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Conflicting Reports About Meltdown; Situation at Daiichi Nuclear Facility in Question; Aftershock Recently Felt in Shonai, Japan; Japanese P.M.: More Than 3,000 People Rescued; Danger & Death in the Quake Zone; Quake Moves Japan's Coast 8 Feet

Aired March 12, 2011 - 20:00   ET

THIS IS A RUSH TRANSCRIPT. THIS COPY MAY NOT BE IN ITS FINAL FORM AND MAY BE UPDATED.


WOLF BLITZER, CNN ANCHOR: You're in "The Situation Room," happening now, breaking news. Nuclear fears and confusion in Japan. A nuclear safety official tells CNN a meltdown may, repeat, may be under way in a reactor at a nuclear plant rocked by the earthquake.

But Japan's ambassador to the United States tells me that is not the case. Another aftershock hitting hard in Japan. Our reporters on the scene describe the fear they felt when the 6.1 tremor struck. We're told more than 140 aftershocks jolted the island over the past 24 hours. And the search through the rubble is stretching into a third day.

Japan's prime minister says more than 3,000 people have been rescued, but it's now feared the death toll from the monster quake and tsunami will climb to 1,800 or higher.

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

Want to get to the breaking news that we're following. The fear that a meltdown at one of the nuclear reactors in Japan may be under way. Jeanne Meserve is watching this story for us. Update our viewers, Jeanne, on what we know right now.

JEANNE MESERVE, HOMELAND SECURITY CORRESPONDENT: Well, a nuclear expert earlier today called it a Hail Mary pass. The Japanese were pumping seawater into a reactor to try and keep it cool. In addition, infusing it with Boron in an attempt to stop the radiological chemical reaction, the nuclear reaction. All of this, a desperate effort to prevent a meltdown.

The Japanese ambassador to the U.S. said on our air a short time ago that there was no meltdown in progress. But an official with Japan's Nuclear and Industrial Safety Agency told CNN it is a possibility there may be one underway. He said, we have still not confirmed that there's an actual meltdown, but there is a possibility.

The reason they think there might be one underway is that they have detected radioactive cesium and radioactive iodine outside of that plant. That official went on to say, however, that we have confidence we will resolve this. That was reiterated by Japan's chief cabinet secretary. He said in a press conference a short time ago, we can stabilize the situation. Now, adding another level to this is the fact that a second reactor at that same plant is now having problems with its cooling system. This is exactly what started the problem at the first reactor. So that -- the temperature in that second unit is believed to be rising.

We were told by a Japanese official that nine people have now had radiation exposure. It's been detected on their clothing. At this point, they do not believe that is health threatening, but the IAEA, the International Atomic Energy Agency says that the Japanese government is considering distributing iodine tablets to the population. Iodine helps protect the thyroid from radiation exposure.

In addition, the government has expanded the evacuation zone around this plant now to about 12 miles. The IAEA says about 170,000 people have been evacuated from the area. In addition, the Japanese news agency, NHK, is reporting that the military has moved into the area, a team that specializes in cleaning up radiological contamination.

What is the U.S. government doing about this? Well, the National -- excuse me, the Nuclear Regulatory Commission has sent two experts to Japan. They are people who are expert in this particular kind of reactor. In addition, the NRC and the Department of Energy are both keeping very careful tabs and keeping in touch with the government of Japan. Wolf, back to you.

Jeanne, stand by for a moment. Yoree Koh is joining us on the phone right now. She is a correspondent for the "Wall Street Journal." I understand you were not that far away from one of these plants earlier, Yoree, tell us what you know.

YOREE KOH, "WALL STREET JOURNAL" CORRESPONDENT (via telephone): Right. I was about a mile away from the explosion of the first reactor -- well, about 45 minutes prior to the explosion. So myself and my colleague got out about 45 minutes before with the last group of evacuees.

As we were interviewing the -- one of the officials heading up the evacuation process, he was very calm and lucid and then he got the announcement and, you know, his face just changed color immediately. And things got very grim very quickly and the last group of municipal employees were evacuated and that's the group that we left with.

BLITZER: This explosion that occurred, and we have pictures of it and we see the huge plumes of smoke that emerged from that explosion. Walk us through how that explosion happened.

