Return to Transcripts main page


Danger and Death in the Quake Zone; Conflicting Reports About Meltdown; Search and Rescue Challenges; Japanese Ambassador Says Evacuation is Ordered Due to a Potential Nuclear Meltdown in Wake of Quake; Search and Rescue Is The Next Priority, As Temperatures Dip Below Freezing

Aired March 12, 2011 - 18:00   ET


WOLF BLITZER, CNN ANCHOR: Thanks very much. Happening now, breaking news. A nuclear meltdown may be under way in Japan right now, only hours after an explosion at that plant. A safety official tells CNN that a catastrophic failure of one reactor could be happening even as we speak, with the potential for widespread radiation release.

Also this hour, the wreckage and the search for survivors less than two full days after the monster quake. Japanese media now say more than 1800 people may be dead, double the official death toll right now. And we're also told that 9500 people in a single town in Japan right now they are listed as missing

And the aftershocks keep coming roughly every three hours. Many people in Japan are said to be walking around scared, scarred, and dazed. Some are even wearing helmets. Six million households don't have any power. And there are growing fears of food and gas shortages.

We want to welcome our viewers in the United States and around the world. I'm Wolf Blitzer. You're in THE SITUATION ROOM.

We want to immediately get reaction, though, to the breaking news that we're following right now. The Japanese ambassador to the United States Ichiro Fujisaki. He is here with us.

You heard the story. Let me repeat it, Mr. Ambassador, because I know you speak for the Japanese government. A meltdown may be under way at one of Fukushima's Daiichi nuclear power reactors. An official with Japan's Nuclear and Industrial Safety agency told CNN.

What can you tell us about this, Mr. Ambassador?

Chief cabinet secretary of Japan has made an announcement in the press conference about this issue. There was a concern about this reactor. We have confirmed that there was a blow-up. It was not a blow-up of reactor, nor container. It was a blow-up of the outer building. So there was no leakage of radioactive material. We are now trying to cope with the situation by putting water into that --

BLITZER: Saltwater.

FUJISAKI: Yeah, saltwater into the reactor. And there are some other issues with other reactors as well. Which needs also an injection of water or taking up vapor, because of increasing pressure into the container. And we're now working on it.

BLITZER: But is it fair to say, Mr. Ambassador, that a meltdown may be under way at this nuclear power reactor?

FUJISAKI: We do not see evidence of that at this time.

BLITZER: Of a meltdown?


BLITZER: And your information is based as only a moments ago, a few hours ago? How up to date is the information that you have?

FUJISAKI: We are -- we're getting information every hour on this issue.

BLITZER: Every hour, they're calling Washington.

FUJISAKI: Yes, yes.

BLITZER: They're briefing you on what's going on?

FUJISAKI: Yes, yes.

BLITZER: Because a meltdown, as you know, is a catastrophic failure of the reactor core, which could spew out radiation which would be devastating.

FUJISAKI: Yes, I know there was concern about this first reactor, that you have said, so we have made research into that. And still working on it. But what our government has announced, no, that it was a blow-up of the outer building.

BLITZER: Would you call it a meltdown?


BLITZER: You would not call it a meltdown?


BLITZER: What would you call it?

FUJISAKI: It was -- I would say there was a pressure from vapor coming out of a container to blow up the outer building. We are now working out so that melting will not happen. There was a part melt of a fuel rod.

BLITZER: A what?

FUJISAKI: A melting of fuel rod. There was a part of that.

BLITZER: A part of that?

FUJISAKI: Yes. But it was nothing like a reactor, a whole reactor, melting down.

BLITZER: I want you to hold on for a moment, because Jeanne Meserve, our Homeland Security correspondent, is also getting information on what is going on.

What are you learning, Jeanne?

JEANNE MESERVE, CNN HOMELAND SECURITY CORRESPONDENT: I'm curious to hear what the ambassador is saying here, because I talked to a number of nuclear experts this afternoon who said the information that is coming in is conflicting, it's not complete. It's hard for people who aren't on the scene to figure out exactly what is happening at that reactor.

Clearly it's a very grave situation. Clearly they've been pushing on this seawater and the boron -- boron is supposed to help stop the nuclear reaction, in an effort to try and cool this plant down. But one expert earlier today called it a Hail Mary sort of approach, an indication that the Japanese were coming to the bottom of their toolbox here.

