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Special Coverage: Quake Tsunami Disaster: Shock, Fear and Horror in a Country Prepared for Earthquakes; Bullet Train, Major Transportation Lines Shutdown Across Japan; World Leaders Offer Prayers, Support for People of Japan; Worries Over Radioactive Wind From Damaged Reactors; People Turn to Internet Search Sites, Postings in Search for Loved Ones

Aired March 12, 2011 - 04:00   ET


BECKY ANDERSON, CNN INTERNATIONAL ANCHOR: From CNN London, I'm Becky Anderson. You're watching a CNN special report.

An explosion is being reported at a nuclear power station in northeastern Japan. Four workers reportedly injured there, and the death toll is rising the day after a monster earthquake and tsunami. Japan woke up to new nightmares on Saturday.

Japanese media say radiation levels are more than eight times normal near the Daiichi and Daini plants in Fukushima. That's about 250 kilometers northeast of Tokyo. We'll have much more on that story in a matter of seconds.

Well, a Japanese broadcaster now reports 900 people are dead following the 8.9 magnitude quake, with about 700 others missing. That number is expected to go higher. And scores of aftershocks still jarring the country early on Saturday.

Well, people whose lives have been decimated by a natural disaster are now facing fears of a manmade one. This is a map of the nuclear power plants in Japan, and this is Fukushima, where we're getting reports of an explosion and damaged plant (INAUDIBLE) leaking radiation into the air. Tokyo Electric company says workers on the ground were injured in the blast.

Japan's nuclear agency believes a fuel rod may have melted after the facility's cooling system failed. Residents have been evacuated from the area, and they are not alone. The cooling system has failed at a second Fukushima plant, triggering a second evacuation.

Let's cross to Stan Grant now. He's been assessing the problems with these plants, and he joins us now from Tokyo.

What do we know?

STAN GRANT, CNN SENIOR INTERNATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Yes, Becky, as you say, this has been an ongoing situation. It's now emerging as a second front, if you like. Of course, the rescue teams and others are still dealing with the impact of the earthquake and the tsunami, but this is now a secondary and really an unprecedented situation here for Japan.

This is one of the most nuclear countries in the world. The nuclear reactors supply about a third of the country's electricity.

When the quake hit, they shut down, as they should. But then the power outage sparked another problem, and that was a problem of cooling the reactors. And this has been ongoing, and I think you mentioned there before that radioactivity was -- was reported about eight times the normal the normal limit.

Outside the fence of the reactor now, there has been a perimeter established of about 10 kilometers around that exclusion zone, if you like, and people have been forced to evacuate. The government and the authorities are stressing that there is no threat as yet, but there have been, of course, ongoing concerns about the ability to actually get in there and cool these reactors.

Now let's talk about a second issue, and that is the issue of this cesium which has been found to have leaked, as well. Now, according to a spokesman for Japan's Nuclear Industrial Energy Agency, a small amount of this cesium escaped into the air, and the strong possibility that that could have been caused by a melting fuel rod. And of course, engineers are trying to put water in that, pump water into that rod to cool that, as well.

The other issue you raised was the four workers who have been injured. Now, that's being carried on local media here. These four workers injured, again, trying to pour water into the reactor to try to cool that reactor.

So as you say, nature has taken its course and caused the damage on the one hand, and now the manmade, if you like, or the manmade follow-on from that, trying to deal with this situation that is now already a nuclear emergency in this country -- Becky.

ANDERSON: Yes, so talking here of leaks and small explosions. To your mind -- and you may have talking to those -- been speaking to those who are experts in this -- do they have things under control, effectively?

GRANT: Well, under control is a very difficult situation. I mean, obviously, not willing to spark alarm, and we're hearing all the right noises, if you like, from the government and the authorities saying that there is no detectable harm as yet. But the cesium, for instance, is a very reactive material, particularly when it comes into contact with water, and that can get into river systems and water systems, and that is known to cause harm and cause illness.

We also know, of course, the potential risks of further heating there and the potential we're already hearing about this fuel rod that appears to have been melting down, and that's caused the cesium to seep out. They also had to release some steam, as well, to try, again, to aid the cooling of the plant, and that's where more radioactive material was able to seep out, through that steam.

So yes, there is concern, Becky. I mean, you don't put in a 10- kilometer exclusion zone and get people to evacuate their homes if there is not concern. But once again, this is a very highly nuclear- powered country. They're very good at this. They understand this. They're putting all the precautions in place, and warning at this point, or cautioning at this point, that there is no detectable harm as of now, Becky.