KOH: Well, Wolf, I wasn't there for the actual explosion, but I can tell you that prior to it -- I'm not sure how many people at the latest evacuation center, which is about 20 kilometers outside of the town, which is closest to the reactor -- things were fine there. I don't know to what extent they were informed of what was happening. I don't even know how much the officials back at the first evacuation center knew about what was going on, but they knew it was going to be bad.

BLITZER: And these reports that a meltdown may actually have started already. You've heard these reports. The Japanese ambassador to the United States tells me those reports are not true. But what, if anything, do you know about the reports that a meltdown may have occurred, may be occurring right now at one of these plants?

KOH: I'm not -- I don't think my intelligence -- I'm privy to that kind of intelligence. However, I can tell you that when we were leaving the evacuation center, the officials were putting on these bright yellow hazmat type suits with, you know, face masks to, I would assume, protect themselves against any sort of radiation fallout that would occur.

BLITZER: How are you holding up, Yoree, what's it like for you?

KOH: It's fine. You know, it's been a busy couple of days, but, you know, nothing like the harrowing experience that these people up north are going through.

BLITZER: I want you to hold on a moment. Kenneth Cukier is joining us now. He's a correspondent for "The Economist" magazine. He's joining us via Skype from Tokyo. How are you holding up, Kenneth?

KENNETH CUKIER, JAPAN CORRESPONDENT, "THE ECONOMIST" (via Skype): I'm holding up very well, but, of course, what I'm hearing on your broadcast is very alarming. I think that there's a few things that we can say with certainty, and that is the needs of the Japanese government.

They must be transparent. They must recognize that the eyes of the world are watching them and the eyes of the region, and how they respond is going to be critical. They have an opportunity to have a model response on how a domestic -- in a domestic setting with nuclear power during a crisis can develop international links, be transparent to its own people, and to the international community, prove that transparency by inviting in international experts and having full disclosure.

Anything less is going to create huge problems for them. First, huge problems domestically. Secondly, huge problems internationally. Because what's happening here, we can just imagine will happen somewhere else, you know, in other circumstances as nuclear energy becomes more popular around the world. Japan is a first world country and it needs to have a first world transparency and disclosure mechanism.

BLITZER: What's the track record? You've covered Japan, you've lived there, you've been reporting on the situation in Japan for "The Economist" earlier for other publications. What kind of track record does the Japanese government have in transparency? Albeit, obviously nothing as serious as this crisis that's going on right now.

CUKIER: In truth, it's mixed. And that's -- that gives a lot of worry and concern for people. The Japanese language doesn't lend itself to complete clarity. Just as in English, we can obfuscate and speak in general and vague terms, so can they very well. And it's employed very frequently. As one small example, we do know that on Friday night, immediately after the earthquake, Naoto Kan, the prime minister, told us that there was no radiation leakage. Well that's true. What he could have said is that we also have a small crisis brewing insofar as we have a cooling system at one plant that wasn't shut down.

We found out about that, but it wasn't through the words of the prime minister. What we do need to know is what is actually happening and we need to have that backed up again by outside experts who are here who can make that liaison.

So here's an example of a problem. The IEA -- the International Atomic Energy Agency has recently come out by just describing what's going on in Japan. But if you look closely at their statement, you'll see that it comes directly from the Japanese authorities. It's not from their own words. They didn't verify it themselves. They just got a phone call from someone in Japan. And that's simply not good enough.

And to quote the ambassador -- Japan's ambassador to America, I would argue that's meaningless. And the reason why is he's simply on the other end of a phone call from someone who's told him information. And it may or may not be true or it may or may not be up to date.

So what we need to have is authorities in Tokyo telling us what's happening, and it has to be believable. Because if there's a credibility misstep, then nothing they -- that they say from now on is going to be believed, and that's going to create panic.

BLITZER: Kenneth Cukier of "The Economist," hold on for a moment. Yoree Koh of the "Wall Street Journal" is holding on as well. Jeanne Meserve is with us.

Jeanne, we have been getting conflicting statements from various branches of the Japanese government on what's going on as far as the nuclear issue is concerned. I think it's fair to say as we approach 48 hours into this disaster there have been mixed -- mixed reports coming out from Japan.

MESERVE: There have been. And I was on a conference call earlier today with a number of nuclear experts who were finding that very frustrating. They were being asked a lot of questions about how they thought this would play out. Would there be a meltdown? Would there be a breach of containment?