But I have no information apart from what we've reported from this Japanese official with the Nuclear and Industrial Safety Agency. And what we have the ambassador saying, which is contradictory. I can't tell you exactly where we are in terms of the meltdown situation, Wolf.

BLITZER: That's a good point, Jeanne. Let me bring the ambassador back in.

There is conflicting information coming out. So what I hear you saying is everyone should just pause a little bit, and wait to get the accurate information. It's now already Sunday morning.


BLITZER: In Japan. So it's daylight. People are working.

FUJISAKI: And we are working every minute, every second, in order to have the situation under control. And as I said, there's two types. They bring water and also taking out vapor in the reactor.

BLITZER: But what she says, Jeanne, this is a Hail Mary maneuver. That's a term and some of our viewers around the world may not appreciate it. Almost an act of desperation right now because all of the regular systems failed. Not necessarily as a result of the earthquake, but as a result of the tsunami that put that whole power plant basically under water, and killed those coolant capabilities.

FUJISAKI: So we have to put in the -- because there was not enough clear water at the time, we had to put in seawater as you said, and also boron acid. And we are working on this. They have filled in the tank with this water and now trying to measure it.

BLITZER: When will we know for sure whether this is going to be resolved, OK? Or when there could be -- and we hope there won't be another Chernobyl?

FUJISAKI: We're working on it, as I said, every minute, every second. But I do not have the capacity to tell you what time -- what exact time that we have an assurance that this will not develop in an adverse manner. But I think, at the moment, we do not have any evidence that it is going to worsen. We are putting all efforts to control the matter--

BLITZER: I want to bring Jeanne back into this.

Jeanne, what else are you picking up?

MESERVE: Well, just add, although the meltdown if it is occurring is a very serious development. There is a containment system here. And it was built specifically in the case of some sort of catastrophic failure to make sure there was not a radiological release. The hope is that that's intact, that it will hold, that the pressure won't build up too much. And that it will be able to keep things under control. But I just wanted to throw in here that the meltdown doesn't necessarily relate automatically to a release.

FUJISAKI: And as I said also, the radioactive material, the number is decreasing. And that was also made public by --

BLITZER: Tens of thousands of people, though, have been evacuated from an area within 20 kilometers.

FUJISAKI: Exactly.

BLITZER: Or 12 miles from this facility.

FUJISAKI: Exactly. In order to cope with the situation, what is most important is to try to take most cautious attitude. And that is what exactly the government is doing.

BLITZER: What else are you doing to help these people? I don't know how many all together. I have heard 70,000, 80,000, 100,000. How many have been forced to leave their homes, out of precaution because of potential radiation?

FUJISAKI: I do not have exact number how many people because -- but -- because it has been expanding. First we said three kilometers, 10 kilometers, 20 kilometers. We are taking as most cautious measures and we're trying to evacuate people so that accident will not really affect people.

Now, on these natural disaster, three things have to be always kept in mind. One, search and rescue of the people.

BLITZER: I want to get all of these things. Hold on a second because I want to take a quick break, Mr. Ambassador. There's breaking news following. And I know that you're in touch with the U.S. government. The U.S. government and the Obama administration working closely with you to help. I'm going to ask you if the U.S. government is sending experts over to Japan to deal with this potential radiation fallout issue. And a lot more, what else the U.S. could be doing. Stand by, Mr. Ambassador.

We're also going to be talking with our reporters on the scene. Anna Coren is now in Sendai. That's the scene of the devastation. We're going to be checking in with her throughout the next several hours. Much more of the breaks news coverage coming up here in THE SITUATION ROOM right after this.


BLITZER: It's just after 8:00 a.m. Sunday morning in Japan. We're getting in a new daylight image of a nation pummeled and paralyzed by the monster earthquake.

A huge refinery fire, just one small slice of the crisis, and the very real danger in the quake zone right now. Let's bring in CNN's Anna Coren. She's in Sendai, the scene of so much devastation as you see in these pictures, courtesy of our affiliate NHK.

Anna, what are you have seeing and hearing right now?

ANNA COREN, CNN INTERNATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Wolf, we're in the city center and at the moment people are trying to get whatever they can as far as supplies go. You know, as far as water, as far as food, as far as gas, all these things are becoming a real rarity here in Sendai.