ANDERSON: All right. People have been evacuated, as you say. Let me pin you down here. What's the worst case scenario, at this point?

GRANT: I don't think people even want to go there. You know, you're talking about, as I say, an unprecedented situation here, a heavily nuclear-powered country. This earthquake that, again, almost unprecedented, massive earthquake causing enormous problems. We've already seen the power outage resulting from the failure at the nuclear plant, affecting over a million people (INAUDIBLE) homes. So people are being affected already.

To get into that sort of speculation -- I'm not equipped to do that. The government is issuing the right words at the moment and trying to tell people to stay calm and they're working on it and working with the International Atomic Agency, as well, to try to avert any worst case scenario, Becky.

ANDERSON: Yes. And the more we get on that, of course, we will bring it to you. Stan Grant out of Tokyo for you. We thank you, Stan, for that.

CNN's correspondent Kyung Lah has spent many hours trying to make her way to the northern quake zone.

Earlier, she spoke with Anjali Rao from Sendai, the city heavily damaged by the quake and tsunami. She described the challenge of getting to that disaster zone.


KYUNG LAH, CNN INTERNATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Well, the roads are completely blocked so, Anjali, one of the things that we've been looking for are the stories along the way as we try to make it up to the area that is hardest hit, that area hit by the tsunami, and we found one.

This is a city called Sirakawa and in this city there is a neighborhood where you can see some of the houses, it really does look like a small little community. You can see the three houses right here. What you can't see behind the three houses are eight houses.

Those eight houses, more than 24 hours ago, 25 hours ago when that earthquake struck, were completely buried by heavy land. There was a huge landslide, according to the people who live here. Earth came sliding down and now 25 hours later take a look over my right shoulder as we zoom in on what you're looking right there, heavy machinery digging.

There are 13 people buried alive. There are children among the missing. The hope is from these rescuers is that they may be in their houses, maybe trapped in a void, but as you can see there, that mud and dirt is heavy. It is wet. This is a massive challenge, and 25 hours later, the people in this community say they haven't found a single person.

So this is a multi-layered disaster. This is not just a tsunami to the north of us. This is also an earthquake, an earthquake that depicts the devastated area from the earthquake. And take a look over this seeing some of the people who have been impacted by this and we'll swing around.

Forgive the movement of the cameras, but people, you're looking at over here, these are the family members. They have been waiting 25 hours standing and looking through binoculars hoping that they are going to find their family members. We spoke to a man. His niece is among the missing. She has not been found.

They are hoping but with every minute that passes that hope dims. So if you can, forgive me again as we swing back around and look back at the rescuers over here, what you can't quite see is that the rescuers are using shovels.

They are using their hands and trying to get to them as quickly as possible, but it is a tremendous task. There are dozens of crews back there, Anjali, trying to get to any of the victims if they are indeed alive.

Just one of the many stories all across this northern region, heavily impacted area not just by the tsunami, but also by the earthquake -- Anjali.

ANJALI RAO, CNN INTERNATIONAL ANCHOR: Looking at the expressions on those poor people's faces, Kyung and, you know, as they try to wait for anything that might come in terms of information of people that they know and love. Just makes the stomach lurch thinking about what they are going through right now. Give us an idea of what you anticipate you will find when you finally do get to Sendai.

LAH: We're expecting to find many more of these stories, but on a larger scale. This is one snapshot. This is one neighborhood and you are talking eight houses and 13 lives.

We are expecting this up north at a far greater magnitude with much more fury, much more force, and it was such a surprise. So as sad as this one story, is we're expecting this on a much larger scale as we travel up north.

RAO: We were talking to one of our I-Reporters by Skype in the last hour, and he held up an empty noodle cup, and he said this is what I last ate. It was 12 hours ago.

There's simply nothing there. There's no food, water, everything is in extremely short supply. What's the situation as far as getting supplies into the area and to those people?

LAH: Well, a lot of people are leaving the area, if they can. That's part of the reason why the roads are so jammed. There is a very small artery. Because the highways are shut down, there are only two-lane roads, and there's only one two-lane road, I can tell you. That is leading in and out of Sendai to the south where Tokyo is connected to Sendai and that road is completely jammed.

People are trying to get in and out supplies, either they are trying to leave or trying to get water, gasoline, kerosene, whatever they can and then bring it back to their families, if they decide to stay, or they are simply trying to evacuate out.

So we have a tremendous population movement on a very small artery so that's why we're seeing so much system paralysis and we saw it in Tokyo and seeing it up here repeated again. And that's why we're seeing rescuers. We're hearing poverty military choppers as it starts to get dark here.