They said, you know, we really can't speculate because we don't have the information we need. And they were critical of the Japanese government for not providing more detail on this.

One other thing I wanted to clarify, Wolf, about the radiation that we know is outside the plant. We know nine people, at least, have been exposed. They have been venting radioactive steam from the reactor. It's an effort to keep down the pressure.

What we've been told by the Japanese authorities, that this is not at levels that are health threatening, but that would explain why we're finding radiation outside of the plant. There may be other reasons, but we know, at least, it's because they've been doing that venting, which is an effort to keep the plant intact.

Secondly, as far as we know, the containment at this point has been preserved. We've been told by Japanese officials that, in fact, the very important technology that's around the reactor itself is still intact. That is a good sign. It means that even if there is a meltdown, there's a possibility that everything would be held within there and there wouldn't be any sort of catastrophic release of radiation, Wolf.

BLITZER: All right. Jeanne, I want you to stand by. I want Kenneth Cukier of "The Economist" magazine to stand by. And Yoree Koh of the "Wall Street Journal." Our own reports are on the scene right now in the devastation. We're going to go there and check in with them right after we come back. The breaking news continues here in THE SITUATION.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

BLITZER: We're only beginning to appreciate the human dimension of what's going on in Japan right now following the 8.9 magnitude earthquake and tsunami. It's now approaching 48 hours since this disaster unfolded.

Yoree Koh is a correspondent for the "Wall Street Journal." She's joining us now from Tokyo. Walk us through what you have seen, Yoree, a little bit, over the past nearly two days. The devastation, the damage, the destruction. I know you're in Tokyo now, but you were out of Tokyo, closer to the seen, just hours ago.

KOH: Right. Well, we did an initial flyover of the most hard-hit areas, Wolf, and it was unbelievable. The entire neighborhood that stood there just, you know, a few hours earlier, completely gone, just swept away, as the ocean had broken through multiple protective seawalls and the Sendai airport was charred around the outer rim.

Planes were flung several kilometers away from the runways. Cars were, you know, underwater and submerged. And there were a few cars running on some streets, but, you know, there was very little sign of life, at least from the distance that we saw from up above.

BLITZER: Are the rescue teams getting there? Do we know if these search and rescue teams are already in place, or are they still sort of getting there on the way? Not only the Japanese military, but from around the world?

KOH: Well, I can't speak specifically as to which teams have already reached the areas, but we did see some helicopters searching, even lower than we were, for survivors. The people at the evacuation center that we were at yesterday, Fukushima Prefecture, they said they wanted to get out to the coastal areas where they said about 80 homes were completely ruined and swept away. But just the conditions were still too difficult to make it through. And other officials have dissuaded them from doing so, for their own safety. BLITZER: What does it feel like, these aftershocks? I know there have been dozens of them since the 8.9 magnitude earthquake struck almost 48 hours ago.

KOH: Right. Well, in Tokyo, it's been pretty consistent. I got one just this morning and they were, I would say, a couple every hour, in the following 12 hours right after the earthquake.

Yesterday, when we were in the Fukushima Prefecture, we felt one right when we landed at around 2:30 p.m. And, I mean, that's not -- it's not very comforting, of course, and I'm sure the survivors and those that are injured aren't comforted by it either. It's a constant reminder of what's happened and what could possibly happen in the future.

BLITZER: Yoree Koh is a correspondent for the "Wall Street Journal" joining us from Tokyo. Yoree, stand by.

Gary Tuchman, our correspondent, is near the disaster scene right now. Gary, tell our viewers where you are, what you've seen.

GARY TUCHMAN, CNN NATIONAL CORRESPONDENT (via telephone): Wolf, right now we're driving east from the town of Shonai which is on the western coast of northern Japan, by the Sea of Japan, heading toward Sendai.

And I call tell you, talking about those aftershocks, it's very disconcerting when you feel it, especially after you're the victim of an earthquake. And here in Japan, you're dealing with the most powerful earthquake in recorded history. You're dealing with a possible disaster at these nuclear plants. You're dealing with a tsunami that was captured on live television, scenes we've never seen before. And what you all have in that situation is tremendous anxiety particularly here in north Japan. People nervous, scared, and that's something we saw in Haiti last year. And we see it now.