In front of me are hundreds and hundreds of cars queuing up at the gas station. They're being told they can only receive 20 liters of gas. So that's about 30 U.S. dollars. That's it, because they need it to go around. So much in the city is without power and water. But I could see this morning, Wolf, down at the port, this huge mass of water that's just come inland. And further up, you also have this gas station that is also on fire. Smoke is billowing on the outskirts of this city.

Sendai obviously has been hit especially hard and there are people who have lost homes, who have lost everything that they have. But it's further north where the mass devastation really is. We're getting reports from a town called Minamisanriku, about two hours north of where we are here in Sendai. And the Kyoto News Agency, which is the official Japanese news agency, they are saying that 9,500 people are unaccounted for. We cannot confirm that they are all deaths but know for a fact that 9,500 -- that's more than half of this village - is missing. As we come into daylight here, Wolf, the picture of devastation, it's really, it's really quite confronting.

BLITZER: Sendai where you are, Anna, that's a huge city of about a million people. Is that right?

COREN: Yeah, that is exactly right. A million people here in Sendai. That's exactly right.

BLITZER: And do they have power? Did you say they lost power? They have power? What's the situation as far as electricity is concerned in Sendai?

COREN: Yeah, most of the city is without power and without water. There are pockets of the city where they -- that's still functioning. But for the majority of it is without power and water. Where we stayed last night it was turned into an evacuation center for all of those people who are without those things that we take for granted, because this is a city that is really trying to cope. As I say, pockets of it are functioning but for the most of it, for the majority of it, it is a complete back out.

BLITZER: A complete blackout in Sendai. Do you see evidence of international or even Japanese relief, humanitarian operations under way? Is food and water and medicine, are they coming in?

COREN: Not at the moment, Wolf. But I believe that the search and rescue crews, that they were down at those devastated sites first thing, first light this morning. And they'll be continuing throughout the day. We know that they stopped working on -- as the sun went down yesterday. And I can tell you, too, Wolf, we were here doing live hits all throughout the night and it was bitterly, bitterly cold. Real concern for anybody who is still alive in that wreckage, in that rubble in their collapsed homes because I have no doubt that hypothermia would have kicked in last night.

BLITZER: All right. Stand by. Anna will be with us throughout these hours.

The ambassador Japan to the United States, Ichiro Fujisaki, is with us here in Washington as well. Are you getting the assistance that you need? You just heard her say this is a city of a million people without power by and large. Is Japan getting the assistance it needs right now? Because I assume there's a lot of people trapped in the rubble in those buildings who are still alive but every hour is precious.

FUJISAKI: Yes. You're right. Every hour is precious. And the sad thing about this is that every hour, the death or missing number is increasing because it's not quite identified yet. However, the better thing is that we are taking control of the situation better and better every hour. And as you have said, yesterday, we're told that 6 million households were out of electricity. That's more than 10 percent of Japanese households. Now it's down to 2.5.

BLITZER: Million?

FUJISAKI: Million. So rather rapidly it's increasing. With public transportation as well. And in these situations, what I was going to say is the first priority is search and rescue, the human life. Second --

BLITZER: Do you have enough search and rescue teams there already?

FUJISAKI: And that's what we're working on. The prime minister has ordered more than 50,000 forces of self defense force --

BLITZER: 50,000?

FUJISAKI: Yes. That is about quarter of our self defense force, working on with police, 20,000, and coast guard as well and mobilizing --

BLITZER: They're moving to this region from all over the country.

FUJISAKI: They're working, yes. Also, with the help of U.S. forces, the U.S. have moved Ronald Reagan aircraft carrier up to that region. And also you are sending your rescue team from USAID, which has some experts of nuclear as well. And rescue dogs and about 50 -- more than 50 countries and regions are extending help to us.

BLITZER: And you're welcoming all these countries who are offering you assistance?

FUJISAKI: In general, we are trying to coordinate, and we are very grateful to that, yes.

BLITZER: I want to take another break and I want you to stay with me, Mr. Ambassador, if you can.

But as far as the nuclear potential fallout in -- at this one reactor, if in fact there is a melt down, or isn't a meltdown, have you asked the United States government or other governments, the International Atomic Energy Agency, for technical assistance in dealing with this catastrophe?

