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Special Coverage: Quake Tsunami Disaster; Japanese Media Reports Explosion at Nuclear Power Station; Rescue Teams Struggling Amid Debris, Destruction; Survivor Stories, Pictures From the Scene of the Quake Continue to Emerge; Nations of the World Unite to Send Relief Efforts and Aid

Aired March 12, 2011 - 05:00   ET


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

Evening is falling in Japan the day after the country's worst earthquake on record and the tsunami has followed. Public broadcaster NHK is reporting an explosion at a nuclear power station in northeastern Japan. The explosion sent white smoke rising into the air above Fukushima Prefecture, 170 kilometers from the earthquake's epicenter.

And the death toll from Friday's quake continues to climb. Local reports say 900 people are dead and about 700 others are missing. Rescue teams have their work cut out for them, searching for those missing in destruction like this.

Well, a powerful quake, a devastating tsunami and now fears of a nuclear meltdown. That is what Fukushima residents are facing right now after an explosion at a damaged power plant sent a plume of smoke rising into the air as you can see here -- this following reports of a radiation leak.

Four workers on the ground were reportedly injured in the blast. A fuel rod may have melted after the facility's cooling system failed. Residents have been evacuated a 10-kilometer radius of the plant.

Well, Robert Aptos (ph) is a nuclear engineer based in Chicago. He explains what went wrong at Fukushima.


ROBERT APTOS, NUCLEAR ENGINEER: The reactors often are very easy to shut down. The biggest issue is removing what's called decay heat. Once the reactor shuts down, it doesn't go immediately to zero power. It goes to about 10 percent. And that tapers off over the next day or two.

And what is really critical is to maintain some amount of core cooling during that two-day period. And the problem we've seen here is with the loss of off-site power and the loss of their back up diesel generators, they haven't had the power to run all of the safety systems that they do have that have normally been in operation. (END VIDEO CLIP)

ANDERSON: All right, let's pass to Stan now. He's been covering this part of the story, been assessing the problems with the plants and he joins us now from Tokyo.

And we're getting different information from different experts at this point. What do you know on the ground?

STAN GRANT, CNN SENIOR INTERNATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Yes, Becky, this has really been developing rapidly in the past few hours. Let's look at the chronology of this because this is important. You know, we can end up getting our wires crossed here and this is a fluent situation.

You have the earthquake, a big quake that obviously has an impact on the nuclear reactors. They shut down. That is a matter of course. That is a precautionary measure.

But then there were complications with the power source and that has caused this inability to cool the reactor, the reactor overheating. There have been reports it was three times as hot as it normally should be.

Then, in an attempt to try to cool the reactor, the nuclear agency here released some steam. They tried to release some of the pressure, conceding that some radioactive material did seep into the atmosphere. They also then put in this exclusion zone, the 10- kilometer radius, evacuating people to protect against any of the impact of this radioactivity.

They are still insisting that the radioactive -- the threat from the radioactivity exposure is not high. However, in the last hour or so, there have been some details coming out on that. Now, apparently, according to officials here, 1,015 micro-CPGs (ph) of radioactivity have escaped into the atmosphere.

What does that mean? Well, (INAUDIBLE) say that might mean a lot to us. But, apparently, if you're exposed to that level of one hour, you would get the exposure that you would normally get in a full year. So, once again, the indication of the risk from that.

And then we have this explosion, an explosion in the last hour or so, four people have been injured. We're waiting to get the details about the extent of those injuries. And this explosion blew the roof of one of the reactors.

So, now, analysts that you've spoken to, Becky, are saying this is a race against time. They need to be able to cool the reactor. They need to be able to stop the fuel rods melting down. They need to stop radio activity seeping into as atmosphere.

But, now, you're talking about a reactor without a roof on it. And that gives an indication of just how grave the situation is. And in the words of one of your analysts, perhaps we're even running out of time here in Japan -- Becky. ANDERSON: Yes. Yes. All right. Stay with me.

And as Stan said, we've had number of things here. We're looking at the worst-case scenario, possibly. This is a race against time.

Let's get Philip White on the line for you out of Tokyo. He's at the Citizen's Nuclear Information Center. And for those watching this evening -- well, they will be, frankly, terrified.

What can you tell us about what happens next? Past 6:00 in the evening with you or around 7:00, what happens next?

PHILIP WHITE, CITIZEN'S NUCLEAR INFORMATION CENTER (via telephone): Well, we don't know what happens next and what we hope is that a minimal amount of radiation will escape into the environment. But we do need to be aware that there are worst-case scenarios in which a significant amount of the island of Honshu, which is Japan's main island, could be exposed to radiation of doses sufficient to either kill people or give them serious after-effects later in their lives.