We're still hearing the military choppers above us trying to get rescue crews in that area because choppers are really the way to go in this effort.


ANDERSON: All right. So the scene there on the ground, as we know it. To better understand, then, what is happening at that troubled nuclear power plant in Fukushima, Japan -- and this is an important story -- we want to turn now to Malcolm Grimstone. He's an associate fellow for energy, environment and development at the Chatham House. He joins me now on the phone from London.

As we get some pictures up for our viewers of this Fukushima prefecture, just to your mind, tell us what you believe to be doing on there now.

MALCOLM GRIMSTONE, CHATHAM HOUSE (via telephone): I think there's two areas for concern, and the important thing is whether they are directly linked or not.

First, there's what's happening in the fuel itself, and the levels of contamination within the plant suggest that some of the metal cans that surround the fuel have probably burst, and that's (INAUDIBLE) some of the radioactive material out into what's called the concrete containment. That has been measured for some hours, and that as (ph) itself is not a huge question.

Then we've seen the collapse of the outside building and the explosion that we've been getting pictures of in the last few minutes. Now, most of that space is just the empty space where the cranes that do the refueling of the reactor go. And that is -- if the explosion there has been caused by some other effects of the tsunami, some chemical explosion or the like, and the two aren't directly linked, then it's clearly a serious situation, but that of itself does not necessarily mean major contamination.

If they are linked, if the building has collapsed because of something going on inside the core -- maybe as the water is boiled at a very high temperature, some of the water breaks up into separate hydrogen, oxygen and they can recombine explosively -- then we'd be expecting to be measuring quite high levels of contamination very quickly.

So we should soon know from the reports on the contamination levels in the plant whether this is a further complicating factor that's going to have to be dealt with, or whether it's a major development in the radioactive consequences of what's happening.

ANDERSON: And we await that information, of course. And just before we went back onto this map, we were looking at pictures of the Fukushima Prefecture and the nuclear reactors there. And there was an awful lot of white steam coming out from one of those facilities.

Here it is again for our viewers. I don't know if you can see that, as we speak. It may not be news to some of on our viewers, but for those who've just joined us, it will be.

What does that suggest to you?

GRIMSTONE: Well, we've seen the explosion that took out the outer -- the upper structure. So now we just have a metal frame, where it looks like the other three, which are still intact on the site.

And whenever there's an explosion of that sort, there is a cloud of very small particles, smoke, which happens for some time. We remember the terrible pictures of 9/11 in New York, for example, where after the buildings collapsed, there was a very large dust cloud. So that of itself is -- it need not be more than just what you would expect whenever any structure of that size collapses in that kind of way.

The question that we don't know about is not so much what's happened above the ground. In most reactors, the working parts are put under the ground. It's what is happening just below the surface which is of the most concern. We'll know that from the contamination.

My suspicion is that they'll also try and get a look from above the reactor down into it. This is what happened at Chernobyl. Quite a lot of information was gathered by looking down through that building.

There's -- ironically, with the outer building out of the way, there's a little opportunity here to get some more information of what's happening at ground and below ground level. But inevitably, this is just speculation at the moment. We just don't have the information, or I don't have the information to say anything more precise.

ANDERSON: Well, as we get it, I'm hoping that you'll stay with us through the morning. We thank you very much, indeed. You're an expert at Chatham House.

This morning -- all right, we're going to take a very short break here on CNN. I'm Becky Anderson in London. This is your special coverage of the Japanese earthquake.

Do stay with us. We are 90 seconds away.


ANDERSON: Recapping our top story for you, an explosion has been reported at a nuclear power plant in northeastern Japan. Japan's nuclear agency says a small amount of radioactive cesium escaped into the air surrounding one of the plants in Fukushima. That's about 250 kilometers northeast of Tokyo.

The agency says there is a strong possibility this was caused by a melting fuel rod. Japanese media say radiation levels are more than eight times normal near the Daiichi and Daini plants in Fukushima.

Plants are having problems with their cooling systems after Friday's monster quake unleashed a terrifying 10-meter-high tsunami that tore through the coastal towns and cities. This dramatic rooftop rescue is one of many throughout the region. More than 900 people are reported killed at this point.

And we want to take a moment to remind you just where the hardest hit cities and towns are in Japan. Take a look at this map.

We've heard from Kyung Lah in Sendai. You can see how close that is to the quake's epicenter. She's slowly traveling from Tokyo. (INAUDIBLE) Sendai from western Japan to become the first of CNN's correspondents on the scene there.

Closer still to the epicenter, Kesennuma. We're yet to see the scene of devastation from there. Also worth noting here, Fukushima. That's where two power plants have been damaged, one of them having leaked radioactive material into the air.