FUJISAKI: What I know is that we are now coping with this issue ourselves. But, of course, there could be some consultation with other countries. But for the moment, because it's just happening now, we are doing -- working on ourselves.

And in this kind of situation, what is most important is speed, and mobilize all the forces and that is exactly what we are doing. And at the same time, we need sort of cautious attitude, calmness, in moving at that, so that we would not try to exaggerate the situation as well. We are working on it. And the prime minister himself has flown over the -- that area, and has been the chair of the committee of -- and trying to be in control of the situation.

BLITZER: Mr. Ambassador, I want you to stay with us if you can. I know you have a crazy schedule here.

Anna Coren is standing by. She's in Sendai for us. We have other reporters on the scene for our CNN viewers here in the United States and around the world standing by as well. Much more of the breaking news coverage coming up after this.


BLITZER: CNN's Kyung Lah has been heading to the port of Sendai closest to the quake's epicenter and devastated by the tsunami. She stopped at a small town south of Sendai where rescuers are trying to reach at least 13 people trapped when their home was swallowed up in a massive landslide. Kyung Lah filed this report.


KYUNG LAH, CNN INTERNATIONAL CORRESPONDENT (on camera): One of the things that we've been looking for is 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 Shirakawa. And in this city there is a tight- knit community, a neighborhood called Hanoki Dira. You can see some of the houses of this -- it really looks like a small little community. You can see the three houses right here. What you can't see behind those 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 Jiro zooms in on what you're looking at 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 are saying they haven't found a single person.


BLITZER: Let's bring back the Japanese ambassador to the United States, Ichiro Fujisaki.

Kyung Lah's report, so powerful, Mr. Ambassador. A lot of my Twitter followers, I got one that sent me a Tweet asking me this question.

Ask the ambassador how he's holding up? How are you doing?

FUJISAKI: Well, we think this is a very tragic situation. And I think as the reporter said, it's one of the biggest challenges in our history of Japan. But we are very gratified that international community is trying to turn it into not only national challenge, but international challenge. And that a lot of countries, as I said, more than 50 countries, regions, are trying to extend their help.

Your president, your vice president, your secretary of State and secretary of Defense all said that they'll do everything they can. And exactly your forces are trying to work with us and we are closely communicating, coordinating with each other. And we're very grateful not only to the government -- there's a lot of congressmen, senators, the NGOs, people of United States who are coming to us and extending help sometimes through NGOs, such as the Red Cross or other private organizations. And we are very grateful for this sharing of friendship and sharing our sentiment.

BLITZER: What are you hearing from your own family members who are in Japan? Are any of them near this disaster?

FUJISAKI: Well, not my immediate family but I'm trying to identify my friends in that region and I haven't been able to get a hold of them because telephone and Internet in that area is not secured. So it's very difficult to get hold of who's whereabouts. It just happened less than 48 hours ago, so we're still working to reach out. BLITZER: Are you familiar with that one village north of Sendai, about 17,000 people but 9,500 of them are now listed as unaccounted for, or missing? Are you familiar with this area?

FUJISAKI: I have heard the report about it but I know Sendai and I know some of the vicinities of Sendai, but I do not know that exact town. And Sendai, as you said, is a big town of 1 million. And Fukushima, you asked me how many people would have to be evacuated. If everyone would evacuate, I think it will be more than 200,000. But exactly what number, I have not been able to get a hold of yet.

BLITZER: And Fukushima that is where that nuclear reactor is, which --


BLITZER: And that's where there is so much concern with everyone in that area. If they had to be -- that's 250,000 people that would have to be evacuated.


BLITZER: Tens of thousands have already been evacuated from this area. Such a heartbreaking story. Is there anything that the government of Japan, the people of Japan, need the most right now? Because we have viewers in United States and around the world who are watching. And so many of them and I've been getting e-mails from them, Tweets from them on Twitter. So many want to help. What should they do?

FUJISAKI: They could communicate with your Red Cross, for example, or other NGOs who are working with us, and there are a lot of organizations. And as for the people who are missing, the American people missing, the State Department has a web site and -- but, also, our embassies and consulate generals around the state would be helping to identify the place. But all these helps extended very much appreciated and we are very gratified for that.