I'm not saying that's going to happen. I'm just saying that you need to be aware of that. And I think that perhaps there's a somewhat casual approach on behalf of the Japanese government, to that worst- case scenario and certainly when you listen to the sorts of comments being made last night, I don't think they were willing to admit the seriousness of the situation. And now, it's just coming out and it's growing and it's growing and it's growing.

And bit by bit they're recognizing more and more about the focus -- which is a correct focus -- is not having people panic, but you also have to bear in mind what happened if it does get worse?

ANDERSON: Yes, you've accused the Japanese government of a somewhat casual approach. What should they say next?

WHITE: I think that it is time to start moving people to a further distance from the plant -- 10 kilometers is the current evacuation zone. And I don't think that the people at 10 kilometers right now are in serious danger. But since they don't know what the trajectory will be for now, they really should be preparing for the next step.

And they, of course -- the other thing you need to bear in mind is that this is in the middle of an earthquake disaster, and this is the whole point that's been made by my group, Citizen's Nuclear Information Center, is that when you combine a nuclear disaster with an earthquake and tsunami disaster, you have two conflicting situations. So, if there's a tsunami and the earthquake, it's best to be outside. For a quake, it's best to be inside. And you can't get public transport moving. So, it's very difficult to transport people out of the area.

And this is a scenario that have been bashing away at. We've been saying this is what you have to bear in mind. This is the consequences of building nuclear power plants in Japan. But this has been ignored, rejected, and now, we're facing exactly the situation that we have predicted for ages.

ANDERSON: Yes. I know -- I know you as a group have never been fond of the idea of nuclear power in Japan. It is part of the utility set up there and many people are thankful that it is.

But I just want our viewers to know which side of the fence you come from, though you are making some very good points.

Stan, let me bring you back in -- a somewhat casual approach by the Japanese government says our last guest. He says if it is a race against time, people should be further away than they already are.

GRANT: Well, I can bring you some more information on that, Becky, because while you were speaking, I was getting information fed into me here, that local media are now reporting that the exclusion zone of 10 kilometers has indeed been widened. We're now talking about a 20-kilometer evacuation zone, an exclusion zone -- an indication that, yes, the events have been increasing in significance in the past few hours and that has now led to them acting in this way. So, a 20-kilometer exclusion zone.

Now, I can also tell you that the defense ministry is sending in aircrafts, perhaps planes, or perhaps even helicopters to evacuate some elderly people in that area, elderly people who are being housed in old people's home, they are going to be evacuated by aircraft as well this evening.

So, an indication there that, yes -- as your guest were saying -- more information is coming out, perhaps now they're being a little bit more frank with people and extending that exclusion zone to, say, yes, we're looking at a significant spread here. An explosion, radioactive activity seeping into the atmosphere and now, this exclusion zone is being widened. That's an indication that this continues to change minute by minute -- Becky.

ANDERSON: Fascinating. Chaps, I thank you very much, indeed. Both of you.

And we'll be back with you, Stan, in the hours to come.

And I think the easiest way to keep this story fresh for you is to keep taking you back to the weather center because, of course, as Stan suggested, the wind will help decide how far any radiation spreads and where it travels. So, we're doing this every sort of 10 to 15 minutes.

Ivan, the meteorologist, on the set this morning.

Ivan, having listened to what we've been talking about and the idea that the government now instituting a 25-kilometer exclusion zone in and around these facilities -- your thoughts?

IVAN CABRERA, CNN INTERNATIONAL METEOROLOGIST: Well, this is what I have for you right here back here. Let's zoom right in. And this is essentially the new radius here that has been certified exclusion, right? So, we're getting folks away from this radius. This is that new expanded 20, 25-kilometer region here. We are now getting very close to a significant population center, to the north here in Minamisoma, to the north there.

And then we talk about the populations that are further to the north. We're talking Sendai is 93 kilometers to the north. So, if we keep expanding this region, of course, we get into Sendai and that would be a million people getting evacuated. We certainly don't want that, but that's much further, further -- much further to the north.

And then further to the south, we have Iwate there, about 43 kilometers south of the region there.

As far as what the winds are doing right now, it is nighttime there, so the winds have begun to relax. We had seen gusts upwards up 40 kilometers per hour. That's because we had a wind front move through essentially a cold front that moves through that did two things. It dropped the temperatures. So, folks that are exposed tonight are going to literally freeze as temperatures fall, I think, to about 2 below zero.

And the wind chill is going to be a factor, with the winds now have relaxed a bit, to about nine kilometers per hour. We'll continue to monitor the winds. I don't think they're going to be that gusty as we head through today.