People are wondering, could we see an aftershock that's greater than the original earthquake? And there are plenty of people afraid to go back in their homes because they're afraid (AUDIO GAP) happen. So that's something we dealt with last year in Haiti, something we're dealing with right now in Japan.

But when you do feel those aftershocks, particularly -- I mentioned this to you earlier -- I was in a hotel in a high-rise in Tokyo last night, Tokyo time. And in -- you know, in Haiti, you don't have these skyscrapers, but here you have plenty of skyscrapers. And the situation is worse, when you have these aftershocks and you're so high up. And literally, you feel like the buildings about to fall down for a couple of seconds even though I've gone through a lot of these aftershocks now in Haiti and now in Japan. Each time you feel it, there's this element of fear when you feel these aftershocks.

BLITZER: How far, Gary, are you from Sendai right now? Sendai is a city of about a million people along the coast that has completely lost power, we're told. Almost the entire city is without power right now. Food is sort of running out. Water is running out. How close to Sendai are you? TUCHMAN: Well, we're starting on this tour of this part of northern Japan. So we're going to other neighboring towns before we get to Sendai. So we're still a couple of hours from getting to Sendai. But we're trying to -- that's the thing with an earthquake.

Covering an earthquake is very complicated, because it's not like you have all this documentation of what's happened in every town. That's how we find out, when we go to each town and see the situation. So we're exploring and we're going to see what we see along the way.

BLITZER: These are new pictures coming in from TV Asahi right now, and we can see the destruction of these areas. It's hard to believe that these were robust, lively areas just 48 hours ago. And now look at these towers, look at these cars, look at the water that's coming in.

What's it like on the road right now, Gary? A lot of traffic or is it empty? It's Sunday morning now in Japan.

TUCHMAN: Right. Right now it's 10:19 a.m. here in Japan and the traffic's relatively sparse, but what isn't sparse are the lines at the gas stations. Tremendous lines at all the gas stations that are open. Nothing near Sendai, we're told, is open right now. Just two hours outside of Sendai, tremendously long lines.

And the shelves of the stores here in northern Japan, it's what we see during our hurricane coverage in the United States, empty shelves. Not a lot to buy. You know, for us, the journalists who have to cover the story, you know, we're buying our supplies in Tokyo and then trying to get it up here. But it's a very difficult situation. I feel so sorry for the people who live here.

BLITZER: Give us a little contrast between what you're seeing here in Japan and what you saw in Haiti last year in the aftermath of the earthquake there?

TUCHMAN: You know, people come up to us and ask us, what can we expect? You know, in Haiti, there was a lot of people who would come up to us and they were -- they were fully expecting that there would be an earthquake that was stronger than the first. A lot of people, sadly, think it's punishment from above and that they've done something wrong and that's the cause of this. It makes you so sad.

And you try to reassure people that, historically speaking, it is very rare. You know, aftershocks are earthquakes, but they are earthquakes that are -- that come from the initial earthquake. And you explain that, historically, it's very rare for another earthquake to come that's stronger than the first one. And indeed, in Haiti, that has proven to be the case. There were lots of aftershocks, pretty scary, many of them causing damage, but none stronger than the first one. That's the same situation here.

(INAUDIBLE) earthquakes here in Japan, and they build things so well. They've never had one like this before. And then there's the fear, is this the beginning of many other earthquakes that will be stronger? And you reassure people, it's unlikely to happen and it hasn't happened yet. Nevertheless, each time you feel the aftershock, it's this real scary feeling for the people who are going through such terror and, in many cases, such tragedy here in Japan.

BLITZER: Let's not forget, this is the worst recorded earthquake in Japan's history and one of the worst in recorded history, period. Gary's going to be with us. Don't go too far away, Gary. We'll check in with you.

Our special breaking news coverage here in THE SITUATION ROOM will continue right after this.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

BLITZER: Here's new pictures coming into THE SITUATION ROOM from the devastation, the destruction in Japan. We're constantly getting more images, still pictures, still photograph as well as video that's coming in. It's now daylight in Japan, as we approach 48 hours after this disaster developed.

Kenneth Cukier is still with us. He's the business and finance correspondent for "The Economist" based in Tokyo. He's joining us via Skype.

In all of your experience covering Japan, have you ever seen or felt anything like this? This is extraordinary, as far as I'm concerned, but give me your perspective, Kenneth.