BLITZER: Mr. Ambassador, hold on a minute. Anna Coren is in Sendai for us, our correspondent. Something is going on over there, Anna, right now. What's going on?

ANNA COREN, CNN REPORTER IN SENDAI, JAPAN (via telephone): Wolf, we just had a major aftershock here. It's the second one in the last couple of hours. So that's tsunami alert to Sendai and much of Japan's northeast coast is still well on truly in alert.

The concern, of course, is another quake will trigger another tsunami like the one we experienced on Friday, that 10-meter monster wave that engulfed so much of the coast.

BLITZER: And the shaking that you're feeling right now, is it over with, this aftershock? How significant? You've been there now for a while. How significant was this aftershock, the tremor that you're feeling? COREN: It was significant. You know, the equipment is moving. That's for sure where we are set up here. The aftershock a little earlier this morning, I was actually inside a building and the blinds were moving and you could, you know, feel -- physically feel the building sway from side to side.

So these aftershocks are still continuing and there have been dozens, dozens since the 8.9 magnitude quake struck here on Friday.

BLITZER: And all the experts say, Anna, there are going to be dozens more in the coming days and weeks. This crisis is by no means over.

Anna, hold on a minute. Chad Myers, our severe weather expert, our meteorologist is joining us right now. We shouldn't be surprised, Chad, that there's another earthquake, in effect, an aftershock that has just occurred.

CHAD MYERS, CNN SEVERE WEATHER EXPERT: That's right. But, Anna, if you can still hear me. An hour and 16 minutes ago there was a 6.3 aftershock. Two questions, did you feel that one? And if you did, how much stronger was the one that you just felt compared to that one?

COREN: Chad, the one that we experienced earlier this morning, the one that you mentioned an hour ago, that was much, much stronger, much stronger. I was actually inside the building and it was swaying from side to side. There were blinds inside the building and they were moving. So that was much more noticeable.

Although, in saying that I am standing outside now so, you know, you can see trees move and you can see our television equipment move. That's -- I guess it takes a little bit out of it when you're standing outside. It's a lot more noticeable when you are inside the building.

BLITZER: Chad, how many -- how many aftershocks so far?

MYERS: Two hundred and fifty above 5.0 and almost 50 now above 6.0. It would not be out of the question with an 8.9 quake to have the possibility within the next still literally, Wolf -- this could go on for months.

But the possibility of a 7.9 to 8.0 aftershock is still in the potential because when you get an 8.9, you reduce that by 1.0, that's the next major aftershock you could get. So what she just felt was a 6.3. You've got to multiply that by almost 400 times.

That 400 times could be as strong as the biggest aftershock could possibly be. That's what we're talking about here. This is -- this was a huge aftershock and that was a very big quake and a 7.9 -- even though we're going to call it an aftershock is a major earthquake all by itself.

BLITZER: They haven't experienced the 7.9 aftershock yet.

MYERS: No, 7.2.

BLITZER: Yes, it's possible a 7.9. Just to give it some perspective. Correct me if I'm wrong, Chad. The earthquake in Haiti was 7.0.

MYERS: That's correct. In fact, that 8.9 that was offshore in Japan was ten times ten so multiply those two together, a hundred, almost a hundred times stronger than the earthquake under Haiti.

Now, you have to multiply 30 -- because this is logarithmic. You multiply power of earthquake by 32. A 7.0 is 32 times less powerful than an 8.0, an 8.0, 32 times less powerful than 9.0.

That would make the earthquake underwater in Japan almost one thousand times more powerful than Haiti. It's hard to get your mind around those numbers.

BLITZER: Let me bring Anna back in. Anna's in Sendai. Anna, how - it's now what, approaching 9 a.m. in Sendai, how are the people reacting to these aftershocks? You've been speaking with some of them?

COREN: People here in Japan are quite used to earthquakes. I think that's what we really need to remember is that Japan is prepared when it comes to earthquake. They're used to them. These aftershocks don't really phase the people here. The buildings are built so they're quake proof.

It wasn't the earthquake that caused the devastation. It was the tsunami. This massive monster wave 10 meters high that hit the coast and that is still the concern. I'm sure, you know, Chad will vouch for this. The concern is that more quakes, more aftershocks and strong aftershocks could cause more tsunamis. That is what people are really, really concerned about.

