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Special Coverage: Quake Tsunami Disaster; Report From Deserted, Devastated Sendai; Quake Brings On Nuclear Emergency

Aired March 12, 2011 - 03:00   ET


BECKY ANDERSON, CNN INTERNATIONAL ANCHOR: As fast as the water swept across Northeastern Japan, it has now receded, leaving behind a mess of mud and debris. Stunning new video coming into CNN from the disaster in Japan.

Hello and welcome to our viewers from the United States and around the world. I'm Becky Anderson in London. You are watching world report here on CNN.

Japan has declared states of emergency at two nuclear power plants. Japan's nuclear agency said a small amount of proactive cesium has escaped into the air surrounding one of the plants in the Fukushima Prefecture. The agency says there is a strong possibility that this was caused by the melting of a fuel rod, adding that plant managers are continuing to cool the fuel by pumping water around the rods.

Japanese media says radiation levels are more than eight times normal, near the Daiichi and Daini plants in Fukushima. It is about 250 kilometers northeast of Tokyo. The plants are having problems with their cooling systems after Friday's monster quake unleashed a terrifying 10-meter high tsunami that tore through coastal towns and cities. People who live near the affected plants have been evacuated. An expert we talked with earlier says this is a very dangerous situation.

Well, a new day in Japan with new scenes of devastation caused by a massive earthquake and tsunami. This is the town, or the scene at least, in the town of Miyako, almost 24 hours after the earthquake struck.

A Japanese news agency now reports 433 people are confirmed dead. Almost 800 others are missing. Rescuers are reaching for survivors. We do know what scores of buildings are collapsed or damaged. At least 4 million homes in Tokyo are without power.

Our correspondent Paula Hancocks is part of the CNN team heading to the quake zone. She joins us now from Sendai.

What can you tell us, Paula?

PAULA HANCOCKS, CNN INTERNATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Well, Becky, just seconds before you came to me there was another tsunami warning. We are just close to the Sendai port. We are away from the evacuation zone, which is why we are quite so far away from the water. This is the second tidal wave warning that we have heard in the past half hour. There is a siren followed by a woman announcing get out of the evacuation area immediately.

Now, we have been seeing a half hour ago some cars leaving this area. They are certainly taking these warnings very seriously. This is why we're not that close to the water itself. It shows that this is an ongoing situation. It shows that there are still people in these areas and there are still the threat of further tsunamis.

Obviously with the aftershocks that come from such a huge earthquake, 8.9 magnitude, are going be pretty sizable in themselves; which is always going to will trigger concerns that it could trigger another tsunami.

You can see the devastation behind me. There are cars that have just been twisted into piles of metal. They are on top of each other. Some of them are twisted around polls. Further down closer to the water we can also see some full size lorries that have actually been smashed into buildings. The buildings themselves are still standing. You can see a huge, just behind that Ferris wheel there, a huge, thick black plume of smoke. We have been watching this for some time we have tried to go a bit closer, but the tsunami warnings are keeping us away from the water.

Now, what the local residents are telling us is that they believe that's the area of a factory where they think this is -- there has either been a gas explosion, or some fuel is burning off. It has been like that, they say, since yesterday. It has been like that for 24 hours.

The rescue workers just cannot get close enough to actually try and put it out. Certainly people are fairly jumpy here at the moment. You can see it is a pretty empty area. There is debris, there is mud everywhere across this particular area of the port. And everywhere you look there are smashed up, mangled cars, Becky.

ANDERSON: Yes, sort of a scene of Armageddon to a certain extent. And you brought up something which I wanted to follow up on with you. There don't seem to be many people around. Have you spoke to people in the region? What are they saying at this point?

HANCOCKS: We have spoke to a couple of people here at this particular area of Sendai, there are not actually many people still here. It was very interesting driving from the west of Sendai. This is a coastal city on the east coast, obviously.

We drove east into the city and it looked like any normal metropolis. There was no indication that anything was wrong until you turned a corner and there were 100 cars queuing up for gas. There is a shortage of gas at this point. There are people telling us that they have to queue up for a half an hour, sometimes an hour, and then they are allowed 10 liters only.

And also you drive around another corner and you see 100 people queuing for the one drugstore that is open in this town; 100 people queuing for the one grocery store that is open in this town. And most of the shelves are empty.

Now there is very little, if any, electricity in the shops and in the houses of this particular city. And as we were driving in there was a huge queue of cars driving out. We were one of the few ones actually driving in.