CUKIER: Yes. So tremors and earthquakes are a part of everyday life in Japan. Once or twice a month, you will have the buildings shake and you will have to kind of look around to see, is this the big one or not?

Everyone in Tokyo generally has what's called a go bag. You look at it regularly and stock it and make sure things are fresh. You know exactly where it is. You have lots of small bills in it, not large bills. And you know how to get out through multiple exits from your house, not just one. That's everyday life.

What happened two days ago, of course, was very different. One felt the tremors and the shakes, but then looked around and realized, this isn't stopping, in fact, it's getting a lot bigger.

Buildings were swaying, buckling. I was in one that was basically shuttering and lurching. You went down on to the street and the street was like Jell-O. You realize suddenly that the playbook that you had, in terms of what to do in these crises, doesn't really work, because there's no place to hide.

Normally, you'd want to go under a table. Doesn't help you if the building collapses. You're supposed to go outside. Doesn't help you if things are falling down into the street.

Now Tokyo was spared, but you didn't know that at the time. The whole country's rattled. The decision makers in Tokyo are certainly jittery as well because they've had to go through the aftershocks. You're feeling them constantly, which is sort of a low-level sort of humming that there's not just, you know, danger out in the atmosphere with a nuclear crisis, but there's a danger just underneath you as well.

BLITZER: And with these nuclear power plants shut down now, you were telling me there's going to be some power shortages, some blackouts, not only in the northern part of Japan where the devastation was mostly concentrated, but even in Tokyo, a city --

TUCHMAN: Wolf, I'm right -- I'm right now in a tremor.

BLITZER: Really?

TUCHMAN: My building is still shaking. Let's go through and if I have to leave --

BLITZER: If you have to leave, obviously, you do. But tell us what it feels like.

TUCHMAN: Well, so what's happened is you first get a sense like you're on a boat, that you're slightly seasick. Things are -- usually will go in one direction, it will be sort of like a swing, like when you first sit down on a swing.

And so what I was feeling is this sort of feeling. I looked around and I saw, in fact, you know, things were moving, the water in the fish tank was moving, the plants were moving. I could look outside and realized -- well, I couldn't actually tell anything when I was outside, you just feel it here.

It's a very disconcerting feel. For that reason, I felt the need to interrupt you. But I also -- there's also a safety issue here. I felt the need to interrupt you because if I have to run out, I thought I would, you know, be polite and say good-bye. But, of course, now it's totally stopped. And again, we're so used to it that we just march on.

You can't really live in Japan without recognizing that that -- this exists, that there's a risk factor. And the way we psychologically sell it to ourselves is we say, well, you know, there's a risk factor everywhere.

People live in Washington and people live in New York City and those are dangerous cities for a variety of reasons. So you just live the best life you can.

BLITZER: What floor are you on in the building where you are right now?

TUCHMAN: Okay, I'm on a low floor, so the sway should be quite low. I'm in what's considered a small apartment building. There's about -- there's four stories to it. I am on the first floor, so actually the second story, the first floor above the ground.

And so the sway would be -- would have been a lot more three stories higher. It's -- because it's a smaller building and it was built in the '80s, it sort of squats -- it was built to very high construction standards. You don't rent an apartment in Tokyo without knowing about the construction standards. That might -- you know, everyone is cost conscious, so you might just kind of rent something that still might be a little bit iffy and just hope that the worst doesn't strike. That's common, right? But a lot of people also would want something that is better built, just in case a tragedy -- you know, just in case there's a major earthquake.

BLITZER: We've spoken with experts, Kenneth, and there have been dozens and dozens of these aftershocks since the magnitude 8.9 earthquake struck two days ago. But you know that they're going to be -- they tell me, there are going to be a lot more in the coming days and weeks. These aftershocks are not going to stop. How do you feel about that?

TUCHMAN: It's -- I feel bifurcated. I feel -- I feel -- there's two thoughts. The first one is, what does one do with one's family and should I get them out of here? The second one is -- I'm in a different situation. I'm paid to stay. So I'm going to have to find the place where I'm -- look, I'm just going to be here reporting the news, there's no question about that. Where I'll be, I don't know. But I will stay in Japan.

BLITZER: Is the Japanese government, the civilian and the military portions, are they capable of dealing with a crisis of this magnitude?

TUCHMAN: First of all, there's no playbook, right? I mean, no one is, you have to be tested and you have to do it and then you get your score at the end.