Well, let's gets some details now on the aftershocks that have been rippling through Japan. Ivan Cabrera is at the International Weather Center with the very latest from there for you -- Ivan.

IVAN CABRERA, CNN INTERNATIONAL METEOROLOGIST: Indeed. Since we last spoke, we're up to 180 aftershocks here, and they continue to rattle nerves and buildings, as well, you can imagine, here across in Japan. We'll continue to monitor those.

I'll break them down specifically for you as far as the magnitude because they are significant. In fact, the strongest one we had yesterday was a 7.1, that in itself a major quake here. But again, up to 180. I keep refreshing this, and every time, it's five or six more. And they are generally in the 5 range. They can certainly be felt across Japan. So we'll watch for that closely.

Now, the -- as far as the tsunami warnings, they have been discontinued from the Pacific Tsunami Warning Center across the Pacific basin, so certainly some excellent news there. But we're going to continue to monitor for localized effects along the coast of Japan. Take a look at the temperatures now as rescue efforts are going to be ongoing there. We continue to hear of folks trapped. And well, nightfall is there now, and temperatures are going to continue to do likewise, as we go down to about zero. That's pretty typical now for Yamagata here in Japan.

Generally, temperatures go down to about zero. And I think over the next few days, we're going to begin to get a break as we warm up a little bit. And the reason we're even colder today -- you see Kyung Lah there bundled up -- is we had a disturbance move through. You see the clouds that are moving northwest to southeast? That brought actually some snow to Sendai.

We're done with the precipitation, but as far as the gusty, cold winds that are going to continue tonight -- so even though we're dropping to about zero for the overnight temperature, it's actually going to feel like it's below zero because of the winds there.

The winds are also going to play a factor with the situation at the nuclear power plant. We'll watch that closely for you. The good thing is that we have a westerly component to the wind, and certainly that is better than having an on-shore component that would certainly impact the denser populated areas here across coastal Japan.

Temperatures, again, warming up now, as we take you into the low to mid-teens, Becky, by Sunday and Monday. Then another front comes in, and we will cool back down to 6 degrees for a high on Tuesday. To you.

ANDERSON: All right. Ivan, your forecast -- we thank you for that. He'll be with us throughout the morning, of course.

Let's cross to Stan Grant now. He's been assessing the problems with these nuclear plants, and he joins us now from Tokyo. And as you do, I believe we've got some sound and vision (ph) at the point at which we heard one of these explosions. Let's just bring that up for our viewers. I hope you'll be able to at least hear it, if not see it.

OK, so we haven't got any sound on this. It's just the moment at which we started to see activity from this plant. I think you've seen these pictures before. This is the shots of this sort of white plumes of smoke, Stan, missing (ph) from one of these -- one of these sites. We've just been talking to an expert who says only time will tell (INAUDIBLE) much as to what is actually going on below the surface. He says it will take some time and it may take as long as it will to get them in over the top to be able to assess what's going on below -- Stan.

GRANT: That's right, Becky. You know, we talked a little bit earlier -- we talked a little bit earlier, Becky, about what the worst case scenarios could be. And really, if you're looking at the government's situation and the nuclear officials here, this is already getting into worse than they would ever have hoped for.

It's an unprecedented situation for them. Not only did you have that enormous quake, but then, of course, the knock-on effect with the nuclear reactors. They, of course, shut down after the quake. That power shutdown has led to cooling problems.

From the cooling problems, we've seen steam having to be released to relieve some of the pressure, the nuclear authorities saying that some radioactivity -- radioactive material was released then with that steam. An exclusion zone set up, 10-kilometer zone, people having to evacuate their homes.

Then we have the cesium. And I'm trying to establish the chronology here from the quake to the shutdown to the first problem with the cooling, the evacuation, the cesium.

Now, just once again, quoting from one of the officials, who's saying that the cesium escaped into the air. A strong possibility it was caused by a melting fuel rod. That's an indication, again, I think your guest talked about before, what we don't know, how much contamination there is inside.

We do know there is extraordinary heat, up to three times the normal heat. We do know that there is eight times the radioactive material outside the gate. But officials are very, very keen to stress that there is no danger as yet to people.

Now the explosion. The explosion has taken place, again, as workers have tried to get in there and put water into the reactors to try to cool those reactors. This explosion has happened. We've heard from officials -- there's a news conference going on right now -- conceding, yes, there was an explosion. We've seen the smoke from this and that four people have been injured. We have no details on those injuries.