BLITZER: These pictures that we're showing our viewers right now here in the United States and around the world is new video that's just come in to CNN. Gary Tuchman is also on the scene for us. Gary, you're near Sendai right now. Where are you?

GARY TUCHMAN, CNN CORRESPONDENT (via telephone): Right now, I'm in a city just to the west of Sendai. We just felt the aftershock too. It's very reminiscent of what we felt in Haiti so many times, Wolf, after that great earthquake on January 12th last year.

You know, the apprehension on people's faces, obviously the people here are more prepared for the earthquakes. The fright you see on people's faces when you have these aftershocks after such a devastating event is so hard to explain. People are so concerned there will be another big earthquake like it was a short time ago.

But last night we even felt a bigger one and we were in Tokyo on the 11th floor of the hotel last night, you know, far from the epicenter where the aftershock originated. My desk I was sitting at started shaking and water started coming out of the toilet literally.

I mean, it literally came out on the floor. So this is something they'll experience for weeks and months at a time if they experience what the Haitian people experienced a year ago. BLITZER: All right, Gary don't go too far away. Chad is with us and Anna is with us. I want to say goodbye to the Ambassador Ichiro Fujisaki, the ambassador of Japan to the United States. Is there a final point you would like to make to our viewers around the world?

FUJISAKI: Thank you very much. This is a most serious situation really has happened and we are trying to cope with the situation. And -- but as you have rightly said, this is not over yet.

There are a lot of very big aftershocks and also tsunamis coming. So we are still in the midst of the situation. We are trying to take across the situation and we are very grateful that the international community including the United States is helping us.

BLITZER: Because I'm heartbroken. Our viewers are devastated by this. I can only imagine, Mr. Ambassador, what you're going through and your people are going through. We wish all of you only the best.

FUJISAKI: Thank you very much.

BLITZER: Thank you very much for coming in. We'll be in close touch.


BLITZER: We'll take a quick break. Continue the breaking news coverage right after this.


BLITZER: Our correspondent Anna Coren is in Sendai in northern Japan where they've just felt another major aftershock. Anna, I want to bring you back into this coverage, the breaking news coverage right now.

These are going on almost every few hours an aftershock, but this one you point out as was the case almost an hour and a half ago these last two were very severe.

COREN: That's exactly right, Wolf. You can see things moving, trees swaying from side to side, our television equipment, which is set up is swaying. When I was inside the building a bit over an hour ago, that was quite alarming because that is when you are seeing the blinds move and you can physically feel this -- the building shake.

But as I mentioned a little earlier, this is a country that is prepared for earthquakes. The buildings are prepared. They are quake proof. You would have seen that even though that force of the quake, 8.9 magnitude. It was violent, but there weren't too many major buildings that fell.

So that is worth something that, you know, Japan is well and truly equipped for. That's not the cause of the devastation. It is that tsunami, that massive wave that hit the coast, so much of the northeast coast that has just caused widespread devastation.

BLITZER: And in this aftermath of the most recent aftershocks, you say there's another tsunami alert that's just been imposed, is that right?

COREN: That's right. That is exactly right, Wolf. That has been in place the entire time. It has not been downgraded at all. Particularly when those aftershocks occur certainly on the coastline, sirens go off and there is a warning over the loudspeakers to get away from the coast.

So the concern of course is that these aftershocks will trigger another tsunami, another wave that will obviously cause even more devastation. There are rescue crews down at these sites going through the rubble, going through these collapsed houses, looking for any survivors. A tsunami would just be disastrous.

BLITZER: Let me bring Chad Myers back into this conversation. Chad, how worried should the people of Japan in this region of Japan be worried about yet another tsunami?

MYERS: Well, it's certainly possible, Wolf. I'm going to back you up. I want go through this entire chronology of this earthquake and this tsunami. We know where it is and I just want to take you to all of the other earthquakes and all the other aftershocks that we've seen.

The problem with this is two and a half days ago there was a 7.2 earthquake. That was before the 8.9 earthquake. Everybody would say, wow, there's a 7.2 earthquake, thinking that that was the main shock. Because typically the first shock is the main shock and then there are aftershocks.

As it turns out -- we rarely talk about this -- that 7.2 was a foreshock. It was a foreshadowing shock to the 8.9 that was still to come, but no one knew that. Now, there's no way to know that this 8.9 could be a foreshock for something stronger and that is very unlikely to get something stronger than 8.9.