So, certainly people are trying to get out of the area. Because it is particularly difficult to live here at the moment. It is cold. It is about 4 or 5 degrees Celsius and without electricity that makes it even more miserable for the residents here, Becky.

ANDERSON: Paula, just give me a sense then of how the land lies around you. Over your right shoulder you said there was a Ferris wheel and behind that, you believe, there may be a building on fire? Is the sea directly behind you, because we saw pictures of Sendai yesterday being engulfed by this wave.

HANCOCKS: Yes, it is directly behind me. That is the port. We have not managed to go any further north at this point. We have been prevented from getting too close to the water because of the warnings themselves.

Now we were there just a little while ago and you can see, as I say, a lot of damage to cars and to trucks. Not necessarily to buildings themselves. They still seem to be-excuse me-still seem to standing and seem to have withheld the force of this water.

The fact is the water is approximately half a mile behind me, maybe less, and the cars that are mangled go on in front of me. You can see the sheer force of the water to manage to carry these cars quite so far, managing to smash them against buildings.

And as I say, many trucks have actually been carried this far. Many are wrapped around electricity pylons or caught up trees.

So, it is really quite spectacular to see just what sort of force this water had. But I should mention it didn't fell buildings in this particular area. We understand, maybe further north, that is where even further damage is, Becky.

ANDERSON: Fascinating. Paula Hancocks for you. The cold light of day and the debris around her there, in Sendai.

Paula, thank you for that.

Let's get to Stan Grant. He has now arrived in Japan, and he talks to us now from Tokyo.

What have you got there, Stan?

STAN GRANT, CNN SENIOR INTERNATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Yes, Becky, let's bring you up to date on the situation with the nuclear reactors. Now, I have been hearing a lot about nuclear emergency. This situation that is occurring at the two nuclear power reactors at Fukushima.

It is about 150 miles, 260 kilometers from where I am standing, here, in Tokyo. Now at the time of the quake both reactors were shut down. That is what is expected to happen. But there was then an interruption to another power source, which has lead to these pooling problems. There have been reports that some parts it is three times higher, three times hotter than normal.

Now, that has led to radioactive steam being released to try to relieve some of the pressure from this overheating. Now, Tokyo Electric Power, which runs these reactors says that these radioactive substances had been seeping into the atmosphere, but they are not dangerous at this stage. However, of course, there is now an exclusion zone. People have been evacuated in a 10-kilometer radius surrounding those nuclear power plants.

Now there is a separate issue. And this is what has come to life in the last hour or so. I just want to refer you to a comment from the spokesman from Japan's nuclear industrial energy agency.

Now this is what he has told CNN, he doesn't want to be identified, but a small amount of cesium has escaped into the air. That indicates a strong possibility that it was caused by a melting fuel rod.

Now plant engineers continue to pump water in there to try to cool that. At this stage they are not saying that is a dangerous situation, but this seems to be coming up, which is another indication of how complicated the situation is becoming here, Becky.

ANDERSON: Fascinating. At this point, then, should we be alarmed, I guess?

GRANT: Of course, any situation with a nuclear reactor. Japan is one of the most nuclear countries in the world. It depends on these nuclear reactors for about a third of the country's electricity. Obviously, it is a country that is very prone to earthquakes. This one, the other day, the enormity of that has added to the problems and once again, it has thrown into question the use of nuclear power and the safeguards and all the rest of it.

But of course, Japan is very used to dealing with these situations, very skilled at dealing with these situations. And they say they are continuing to try and cool that plant to minimize any risk.

Naoto Kan, the prime minister, has toured that area today and he is also reiterating that there is not a risk at this point to people in the surrounding area despite the fact that they have been evacuated in the 10-kilometer radius as they say.

He also flew over the most damaged areas of the quake zone. Particularly where that tsunami pushed up into the land and you heard Paula describing the situation there. He said, and he told his cabinet, that today is the day to really take stock and to think about the situation of the people in Japan, to try to alleviate the situation and continue the rescue effort, Becky.

ANDERSON: All right, Stan, thank you for that. Stan Grant as we move through the morning. We thank you, Stan.

Meteorologist Ivan Cabrera was on duty when the quake hit. He has been following the numerous aftershocks after hitting Japan and monitoring weather conditions.

Ivan Cabrera, I apologize for pronouncing your name incorrectly.


ANDERSON: We have better things to do than get our names right at this point.