Japan is excellent in that they've taken very good preparations and drills for these sorts of things. This is a calamity at a scale that we hadn't really accounted for in some respects, but in others, it's actually not as bad as you would think. Keep in mind, Tokyo was not hit. Right? Tokyo was spared in all of this.

The place that was the most damaged is a relatively rural area, essentially, Japan's hinterland. So in that sense, we've been seeing great devastation and it's a huge tragedy. But it could have been worse in many other areas that have a lot higher population density and a lot more industry and just a lot more going on. So, yes, this is -- yes.

BLITZER: Sendai, though, a city not far from the worst part of the devastation is a big city of about a million people. That entire city, for all practical purposes, has lost power. And we've heard from our correspondents on the scene there that folks are just driving away, trying to get out of there, not only because they have no power, there are shortages of food and water and medicine right now, but they're afraid if there's another major aftershock, there could be yet another tsunami. And that's what worries them along the coast.

TUCHMAN: It's a real worry. I mean, in crises like this, people have to, essentially, take care of themselves while they also need responsible government to give you the ability to do things.

So for example, if people feel the need that they want to go inland, it's up to the government to provide that ability by making sure the roads are open and making sure that there's no -- that the crime rate is low.

Japan is very lucky in this sense that it has a very low crime rate and has a real sense of social harmony and a real help -- you know, help yourself spirit. It's somewhat of a "help thy neighbor" spirit, but it's mostly a help yourself spirit which is very useful in times like this. The authorities are going to try to do their very best.

The city is bracing for aftershocks. The fact that there's no power is not, in itself, a terrible thing, as long as people can actually have heating and actually can get food and can get water. Keep in mind, what you consider, you know -- what you want in a crisis situation are the bare necessities. And things on top of that are nice to haves, but not need to haves.

BLITZER: Kenneth Cukier is a writer for "The Economist" magazine based in Tokyo right now. You've been very helpful to our viewers in the United States and around the world. Be careful over there, Kenneth. We'll stay in close touch with you. Thanks very much.

TUCHMAN: Yes, thank you. Take care.

BLITZER: And before I let you go, the building has stopped shaking now, right? There's no more swaying? That aftershock you just felt, that's gone?

TUCHMAN: Yes. That's now gone. I feel a lot more reassured.

BLITZER: And you're not feeling seasick because of the swaying?

TUCHMAN: No, just stage fright.

BLITZER: Kenneth Cukier, good luck over there. Appreciate it very much.

We'll take another quick break. We'll continue the breaking news coverage here in THE SITUATION ROOM. We'll check in with our reporters on the scene. Much more coverage coming up right after this.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

BLITZER: Want to check in with CNN's Kyung Lah. She's in the devastated port city of Sendai right now. Kyung, I haven't spoken to you in a while, but tell us where you are, what you're seeing, because I understand the situation on this Sunday morning already in Japan is awful.

LAH (via telephone): It's pretty rough and it varies, depending on what part of the city you're in. This neighborhood that I'm is -- you can think of it as almost like a small residential community. It's called Kutaki (ph) and here the military has arrived here. There is an active search and rescue operation going on.

They're still trying to find people, according to various reports we've seen, you know, especially talking to some of the residents. There are a few hundred people who are missing in this community. And you can really understand why.

As I take a look around, I'm looking at two cars that are piled on top of each other. They are just sitting on top of each other. Houses have been pushed around and completely flattened. One part where there were a dozen houses, gone. What you see in their place, debris. Water is everywhere. Mud is everywhere. Trees have been snapped into toothpicks.

It is truly a scene of devastation. And where I'm at, I'm a couple miles away from the water. So the water pushed miles inland and the people here, they are prepared for tsunamis. This is something that they had always had in the back of their mind and just never thought it would be of this force and come across so quickly.

I've just seen one tiny snapshot of this community. As we get closer to the water, we're expecting it and the houses and the people there to be far more devastated. If you look at the faces of these people, the people who live here, a day and a half after the tsunami, they are simply shocked. They are shell shocked, because if you take a look at this devastation, you can certainly see why.

What was a small fishing community, a farming community, a pretty nice suburban area, has truly been devastated here. Further inland into Sendai, the larger metropolis, that is, there are water problems, there are power problems. We're seeing very long lines of people just trying to get fresh water. Schools have been turned into shelters. Hospitals have been turned into shelters. People are waiting in very long lines for any gas.