But you can see from this chronology, Becky, that it is a mounting problem, a problem of great concern -- on the one hand, the manmade -- the natural disaster, but now the manmade situation, as well, with these nuclear reactors in a heavily nuclearized country -- Becky.

ANDERSON: Yes. And talking about a 10-kilometer perimeter within which there will be nobody at the moment, an exclusion -- let's remind our viewers just how important nuclear power is to a country like Japan, Stan.

GRANT: Yes. They rely on these nuclear reactors for a third of their total electrical output. So obviously very, very important to Japan. And in fact, when the -- there was the outage after the earthquake, about a million or a few more than a million people were affected by the power outage resulting from the shutdown of those reactors.

Now, officials are very keen to stress that that was meant to happen. The reactors were meant to shut down as a result of that quake, a precautionary measure, if you like. But then -- then you get the added problem, an unprecedented situation, as I say, the enormity of the quake, the shutdown, now this heating difficulty in trying to cool it, and now the explosion and some radioactive material escaping into the atmosphere.

So yes, this continues to build, Becky -- a highly nuclearized country. Mind (ph) you (ph), they are familiar with nuclear energy and nuclear power. They know how to deal with it. But you're getting into -- into really in uncertain sort of waters here, Becky.

ANDERSON: Yes, uncharted territory. All right. Stan Grant will be with us throughout the morning. Mr. Grant, we thank you for that.

Stick around. We're going to take a very short break. Back after this.


ANDERSON: When phone service cut out in Japan in the aftermath of the quake, it was social media that people turned to for help. Hundreds of thousands of tweets were sent in a matter of hours, and many were using the site to share information.

People have also been turning to Google to try and find loved ones. Google's People Finder allows you to either search for missing people or enter the information you have about someone who may be missing. It allows people affected by the disaster to communicate, and it comes in several languages.

There are more than 36,000 people using the service today, and we saw desperate messages from people looking for missing friends or family.

One person named Catherine (ph) posted this message to try and find her missing friend. "Kanaka Motohiro (ph). Moto, it's me, Catherine (INAUDIBLE) your honey pot. I'm worried. I hope you are alive and well. I wish I could hold and kiss you."

John Hatfield (ph) posted that he was looking for his missing daughter, Arie (ph), who is living in Kankajo (ph).

Twelve hours later, someone named Hachiro Kenichi (ph) replied by posting, "I have found a driver's license to this person. It is barely readable, and I can only see her on the top. Her picture, though, matches. It is blood-free and looks like it was just dropped."

Our "Impact Your World" site is collecting links to organizations that are mobilizing relief efforts in Japan. On the page, you'll also find a link to that Google's People Finder. And as the earthquake response ramps up, we will continue to add information to this place. That is all at And, of course, you can keep up-to- date with us online at for all the latest news from Japan. We wouldn't expect anything less.

On the site, we've been running a photo gallery that shows the full extent of the devastation as well as the heartbreaking stories of human tragedy. That is for all your news.

Well, the cameras were rolling when the ground started shaking. Many are posting video to iReport and YouTube. Let's listen to the moments the earthquake struck and hear people's firsthand accounts.


MATT ALT, WITNESS (via telephone): The ground was rolling for an extended period of time. I wasn't exactly sure what to do or where to go. I had never been prepared for anything like this.

My wife and I stood outside and basically held on to the outside of our house. You couldn't even stand up. I mean, literally, at the peak of these waves that were washing over the ground, you literally could not stay on your feet. You had to kind of crouch down a wall, or put your back against something so you didn't fall.



ANDERSON: Welcome back. I'm Becky Anderson in London, where few will forget the initial images out of Japan.

This is what it looks like when the 8.9 quake struck mid- afternoon on Friday. Shock, fear and horror in a country all too used to earthquakes.


ANDERSON: Then a huge wave hit, a 30-foot high wall of water sweeping across fields and highways and towns. The tsunami reached as far as six miles inland, toppling homes, cars and even highways, leaving a river of destruction in its wake.

Well, it's 6:32 p.m. on Saturday now in Japan. And much of Japan's transport infrastructure has been significantly impacted by the devastating quake. Railways were hit particularly hard, stranding tens of thousands of people who were simply unable to get home.

Take a look at the train system around Tokyo. Each of these black lines is a rail line. The majority were closed. So, the tracks and the electric equipment could be inspected for damage. And Japan's famous high speed bullet train that runs between Tokyo and Sendai and provides transportation to millions of people every day was stranded on its track.

CNN's Kyung Lah filed this report on her way to Sendai.