And the key, Becky, is that they are going to be offshore, predominantly offshore. That means that any radioactive material here would -- any leaked would be pushed offshore and away from these population centers.

We'll keep you posted on the changing winds and the conditions there on the ground. Back to you for now.

ANDERSON: Important part of the story, Ivan. We thank you very much, indeed, for that.

Now, CNN correspondent Paula Hancocks is part of the CNN team heading to the quake zone. Earlier, she joined us from Sendai and described the latest warnings from there.


PAULA HANCOCKS, CNN INTERNATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: We are just close to the Sendai port. We're away from the evacuation zone, which is why we're 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 now saying get out of the evacuation area immediately.

Now, we have been seeing a half hour ago some cars leaving this area. That's certainly taking these warnings very seriously. This is why we're not that close to the water itself.

But 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 to be pretty sizable in themselves, which is always going to trigger concerns but it could trigger another tsunami.

So, you can see the devastation behind me. There are cars that have just been twisted into piles of metal. They're on top of each other. Some of them are twisted around poles.

Further down, closer to the water, we could also see some areas that have actually been smashed into buildings. The buildings themselves are still standing.

And you can see just behind that Ferris wheel, there is a huge, plaque, thick plume of smoke. Now, we've been watching this for some time. We've tried to go a bit closer, but the tsunami warnings are keeping us away from going closer.

Now, what the local residents are telling us is that they believe that's the area of a factory where they think that this where they said there'd been gas explosion or some fuel is burning off. It's been like that, they say, since yesterday. It's been like that for 24 hours. And the rescue workers just can't get close enough to actually try and put it out.

So, certainly people are fairly jumpy here at the moment. You can see it's a pretty empty area. There's debris. There's mud everywhere across this particular area of the port. And everywhere you look, there are smashed up, mangled cars.


ANDERSON: Paula Hancocks in Sendai.

You are watching CNN's continuing coverage of the most powerful earthquake recorded in the history of Japan. We'll take a very short break.

And just ahead, we're going to remind you of some of the mind- blowing scenes that we've witnessed in the last 29 hours or so. Plus, 45 countries have pledged rescue teams, supplies and financial help.

Coming up: how you can make a difference.


ANDERSON: Recapping our top story the here on CNN: another nightmare is emerging for quake-ravaged Japan. As we've been showing you, an explosion has ripped through a damaged nuclear plant in northeastern Japan.

The Tokyo Electric Company says some workers on the ground have been injured. The plant is about 250 kilometer from Tokyo. And it leaked radiation into the air after it was damaged in Friday's devastating quake and tsunami. Well, people who live near the reactor in Fukushima have now been evacuated and the radius has now been enlarged to 20 kilometers around.

But it's time like this when our iReporters truly add much-need perspective to what's happening. This is the moment the earthquake struck Fukushima captured by Ryan McDonald. Ryan had a chance to catch up with us again. He told us that a day after the quake, his problems and those of his neighbors spread far beyond the physical damage.


RYAN MCDONALD, CNN IREPORTER: The biggest problem right now we have is there's no food anywhere. This is what I had for dinner 12 hours ago. I have had nothing to eat since then. I had some orange juice. This is all I had in 12 hours.

All the convenience stores are closed, the grocery stores are closed. So, everyone is on the road trying to find something open and it's just gridlock everywhere.


ANDERSON: All right. Well, millions of people in the capital city of Tokyo are still recuperating from yesterday's quake.

I'm joined now by resident, Yusa Kanamori, via Skype.

Yusa, describe how the city is handling this today. We're about 24 or so hour on now, aren't we?

YUSA KANAMORI, TOKYO RESIDENT: Right now, I have my friends from -- people who had lost their transportation to their home. And they have already left to their house.

But, right now, everyone is watching the TV show about the nuclear power thing and everyone is just freaking out. People are at the convenience store trying to buy all the food so that they can stay at home and not come out.

We are watching the TV show and we really can't believe it's actually happening in Japan. People have been watching the TV show in my house and they're just all crying. And they just can't believe it's happening.

ANDERSON: When you look outside -- when you look outside, are people around on the streets?

KANAMORI: No, not at all. Not ever since last night, maybe. I haven't seen a single person right now at this moment.

But I see some weird clouds that are kind of dark. I saw them this afternoon when I was outside in my balcony. And I was talking to me friends that it was kind of weird. We don't normally see those clouds. Also it might be something caused by the earthquake or anything like that.

ANDERSON: How are you doing for food and water?