There are people handing out bottles of water. So -- but the one thing I will say about Japan is that they are a very organized community-driven people. So many people on the grassroots level are trying to help each other. People are giving each other support. They're trying to tell each other where to go to stand in line for gas, where to get food, where to get water. But all of these items, these essential life-saving options are very, very scarce.

I can also tell you, we are seeing absolutely no problems as far as violence, as far as any rioting. Japan is a very orderly society. People are being very calm, despite what has happened here.

BLITZER: So you don't see evidence of looting going on at stores, is that right?

LAH: Absolutely not. That's -- that's something that would absolutely shock me. After the Kobe earthquake, the one thing that really stood out here in Japan is that everyone worked together. People understand in Japan, if there is a crisis to a community, that type of behavior is simply not going to help anyone.

This is a culture that really does try to help one another. And they do focus on the larger community at hand. Just one quick thing about Japan since you asked about looting. If you dropped your wallet in Japan, it is very possible that your wallet will end up at the police station with all the money in it. It's just a very honest-driven community. People look out for each other. And the idea of looting is something that will happen only if it becomes absolutely, absolutely desperate, and simply, we're not hearing it or seeing anything like that right now.

BLITZER: I don't know if you know the answer to this, but I want to throw it out to you, Kyung. There's a community, a village north of Sendai, with about 17,000 people and we were told that, what, 9,500 of those people are now reported missing or unaccounted for. And I wonder if you have any new information to update us on those 9,500 people?

LAH: Well, all we know is what, you know, we've heard from various people who live in this community and from the military. Information is very sketchy out of that area. There are many parts of the coastal region of Japan where no help has been able to arrive.

This community is fairly lucky, even with the destruction, because the military has boots on the ground here. In some of those communities, the devastation has yet to be found, because help is slow-moving going in. And because all the roadways are cut off. We're just starting to learn about this information. So all we have is pretty much what we've been reporting, is that, at this point, there are thousands of people missing in that community and everyone's being -- they're trying to locate whoever they can.

BLITZER: Yes. That tsunami came in, miles, kilometers of water, just coming in and ripping that whole area apart and then washing back. And who knows what happened in the process.

Kyung Lah, stand by, we're going to come back to you. We'll take a quick break. The news continues here in THE SITUATION ROOM and the news is not good.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

BLITZER: I want to bring in CNN's severe weather expert, Chad Myers, our meteorologist. Chad, I'm getting a lot of questions from viewers around the world wanting to know this 8.9 magnitude earthquake, now almost two days ago, that it had an impact on the axis of the earth. Tell us what's going on here.

CHAD MYERS, AMS METEOROLOGIST: When the earth moved, literally, the crust of the plates of the earth moved, so did the landmasses that they're attached to. Here's Japan, here, this would be -- it's actually the North America Plate -- I know that doesn't make any sense, because you're thinking, that's not north America.

But the Pacific Plate is the one that was going under Japan. Japan sits on the North America Plate and the Eurasia Plate is right behind it. But a little sliver of the North America Plate is where Japan sits on.

When the stresses were building up, as the Pacific Plate coming in from Hawaii, that Pacific Plate is pushing into Japan and going under Japan, it's called subducting. So this subduction zone here is going under. The part that was Japan here that this plays on begins to curl in, it begins to get stresses on it. Go ahead and hit play.

The stresses here get pushed in, pushed in, pushed in, and all of a sudden, at the very last minute right before the earthquake, and then there is the earthquake, it pops. And when it pops, it pops the land pass, pushes up the water and the water gets pushed out as a tsunami.

So the story -- and you'll find it on CNN.com, as well -- is that after the earthquake, Japan is now eight feet closer to America than it was before the earthquake. Because it was getting pushed, pushed, pushed, all of a sudden, Japan popped to the east by eight feet.

They know this because there are a number of GPS locations on Japan and these little pins have moved. Most of them moved about eight feet.

It will be interesting, as well, to see if part of Japan -- and I know this will happen -- has gone up or down. There will be spots, there will be some of these pins that will be -- they'll find them that they went up or down in elevation as well, not just up or down, back and forth.

But the story is -- I know eight feet seems like a big deal, but the Banda Aceh quake back in 2004 moved Banda Aceh 20 meters -- do the math -- that's 60 feet. So this was a big quake, of course. But the Banda Aceh quake actually moved the islands there around Indonesia by 60 feet.