LAH: We're starting to see the effects of the earthquake and the tsunami. And they're minor here, but we just wanted to stop and show you something because anyone who's 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 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 and throughout the night trying to get people out of those rail lines.

Kyoto news, though, is reporting further north of where we are, there are four train lines that currently are missing -- four trains that at this point are unaccounted for.

You know, just because I've actually met with the rail line people this past week, we know exactly how their earthquake system works. All along the rail lines, there are earthquake sensors. If there is an earthquake and the rail line becomes slightly askew, they stop the rail lines. If they feel that the rail lines are going to be compromised in any manner, stop. They're highly magnetized.

These trains run at extraordinary 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 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 further north, we're expecting to see many more signs and much more devastation as we head towards that area. But we just wanted to stop and give you a look at that.

Kyung Lah, CNN, Sakura, Japan.


ANDERSON: Important stuff.

Well, U.S. President Barack Obama says it's heartbreaking to see what's happening in Japan. He told reporters late Friday that the U.S. is working to make sure Americans in Japan are safe and he's offering to help the Japanese.


BARACK OBAMA, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: The Defense Department is working to account for all our military personnel in Japan. The U.S. embassy personnel in Tokyo had moved to an off-site location and the State Department is working to account for and assist any and all American citizens who are in the country.


ANDERSON: At least 45 countries have pledged rescue teams, supplies and financial help. Japan has accepted offers for search and rescue teams from Australia, New Zealand, South Korea and, indeed, from the United States. The U.S. has sent Navy ships to help with the relief.

It's helping with what President Obama calls lift capacity -- heavy lifting equipment that means. The U.S. also sent supplies to help cool nuclear reactors there.

Poland is offering to help send firefighters. President Medvedev of Russia says that he has offered rescuers and sniffer dogs and all possible aid. Thailand has offered about $165,000 in aid and says it will consider offering more when the extent of the damage is known.

And the International Red Cross and Red Cross say they have mobilized 11 teams to heavily-damaged areas. They've got 20,000 tents and other relief supplies ready to pass on to local Red Cross teams.

Well, a warning was issued, but Canada's west coast escaped the tsunami unscathed on Friday. The country's prime minister offered prayers and support for those in Japan who weren't so lucky.


STEPHEN HARPER, CANADIAN PRIME MINISTER: Our thoughts and our prayers are with all of those who have been affected by the powerful earthquake and the tsunami that have struck that country.


ANDERSON: Well, the wind will go a long way towards deciding what impact any leaked radiation might have.

Let's bring in meteorologist Ivan Cabrera at this point.

What is the forecast? Because it is in and around this reactor that we have significant concerns at this point.

IVAN CABRERA, CNN INTERNATIONAL METEOROLOGIST: And the concern at this point is the wind speed and the direction here. And I'm going to fly you into this nuclear power plant and show you, in fact, that the population density here.

Here is Fukushima number one, right? Let's get right in here. There's the epicenter of the earthquake to the north and the east. Here is the actual power plant.

Now, as I pull out, you'll be able to see that Sendai is further to the north. In fact, it's about 93 kilometers to the north and west of the power plant.

The colors you see here represent population density. The deeper hues here in the orange representing a lot more folks that are living there. Sendai, in fact, has a population just a little over a million here. And there is your nuclear power plant that we hope continues to be contained.

But if there is any leaked material there, the winds do become an issue here and we are seeing for now some winds that are coming in offshore. That means they're out of the northwest and they're going to be pushing anything offshore to the south and east. That's certainly a good news.

There's not going to be any major storm over the next few days coming in. These coastal lows right that come off China and then hit Japan, don't see that in the optic. But what we do see -- notice the wind barbs here, they're coming in out of the northwest, and then we're going to see a change and the winds are going to be coming in from the north, perhaps spreading anything that has leaked further to the south, the more populated areas here, including our good friends in Tokyo.

So, we'll have to watch that closely as that begins to move in from north and west and the winds will shift once again. So, we're going to be monitoring that very closely here.

And, of course, we're still monitoring, Becky, the aftershocks that continue -- well over 180 right now across Japan. We'll keep you posted on conditions there.

ANDERSON: Good stuff. Thank you for that and the magnitude with the numbers there. Aftershocks always something you got to consider. Some of them can be pretty scary at the best of times.

All right. Ivan there with your forecast. We are going to take a very short break, I think. Back after this.


ANDERSON: A new day and a new nightmare for quake victims in Japan. This is the scene at a power plant in Fukushima where there's been an explosion at the damaged nuclear facility. And reports said it leaked radiation into the air.