Tell us what's going on? What's the forecast at this point?

CABRERA: Well, I want to do two things here, Becky. I want to talk about the aftershocks which are still significant. And you mentioned there, as far as the latest tsunami warning here, the entire Pacific Basin has been cleared as far as the tsunami warnings. But what's happening is, right along the coastal area of Japan, we continue to get these aftershocks. Some of which are significant, some of which could actually generate additional tsunamis.

So the original 8.9 tsunami, we're done with that. Any subsequent warnings are because of the aftershocks that are very numerous here, and could certainly generate earthquakes that could produce localized tsunamis there along the coast, but not destructive Pacific-wide tsunamis. Let's get that straight here.

Look at the totals here, Becky; 173, that is how many total since the 8.9, we have had as far as aftershocks. And 127 have been significant, in fact, we go higher up on the list, these can cause significant additional damage to what we have already had. So we'll have to watch that closely and as you know these earthquakes, these aftershocks, can continue for hours, days, and even weeks at a time across the region here.

That's one side of the story here. The second side is the weather. You saw our Paula out there all bundled up, with good reason. We had a weather front that moved through yesterday. It brought some snow, and now it has left some very cold air. Temperatures 4 degrees, we're talking 2 Celsius. The wind is predominantly out of the west and northwest. That will be an issue. It will be a little bit gusty. In fact, I just checked Sendai observation, gusting upwards of 40 kilometers.

But what I like about this and because we're talking about this power plant situation, right. The winds are going to have a westerly component here. So, anything that would happen across that region we would have that westerly component at least helping us out with moving things to the east, away from the populated centers.

But, Becky, as far as any precipitation that would hamper rescue efforts we don't see that in the near future. But we'll stay on top of those aftershocks and let you know what happens there.

ANDERSON: Super. Thank you very much indeed.

We have got this breaking news just into us here at CNN. An explosion is being reported near the nuclear plant in northeastern Japan's Fukushima Prefecture. Japanese public broadcaster, NHK, reported citing the country's nuclear and industrial safety agency.

Well, the Tokyo Electric Company said some workers on the ground were injured, according to NHK. We will bring you more on that, of course, much more on that as we get it. Much more on Japan and the quake's aftermath.

Plus we are in Libya. Global response and Moammar Gadhafi's force after his numbers regain the coastal city of Zawiyah from rebels. First, making waves to save lives; we're inside a tsunami research lab to give you a closer look at one of nature's most destructive forces.


ANDERSON: Welcoming our viewers around the world. I'm Becky Anderson. You are watching CNN.

Well, 25 hours after Japan's biggest earthquake on record, a frightening development. A potential nuclear crisis may be looming. The earthquake damaged reactors at two nuclear power plants. Japanese broadcaster NHK reports an explosion near one of the plants, citing the country's nuclear agency, and says workers have been injured. Officials say there has been a release of radioactive material from one of the plants as operators struggled to bring down temperatures at both reactors.

Well, the devastation like this we saw immediately after the quake hit has claimed 433 people so far and almost 800 are still missing. Rescue teams are searching, but conditions like this are making it difficult. Electricity is in scarce supply across the country and some Japan's major companies have already been affected by the quake.

Toyota has suspended four production sites. Nissan has also shuttered four of its plants for the time being. Electronics giant Sony has closed six facilities and evacuated its workforce. Oil prices fell sharply on the news of the devastating quake. They are currently hovering just over $101 a barrel. Down about $3 on this time on Friday.

And the tsunami sparked fears in at least 18 locations across Japan including an oil refinery near Tokyo. Japan is one of the world's top oil consumers.

Well, as the incredible videos we have seen coming out of Japan show, a tsunami is one of nature's most destructive forces.

Former CNN Reporter Miles O'Brien, now with the National Science Foundation, takes us inside a tsunami research lab, in the United States, where researchers are making waves in the hopes of saving lives.


MILES O'BRIEN, FORMER CNN CORRESPONDENT (voice over): If you want to learn about giant tsunamis, it's best to bring them down to size. That's what these waves and this scale version of the town of Seaside, Oregon, are all about. When engineers pounded it with a mini tsunami they learned something really surprising. More on that in a moment.

But first, you might be surprised to know tsunamis are a looming threat for the West Coast of the U.S.

DAN COX, DIRECTOR, HINSDALE WAVE LAB: The likelihood of having a tsunami here on our coast is about one in seven chance in the next 50 years, of having a tsunami the same size of what we saw in 2004. So that is huge.