KANAMORI: Well, my mother went to get some at the convenience store and the supermarket. So, we are fine. But I'm sure there are a lot of people who are out of stock.

We -- in Japan, right now, my friends are very supporting through their, like, Twitters online because we don't have a phone line really working. So, everyone is contacting through Twitter and they're knowing that each other is alive.


KANAMORI: And we see a lot of friends from overseas and we're very cheerful from that. We see a lot of like pictures that are, like, we think about Japan and all those comments and we are really cheerful for that. And that's because -- and that's the reason why we can kind of hold it together right now.


Talk me through what happened just over 24 hours ago.

KANAMORI: Well, I was at home by myself. It was just like the earthquake that I usually feel. We have earthquakes a lot, so we don't really get scared of those earthquakes. But this time, it just got bigger and bigger and it just got shaky and the furniture kind of started to fell and I was all by myself at home and I didn't really know what to do.

I call my boyfriend. And I was -- I don t know, it was a miracle that I kind of actually was able to get through to him. But it was kind of -- after that, the phone line was all gone.

So, I can't really reach my mother. I can't reach my sister. And I was just staying at home.

And then my mother came back home and we just stayed there. And my sister was at work. So, she was just there and she couldn't come back. The transportations all stop. So, the cars were like crazy traffic inside of Tokyo.

So, you were really hard to get in touch with each other. And actually, we couldn't really get to home or my mother and my sister couldn't get home until much, much later after the earthquake happens.

ANDERSON: Well, stay in touch with us and we'd love to speak to you in the days ahead. We do wish you the best and let's hope that the worse is over now and that things will begin to get better.

KANAMORI: Thank you very much.

ANDERSON: All right, one of our guests on the show.

Paula Hancocks is on the line in Sendai. Paula, what's the latest from there?

HANCOCKS (via telephone): Well, Becky, there is a weird contradiction in the city at this point. I'm currently standing in the middle of the city park. And there are quite a lot of lights on in this particular neighborhood, a very small neighborhood. It does have electricity. The rest of the city, though, doesn't have electricity.

And as you saw earlier in the show, down by the port, there is devastation. There are cars smashed up and there are (INAUDIBLE) almost a mile, really, inland. But certainly, more than half a mile.

But what we have been seeing in the city itself, people are trying to get on with life as normal. But the fact is, there isn't enough gasoline. And we've seen very long queues for the petrol stations. Some people have been cueing up to an hour just to get 10 liters so they can continue what they're doing.

There was also not many grocery stores open. We've seen hundreds of people cueing outside there, hundreds of people cueing outside drugstores, and really not that many people apart from that on the street, people do seem to be staying at their home as much as possible.

And we have seen a bit of an accident from the city as well. As we were driving in, there were hundreds of cars trying to get out -- Becky.

ANDERSON: Fascinating. All right. Paula Hancocks there in Sendai.

We've been working you around over the last half hour, a look at what's going on in Tokyo with our (INAUDIBLE), with Paula in Sendai and indeed with Stan Grant.

It seems the nuclear power plants where there are really question marks as to what happens next. They are deserted and devastated. Just look at these scenes from Miyagi Prefecture in northern Japan, close to the epicenter of Friday's earthquake in Sendai, cars and debris littered the streets.

We're going to take a very short break. We'll be back after this.


ANDERSON: I'm Becky Anderson in London. You are watching CNN.

At least 45 countries have pledged rescue teams, supplies and financial help. Japan has accepted offers of search and rescue teams from Australia, New Zealand, South Korea and the U.S.

The U.S. has also sent Navy ships to help Japan with its relief effort. It's helping with what President Obama calls lift capacity, heavy lifting equipment. The U.S. also sent supplies to help cool nuclear reactors there.

Poland offering to send firefighters. President Medvedev says Russia has offered rescue dogs and sniffer dogs and all possible aid. Thailand offering 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 Crescent say they've mobilized 11 teams to heavily damaged areas. They have 20,000 tents and other relief supplies ready to pass on to local Red Cross teams.

So, that's the international community's efforts.

If you'd like to help victims of the Japan earthquake, you can find more information at, or "Impact your World." Our team is collecting links, have organizations that are mobilizing relief efforts in Japan.

On that page, you'll also find a link to Google's people finder database that aims to reunite those who were separated in the chaos, worked very well in Haiti. And as the earthquake response ramps up, we'll continue to add information to this page,

Do stay with CNN for continuing coverage from Japan. We'll keep you up-to-date as the story develops. "TALK ASIA" is next after a very quick check of the headlines with me. Viewers in the U.S. will now join "PIERS MORGAN TONIGHT" already in progress. I'm Becky Anderson in London.