Now, the Tokyo Electric Company says four workers on the ground were injured in the blast. Japan's nuclear agency believes a fuel rod may have melted after the facility's cooling system failed. Residents have been evacuated from the area and they are not alone. The cooling system has failed at a second Fukushima nuclear plant, triggering a second evacuation.

Meanwhile, an expert is warning that time is running out since failure to cool the reactor could have or would have disastrous consequences.


ROBERT ALVAREZ, INST. OF POLICY STUDIES (via telephone): This is the situation that has the potential for a nuclear catastrophe. And it's basically a race against time, because what has happened is that plant operators have not been able to cool down the core of -- I understand, of at least two reactors, which contain enormous amounts of radioactivity because of failed backup generators were probably damaged by the tsunami or the earthquake.

So, there is a major effort under way to fly in the military helicopters and other power sources, batteries, to keep the electricity going to allow water to circulate to remove the tremendous amount of heat that has built up in the reactor.

(END VIDEO CLIP) ANDERSON: Well, to better understand the threat of the nuclear power plant in Fukushima, Japan, I'm now joined by Daniel Pinkston on the phone from Seoul, South Korea. He's a senior analyst at the International Crisis Group.

I do hope you heard what my last guest was saying. And I want you to pick up from what he said. And worst-case scenario, I guess, at this point is what people want to hear.

DANIEL PINKSTON, SENIOR ANALYST, INTERNATIONAL CRISIS GROUP (via telephone): Right. Looking at this, of course, not being on-site there, not having up-to-date information, it does look like there's been an explosion and that radioactivity has been detected. So, this sounds like they could have lost this race against time and this could be a worst-case scenario.

ANDERSON: And what do you mean by that?

PINKSTON: Well, the fuel rods conduct or continually produce radioactive material under great heat and pressure. Unless that is cooled down, the heat and pressure will build up and the fuel rods can melt through the reactor core container. And in this case, the building is the only containment to keep it from being released into the environment.

And, in fact, now, it appears that the building has been damaged with this explosion. So, the radioactive material could just be released into the atmosphere now.

ANDERSON: Well, what does that mean for the likes of you and me? Or perhaps more importantly, those who live in this area and who have been evacuated at this point?

PINKSTON: Well, the most important thing, of course, is to get away from the reactor, from that area. And that's the big danger. And, of course, at some point, people have to get in there to try to contain this material. And this is going to be a very difficult thing to contain.

ANDERSON: How long could this be a disaster zone, then?

PINKSTON: Excuse me?

ANDERSON: How long could this be a disaster the zone?

PINKSTON: How could it be a disaster zone?

ANDERSON: No. How long could it be a disaster zone?

PINKSTON: Oh, this could be for days -- days on end.

ANDERSON: Frightening stuff, isn't it?

PINKSTON: Yes, with very much so.

ANDERSON: OK. Daniel, we're going to keep you with me, if I can. I've got Stan Grant also on the line that I want to bring in.

I don't know if you heard what Daniel was staying there, Stan, and we've been discussing what we thought the worst-case scenario might be going forward. Things aren't looking great at this point, are they?

STAN GRANT, CNN SENIOR INTERNATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: No, they aren't. I have heard what Daniel has had to say. And, essentially, again, if you look at the chronology of this, the shutdown of the reactors after the quake, that's triggering a heating problem and not being able to cool the reactors and the steam being released.

The officials here, the nuclear officials, admitting that, yes, there was some radioactive materials released with that steam, not enough to cause any harm, and then this cesium being detected, also, being released -- another indicator, according an official spokesman here, another indicator that the fuel rod could have been damaged, could have been melting down.

And as you're hearing there from Daniel saying that, look, this is a race against time that they could be losing. And, of course, the worst case scenario that this heat and pressure continues, that it melts the fuel rods and the radioactive material then seeps out into the atmosphere. And given that we've had this explosion that has blown the roof of one of these reactors, that would then indicate to you just how serious this situation is.

Becky, just an update on the situation of the people themselves, the security agency here attached to the nuclear agency have been holding a news conference saying that four men have been injured as a result of the blast are in there trying to cool the reactor. But the injuries are not serious.

But, of course, the ongoing problem now is these greater radioactive materials seeping out into the atmosphere. As you already know, people have been moved backed in a 10-kilometer radius to avoid any potential problems, Becky.

ANDERSON: Stan, it's -- sorry -- about 6:45 local time with you, 9:48 London Time. So, we are now more than 24 hours into this story.

Just sort of take us back over the past 24 hours, if you will, for the sake of our viewers -- what have you seen, who have you spoken to and what have you heard?