O'BRIEN: Civil engineer Dan Cox is director of the Hinsdale Wave Lab at Oregon State, a part of the National Science Foundation's network for earthquake engineering simulation.

COX: In the field they see the before and after. This allows us to see the during. A wave breaks off the coast. This is an aluminum wall and what would be the impact of that telephone pole if it hit a building.

O'BRIEN: After the devastation of Hurricane Katrina, and the Asian tsunami that killed more than 200,000 in 2004, Cox and his colleagues stepped up efforts to learn more about natural disasters. That is why they created physical and computer models of the town of Seaside. Which brings us back to the surprise. When they pounded it with a tsunami, Cox found that if all the residents simply headed inland.

COX: The casualty count was 1,700, so out of 5,000 we lost 1,700.

O'BRIEN: That startling death rate got him thinking about a different path to safety.

COX: The role of vertical evacuation. So, this means going up into a building or on to an earthen mound. You are still going to be in the flooded zone, but you are much safer just by going up.

O'BRIEN: When they added vertical evacuation to the test.

COX: You can see that the casualty count is really low. It is only 200 compared to the 1,700.

O'BRIEN: And perhaps more importantly it proves the model for good engineering is not simply defining problems, it is about solving them, and making some waves.


ANDERSON: That was Miles O'Brien reporting for the U.S. National Science Foundation.

As clean up begins in Japan, countries around the globe are offering assistance. Coming up we're going to tell you how you can make a difference.


ANDERSON: Images of the devastation left behind by the Japanese quake and tsunami. We welcome you back to the show.

Also following for you developments in Libya and after days for fighting for Ras Lanuf, including steady bombardment of the city, the port city, by pro-Gadhafi forces on Friday, Gadhafi loyalists are now claiming control.

The key oil report has been under opposition control, but reflects a resurgence for Gadhafi's forces across much of the country. Gadhafi's offensive comes despite growing international pressure. U.S. President Barack Obama repeated Friday that he wants him to step down. And that pro-Gadhafi resurgence is also on the show in the city of Zawiyah, just to the west of Tripoli.

Our Nic Robertson reports from there. It is a big change from a couple of weeks ago.


NIC ROBERTSON, CNN SENIOR INTERNATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: 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.

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 Zawiyah. 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 Moammar Gadhafi, being trucked in, so they can show us they have got control.

Nic Robertson, CNN, Zawiyah, Libya.


ANDERSON: Let's turn back to Japan now and local broadcaster NHK just reported an explosion there, a nuclear power plant in Fukushima.

The USGS says it is 178 kilometers from the quake epicenter. The earthquake damaged reactors two plants in Fukushima, which are critical to keeping radioactive material at a safe temperature. The residents living within 10 kilometers of the plants have already been told to evacuate; Well, at least 45 countries have pledged rescue teams, supplies, and financial help for Japan. It says it has accepted offers of search and rescue teams from Australia, New Zealand, South Korea, and indeed, the U.S.

The United States itself has also sent Navy ships to Japan to help with relief. It is also helping with what President Obama calls lift capacity, heavy lifting equipment. The U.S. also sent supplies to help cool nuclear reactors there.

Poland is offering to send firefighters. President Medvedev, of Russia, says that he has offered resources and sniffer dogs and all aid possible. Thailand is offering about $165,000 in aid and says it will consider offering more when the extent of the damage is known. The International Red Cross and Red Crescent say they have mobilized 11 teams. To heavily damaged areas, they have 20,000 tents and other relief supplies ready to pass on to the local Red Cross teams.

If you know someone who is missing and you may be able to get help from Google's People Finder. It also allows people affected by the disaster to communicate. It comes in several languages. This is all especially helpful when normal channels of communication are disrupted during an emergency.

You got a link to Google's People Finder, on our "Impact Your World, web page. You are also collecting links to organizations helping with relief efforts in Japan; to learn how you can help at

A record quake, a killer tsunami, an utter devastation in Japan. And Because of where it happened, the world is witnessing startling images of a natural catastrophe unfold in real time. This next report has no words. It doesn't need them. The pictures tell the story.


ANDERSON: That's WORLD REPORT for this hour. I'm Becky Anderson in London for our international viewers.

"THE BOSS" is next on CNN. And our U.S. viewers, you will join "PIERS MORGAN TONIGHT" in progress.