Now -- and think of this, the axis issue, the same question. Think about the -- an ice skater with her arms out going slowly. As soon as she brings her arms in, she goes much quicker. Well, the arms now are a little bit farther out because the islands have moved. So the axis -- the axis of rotation has moved by four inches -- Wolf.

BLITZER: Good explanation, Chad. Thanks very much.

Kyung Lah is standing by. We're going to go back to her. She's traveling up north in some of the most devastated areas of Japan. Much more of the coverage coming up here in THE SITUATION ROOM.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

BLITZER: Let's get right back to Kyung Lah. She's in the devastated port city of Sendai in northern Japan. Kyung's joining us live. We now have a picture. Show us a little bit of what you're seeing there on the ground, Kyung.

LAH: Well, Wolf, what we can show you is that when the tsunami came ashore, and I'm a couple of miles inland, it literally pushed cars around like toys. I mean, take a look here, you can see that what has completely covered that car is debris.

There is water all where it shouldn't be. This is supposed to be a residential area, but there is water as far as you can see. Cars have been pushed inland, and again, I'm two miles, about two or three miles inland. And so this is an area that has simply been completely devastated. And the houses here are actually not too bad, because they're still standing. A little further in, residents tell me that there are houses that have been completely flattened.

As we take a walk over this way, the reason why that car looks unscathed is because it arrived after the tsunami. This house has been pushed in by debris, but if you look further over that way, you can see that there are two cars sitting on top of each other. That's the force of the tsunami. And it has led to an active search and rescue operation here in this community.

The military says they just pulled out a body today. There are a few hundred people missing, according to the residents of this town. They haven't been able to account for everybody, so the emergency is certainly going on.

They are still trying to find people, still hoping that they will find people in the debris, and those people will be alive -- Wolf.

BLITZER: Do you see any evidence of search and rescue teams where you are right now, Kyung?

LAH: We're seeing military walking in and out with shovels. They are quite a bit closer to where the water is, to the shoreline, where there's a bit more activity as far as trying to dig people out of houses. So, yes, there is absolutely a search and rescue activity going on.

What we can also tell you is that in the city of Sendai, there are very, very long lines for basic supplies, such as gasoline, water, and food. People are sharing. We can see someone who even has two bottles of water, handing it over to someone else.

So the community trying to get to grips with this, but it is frustrating because if you look at how long these lines are just for bottles of water the volunteers are handing out, it looks like it's going to be at least a couple of hours just to get some water.

BLITZER: How can you guys get around, I know, you and our crew? Most of the roads seem impassable?

LAH: It is very, very difficult. Even if you're going to go a mile, it's pretty tough. If you -- if you take a look here, this road is actually not too bad, but mud is everywhere. It is very difficult to find a road that isn't covered in debris.

And so when I say that this community is actually starting to clean up, even though it doesn't look like, at least the roadway is clear. The people here have taken their shoves and tried to clear out the debris so they can at least come in and out of this residential area.

BLITZER: Kyung Lah is on the scene for us and she'll remain on the scene together with our other correspondents. We'll check back with you, Kyung, thanks very, very much. Please be very careful. We appreciate what you're doing. We'll take a quick break. Much more of our coverage right after this.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

BLITZER: We've just received some really remarkable new video from the city of Kamaishi. Residents fled to higher ground when they heard the terrifying sound of the tsunami warnings. All they could do was stand and watch their community become overpowered with water.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

TEXT: Anyone near the coast must evacuate to higher ground immediately.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: At 3:00 p.m. Friday afternoon, Kamaishi city hall issued its tsunami warning. Residents quickly evacuated their homes, looking for higher ground. These people managed to get to this hilltop. Mothers held on tightly to their children. They listened anxiously to the radio for more information.

TEXT: Water is flowing into the port. It is now flowing over the barriers into the community.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: At 3:11, a massive tsunami swept through the city.

(LOUD NOISE AS WATER COME INTO CITY)

(CHILD CRYING)

(END VIDEO CLIP)

BLITZER: Multiply that scene many times and you begin to appreciate what has happened in Japan.

That's it for me this hour. I'm Wolf Blitzer. Stay with CNN for special coverage of Japan's earthquake disaster. We continue our coverage.