GRANT: Well, what we've seen is this chronology -- this initial shutdown of the reactors after the earthquake, which the officials say is a procedural thing. This is -- this was working as it should.

But then there was also -- there was also this interruption of the power source from outside the reactor as well, which has led on this problem which is to cool the reactor. And it's really escalated from that. So, we have this initial problem, then the heating. Reports of three times hotter than it should be -- this report of radioactive material eight times higher than normal outside the fence of the reactor. And it has just continued throughout the day -- the steam being released, the explosion, the detection of this cesium, again an indication of a fuel rod heating inside the reactor as well. So, it has been building.

And, again, we come back to what Daniel said. If this is a race against time, if we've seen 24 hours past and still unable to get in there to cool the reactor, well, what Daniel said, you are getting into a situation of worst-case scenario. In fact, you can actually say it's worst that I've ever, ever have hoped right now, Becky.

ANDERSON: Stan Grant with news that isn't great out of Tokyo for us this evening. Stan, thank you for that.

Stan Grant, one of your reporters on the ground, of course -- one of our senior correspondents in the region. And we're going to take a short break. Do not go away.

More on the Japanese earthquake and its aftermath after this, an important story. Don't go away.


ANDERSON: A new day and a new nightmare for quake victims in Japan. This is the scene at a power plant in Fukushima where there's been an explosion at the damaged nuclear facility and reports that it leaked radiation into the air.

The Tokyo Electric Company says four workers on the ground were injured in the blast. Japan's nuclear agency believes a fuel rod may have melted after the facility's cooling system failed.

Residents have been evacuated from the area and they are not alone. A cooling system has failed at a second Fukushima plant, triggering a second evacuation.

Well, the wind will go a long way towards deciding what impact any leaked radiation might have today.

Let's bring your meteorologist. Ivan Cabrera is joining us now.

We've been with you all morning, Ivan. How is that wind looking, and where is it pointing, as it were?

CABRERA: We are now getting into nighttime hours. In fact, we are there. So, what happens is, is that the mixing of the atmosphere changes to the point where the winds begin to relax as opposed to when you get the sun and the heating of the day on the Japanese island here and then the cooler waters. That creates more of a wind during the afternoon.

But at this point, it has diminished. In fact, earlier reports in Sendai airport, upwards of 41 kilometers per hour, the predominant wind direction today has been out of the west-northwest and west- southwest. That is key because the main wind component there being westerly, that means it is an off-shore wind. Any leaked radioactive material across this region would be pushed away from the population center.

Now, we don't know how much has leaked. We don't -- of course, can't say whether there's been a core meltdown there. If that were to happen, then we're talking about just a complete environmental and human disaster here. But that remains to be seen.

What I can tell you is that over the next several days, we're not going to have any significant winds that would be impacting the region here. But the wind direction is going to change and that is important because we have population centers to the north of the nuclear power plant. That's Sendai, a million folks live there. That is, of course, away from the evacuated regions.

And then, of course, we have Tokyo down to the south. You would have to have a lot of leaked radioactive material and a very strong wind to carry that further south or further to the north. So, we'll have to watch that closely here.

And then, of course, there are the aftershocks and the fact of the recovery efforts. No big storms on the way, so at least that part of the story here remains OK. But I'll tell you what, this is turning into quite a story and we're going to continue to monitor those winds for any significant changes, Becky, and we'll bring those to you.

ANDERSON: When you get it, do let us know. We'll be straight back to you. Ivan is at the CNN center for you.

Now, cameras were rolling when the ground started shaking. Many are posting video to iReport and YouTube. Let's listen to the moment the earthquake struck and hear people's firsthand accounts.



ALT (via telephone): The ground was rolling for an extended period of time. I wasn't exactly sure what to do or where to go. I had never been prepared for anything like this. My wife and I stood outside and basically held on to the outside of our house. You couldn't even stand up. I mean, literally, at the peak of these waves that were washing over the ground, you literally could not stay on your feet. You had to kind of crouch down a wall, or put your back against something so you didn't fall.

HARRISON PAYTON, WITNESS: The whole ground was shaking so much. It was -- it was unreal. I can't describe it. It's just -- it felt like someone was pulling you back and forth, like side to side as hard as they could.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: It just blew up. Whew! Whew! This is crazy! Whew! Look at it. I'm back. Do you all see this?


ANDERSON: Remarkable scenes. As the earthquake hit now some 24 hours ago, and as we move through our coverage here on CNN, do stay with us. We'll keep you up to date as the story develops.

It's about 6:57 p.m. in Tokyo Now. I'm Becky Anderson in London. I'll be right back.