But it's certainly possible. There have been earthquakes that have been bigger than 8.9 in history, but it's just so unusual to get the foreshock to the -- a number of them before the main shock of an 8.9. And then that 7.2 that I just talked about, that foreshock, did not have a tsunami on it.

So in order for a tsunami to be generated, you really do need seven point something, eight point something to get water to move. But if you've been standing on the ocean and knocked down by a three foot wave you realize a three foot, four foot, five feet of water is still very powerful.

It will still knock you over. It will still send you into other things and make a lot of danger even though it's not a 30-foot wall of water. A five or six or seven foot wall of water is now dangerous considering everything is broken up and there's debris everywhere.

That's why the tsunami warnings and alerts are going out because five or six or seven feet right now -- if you mix five feet or six or seven feet of water with all of that debris already there, you're putting all of those rescuers in danger. BLITZER: Yes, that's an excellent point, Chad. Gary Tuchman is with us near Sendai. You felt this latest aftershock, the one before, in fact, every time you have got to Japan you've been feeling these aftershocks. Are people, though, expressing concern to you about another tsunami?

TUCHMAN: You know, there's a lot of concern and a lot of anxiety. They're used to getting earthquakes in Japan, no question but not used to getting 8.9 earthquakes and that's what creates anxiety. We saw this in Haiti. People are afraid and still afraid today, Wolf, to sleep in houses not damaged because they're afraid a stronger aftershock stronger than the first one.

Historically it's generally not the case. You don't get aftershocks bigger than the initial quake, but that doesn't mean the anxiety is going to away. Just 20 minutes ago we felt here in this town, which is on the west coast of Japan near the Sea of Japan, but two hours away from Sendai, we felt a very large aftershock that alarmed people.

And last night we felt another large one. And if history is -- if we experience here what we experienced in Haiti, we'll be feeling it for weeks and months to come, but it doesn't mean something worse is going to happen.

But because of the nuclear situation, because of seeing these tsunamis on live television, which is unprecedented, there's an intense amount of anxiety here in the nation of Japan, particularly northern Japan where we are right now.

BLITZER: Especially now because there's a feared meltdown perhaps occurring at one of Japan's nuclear power reactors. We're going to update our viewers on this potential nightmare and a lot more of our coverage. The breaking news here in THE SITUATION ROOM continues after this.


BLITZER: Let's get right back to the breaking news. Our top story, conflicting reports right now about a possible nuclear meltdown in Japan only hours after an explosion at a nuclear plant first damage bid the earthquake.

A safety official tells CNN a catastrophic failure of one reactor could be happening with the potential for widespread radiation release. Japan's ambassador to the United States just told us here in THE SITUATION ROOM, he says flatly, there is no meltdown.

Joining us now is Jim Walsh of the Massachusetts Institute of Technology. He's an expert at international security. Jim, what do you make of this report that a meltdown, though, may be under way, if in fact, it is under way, how catastrophic, how serious would that be?

JIM WALSH, MASSACHUSETTS INSTITUTE OF TECHNOLOGY: Well, first, is it happening? Wolf, you put your finger on what has been a disturbing development today, which is an ongoing series of conflicting reports. I want to come back to this. This is a problem for the government. They have to hold on to credibility going forward. If people don't believe what they're saying, they're going to have a lot more problems down the road over ensuing weeks.

BLITZER: You're talking about the Japanese government?

WALSH: Exactly and the utility. And unfortunately there was a very unpleasant history of the government and the utility not being forthright and always telling the truth. So they should walk very carefully on this.

Let me tell you the three things that I've heard that are a cause of concern. One -- that are new developments today. One, I want to talk about that plant that you're referring to, the plant that's had a lot of problems. I want to save that for last.

Because there are two other things have also happened. Near those plants, there's a second set of plants, it was announced this evening on U.S. time that two of those plant, one or two of those plants that their cooling system has failed.

Remember that's how we go into the problem with the first plant, that their cooling system has failed. So now at a different site, there are additional reactors that may have cooling problems.

BLITZER: I just want to point out that we have confirmed -- we're reporting here at CNN and I'll be precise, a second reactor at a facility failed shortly after 5:00 a.m. Sunday time, it's already Sunday morning in Japan.

