challenges facing the rescue crews who are trying to get up to the devastated area.
VAUSE: Kyung, thank you so much. We'll let you go to continue your way to the epicenter of this earthquake to try and make it up to where most of the devastation is. We appreciate that, Kyung. Thank you.
Back to you, Wolf.
BLITZER: And on top of everything else, John, there's deep concern right now that some of these nuclear power plants in Japan may have been compromised, radiation could be leaking. We're going to check this out. Jeanne Meserve has been working this story. We'll take another quick break. We'll go to this part of the story when we come back.
VAUSE: And this was the scene just over 17 hours ago in northern Japan when that tsunami swept everything before it, taking out houses and cars, picking up vehicles and tossing them around. Incredible video as this 23-foot tsunami made its way six miles inland in northern Japan. Right now, in some parts, it is difficult to know where the coast ends and where the land begins.
Another amazing scene, as this tsunami, the power of that devastation, continues to cause huge problems across Japan, Wolf, as we now have daylight there and there's a chance to finally assess the full impact of this damage. And just look at those images. They really are extraordinary.
BLITZER: Yes. Look at this. This is really shocking, this video that we're seeing from the devastation from the tsunami.
This was land, but it's now all water. When you think about the waves coming in, let's say at 10 feet or whatever, and the waves coming in at this powerful rate -- not just a wave, but for long, long distances, and the water that's just thrust on the land, destroying everything in its wake, it's really heartbreaking to see this.
And among other things, Japan's Kyodo News agency is now reporting that some radioactivity may be leaking from a nuclear reactor north of Tokyo. There are concerns right now that in the aftermath of the earthquake, this reactor may be losing its ability to adequately cool its core.
Our homeland security correspondent, Jeanne Meserve, she's monitoring this situation for us.
Jeanne, Japan's prime minister said earlier in the day there was no evidence of radioactive leaks. But then, since then, there have been some other reports suggesting there are concerns.
How dangerous potentially is the situation?
JEANNE MESERVE, CNN HOMELAND SECURITY CORRESPONDENT: Well, there is some new information. And Japan's Kyodo News agency, citing the country's Nuclear and Industrial Safety Agency, reports radiation levels eight times normal are being measured at a monitoring post near the main gate of one of the country's nuclear plants.
MESERVE (voice-over): Rattling in the earthquake, Japan's Fukushima Daiichi nuclear power plant. An American working inside told his wife of falling lights and windows. JANICE EUDY, WIFE OF NUCLEAR PLANT WORKER: Everything was shaking. And the next thing, they were told to get out, leave, evacuate.
MESERVE: Three thousand people living close to the plant were also told to get out.
BARACK OBAMA, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: So far, they have not seen evidence of radiation leaks, but obviously you've got to take all potential precautions.
MESERVE: When the quake hit, the reactor automatically shut down. But power coming into the plant was also disrupted, shutting down the system which cools the reactor core, which is very hot, even when the plant isn't running.
JIM WALSH, INTERNATIONAL SECURITY ANALYST: It's sort of like putting a pan in the oven. You can turn the oven off, but if you go in and reach for that pan, you're going to burn yourself because the pan is still hot.
MESERVE: The cooling system has redundancies. When the grid goes down, emergency generators are supposed to kick in. But those were flooded. Right now, batteries are running the system.
If they run out, and another source of power isn't restored, the core could overheat and possibly melt down. The plant is designed to contain the radioactivity, but the pressure could be extreme.
PAUL GUNTER, BEYOND NUCLEAR: The concern is, is that we could literally blow the roof off this reactor.
MESERVE: In 1986, the reactor at Chernobyl in Russia ruptured, sending a plume of radioactivity over Europe. The nuclear power industry says nothing like that is likely at the Fukushima Daiichi reactor.
TONY PIETRANGELO, NUCLEAR ENERGY INSTITUTE: That's very, very remote. The containment, from all reports that we've heard, is intact. There hasn't been any fuel damage yet. They are cooling the core.
MESERVE: We do have this late update. The evacuation zone around the plant has been enlarged now to 10 kilometers. The U.S. government is monitoring the situation and has offered assistance -- Wolf.
BLITZER: That's a very worrisome part of the story, Jeanne. Thanks. We'll stay on top of it.
Much more of the breaking news coverage right after this.