The Tokyo Electric Power Company said according to TV Asahi. The power company said it was having difficulty cooling the reactor and may need to release radioactive steam in order to relieve pressure. Translate that into English.

WALSH: Well, Wolf, that was the second one. That's a whole separate problem. It's more than -- there's two sets of reactors. There's the reactor that they're trying to pour seawater into right now and the reactor next to it is the one that you just referred to who's had a cooling shutdown.

But in addition to those two reactors, which are together in one group, there's a second group of reactors nearby at a different site and those reactors are now having problems with their cooling. The whole issue here is unless you are able to keep those plates cool, then you run the risk of a meltdown, essentially.

That's the simple way to put it. That it will get so intense, so hot, that either the reactor vessel breaches or that they are unable to keep enough water in the system and the fuel rods begin to melt and you get a meltdown.

It's not just the one plant that we've been focusing on. We have another plant next to it and then two other plants at a site nearby. So this is a growing issue here. Now, as to the issue of the meltdown, it's unclear which of the two plants the government is referring to.

Earlier today, they put seawater and boric acid into the main plant that had been a problem. The one they were trying to cool and not having any success with. An hour ago, the government announced that that was successful and that radiation levels were declining.

But now we're getting reports that maybe that might not be the case. You know, if they're pouring seawater in there and it's not cooling, then that would seem to suggest that there might be a leak. If that's the case, this just gets more and more complicated.

BLITZER: Hold on a second, Jim. I want to continue this discussion. Anna with us as well, she's in Sendai. We're going to check with here.

We'll take a quick break and continue on the nuclear breaking news. What's happening? Has there been a meltdown, a catastrophic failure or not? Our coverage continues right after this.


BLITZER: The prime minister says more than 3,000 people have been rescued since the quake struck. Right now, search and rescue crew from Virginia is on its way to Japan to help. Our Brian Todd spoke with crew members before they left.

BRIAN TODD: Wolf, we're here with a search and rescue team preparing to deploy to Japan. This is a team that knows how to do this, the Fairfax County Urban Search and Rescue Team. They're getting ready go really at a moment's notice. They know they will be deployed there. This is a team that has done this quite a few times before.

They were in Haiti last year for that massive earthquake. We're going to show you some of their preparations. They've had just a lot of this going on for the last few hours with people preparing their own backpacks, a lot of heavy equipments. We've got 72 people from this unit are going, six canines, four inflatable boats.

They're bringing jackhammers, a lot of heavy equipment, a lot of food, medical supplies, water, cameras, listening devices, things like that. I'm here with Captain Joe Knerr with the Fairfax County Urban Search and Rescue.

Joe, what are they telling you as far as preparation for this particular mission?

CAPTAIN JOE KNERR, FAIRFAX COUNTY URBAN SEARCH AND RESCUE: We're watching the news, watching your network to get as much news as we can on it right now. We've seen the devastation that's over there.

The earthquake alone was devastating, followed by the tsunami which is just a 1-2 punch. You know, we're trying to get the best information we can from the news. But in the early hours it's always a little bit - a little bit short on the information.

TODD: You were in Haiti last year for that one. This is different. How do you prepare differently for an earthquake and then a tsunami afterwards? Any special preparations that you have to do?

KNERR: We have to rely on the training we get when we first join the team. We take our training and we take it seriously. We practice throughout the year. We can count on our training to get us through whatever situation we encounter.

TODD: What's the most difficult part of this as far as just try to go into an area like this and rescue people?

KNERR: It's going to be access. Infrastructure looks devastated. What is intact is probably flooded so actually gaining access to the people that need our help is going to be the most difficult.

TODD: How long have they told you to prepare to be out there?

KNERR: They haven't given us an estimate, but we planned it for two weeks, up to 14 days.

TODD: Good luck.

KNERR: Thank you, sir.

TODD: Great work out there, and best of luck to you.

KNERR: Thank you, sir.

TODD: Thanks very much.

Wolf, they don't know exactly when they're going to deploy, could be any moment now. And again, this is a team with a lot of experience. We're also told that the L.A. County Urban Search and Rescue Team is going to go out. This is all being coordinated by the State Department -- Wolf.


BLITZER: Brian Todd, thanks very much.