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Japan Quake Aftermath; Trying to Stop Reactor Meltdown

Aired March 13, 2011 - 21:00   ET


ANDERSON COOPER, CNN ANCHOR: And good evening. I'm Anderson Cooper, just -- we're coming to you live from north of Fukushima, Japan, where Japan is dealing with two emergencies going on now at the same time. Trying to deal in the area around Sendai and to the north of Sendai in the northeast of Japan with the aftermath from Friday's earthquake and tsunami.

The death toll now stands right at about 1600 but that death toll is expected to rise. One police official in the north saying that he expects there to be the death toll in the tens of thousands.

The other emergency going on at two separate nuclear plants in the area around Fukushima to the south of where I am -- two emergency situations at nuclear plants. Authorities believe there has been at least -- they believe there has been a meltdown in one of the reactors at one of the plants, but it is simply too hot at this point for them to be able to confirm that.

They're working on cooling it down by pumping in seawater, a very unusual development. We're going to have a lot about that in the two hours that we're broadcasting ahead.

They've evacuated an area of some 20 kilometers, about 12 miles, around one of those plants in Fukushima. Evacuated some 200,000 people, 160 people so far have been exposed to some level of radiation. They are still checking more people.

We have correspondents spanned out all throughout the regions here in Japan. Soledad O'Brien is in a town about an hour's drive north of Sendai. We'll be talking to her momentarily. And Dr. Sanjay Gupta is also in the area around Sendai and we have other correspondents and producers bringing you the latest over the next two hours here that we're going to be broadcasting live from Japan.

We are also getting in some remarkable new images, not just of the devastation and not just of recoveries and rescues that are under way, but remarkable images from the day the earthquake struck and more importantly from that tsunami which came in.

So many of the injuries, so many of the deaths that we're now seeing came not necessarily from the earthquake but from the tsunami which struck about half an hour afterward.

I want to show you first of all this new piece of video from when the tsunami struck in one town. Take a look.

Remarkable images.

Another piece of video, too, from the same town but a different vantage point. Take a look.

We've also throughout today already -- it's only about 10:00 a.m. here in Japan. We've already seen just some remarkable rescues and some dramatic reunions. So many people now have been separated from their loved ones, separated by the floodwaters as those waters came in.

Now we're starting to see families being reunited. Here's one reunion we saw on NHK a short time ago.

We're actually having just a slight tremor right now, slight aftershock. Just very slight. If you can actually kind of feel the ground moving ever so slightly.

Let's go to Soledad O'Brien who is in an area, as I said, about an hour's drive north of Sendai.

Soledad, I'm not sure if you felt that aftershock that we just got down here but what have you seen in the area you're in?

SOLEDAD O'BRIEN, CNN ANCHOR/CORRESPONDENT: Yes, we didn't feel that aftershock at all, Anderson.

I'm in Higashi Matsushima which is about an hour's drive north of Sendai which is the capital city in the northern part of Japan. The population in Sendai is just about a million folks but where we are it's rural, it's much smaller, a much smaller community. Agricultural fishing village as well.

We've seen today the Self Defense Forces have come out doing some of that search and rescue again today trying to see if there is any bodies that they can recover, any people that they can rescue, and also people here with their cars or their bicycles just trying to pull out of their homes what they can.

You know you talk about the death toll and certainly it's coastal areas like this that were damaged by the earthquake but had even more damage from the tsunami as it really ravaged the area where you could expect a high death toll.

You can see some of the cars piled up behind me and just some of the damage that really goes on for a mile here. About a kilometer out to sea. So over my shoulder the devastation is even much more worse.

I want to show you a little bit more what have we saw earlier today as we walked through what was a small and close-knit community.

I think the thing that never ceases to amaze you is really the power of a natural disaster like a tsunami. I mean take a look at this. This building here, the white one, that's an apartment building. It's actually standing pretty well.

But look at this one here. This is a house that's completely collapsed and remarkably this house actually wasn't here before the tsunami hit. It came out of this big open space back here and actually just floated up with the force of the water. I mean it's amazing.

Most of the people who live here are fishermen and rice farmers, some of them elderly. And now they say with the destruction they really don't know what they're going do. Because as you can see even a house like this inside, even though structurally, a real testament to the Japanese architecture with a mind to earthquake. Structurally it's held up very well. Inside it's a complete and total loss.

So the farmers that we have spoken to say that -- Well, some are assured, they're not really sure at this point what exactly they can do.

They said when the earthquake happened it was so severe on the hands and knees because it was shaking so hard, then an alarm went off which was an indication that a tsunami was on the way so they high-tailed it over to an elementary school, went up to the roof. Several hundred people. And then at that point they basically waited and within 30 minutes the tsunami had come through.

And you can see -- and Jung (ph) if you pan out that way -- you can just see the complete and total loss that just goes on and on for about as far as you can see.

What will happen to this community? It's really unclear but certainly for the homes here, most of it is just gone.

So in addition to what you can see, there's a lot you can't see. For example, the fishermen have no boats. The rice paddies have been flooded and damaged with oil which means it could be years before those farmers are able to get back out there.

And because so many people lost their cars they literally just were washed away when the tsunami rolled through, that means that they've been bringing buses through to have people come and pick through what remains and then catch that bus and go back to some kind of evacuation center.

And as I mentioned, some people say they're insured but as you can see, the loss is so massive here, just one of these coastal towns, villages, that it's unclear really how many people will come back here to rebuild -- Anderson.

COOPER: I also think it's important, Soledad, just to remind people that we are still very much in the early days, the early hours of this. It was three days ago that the earthquake and the tsunami struck but in terms of helping people, in terms of getting relief aid in, getting food in, getting -- you know searching for the missing, and those who may still be alive trapped underneath the wreckage, it is still very much early days.

This is an operation which is just ramping up kind of exponentially as we speak, Soledad.

O'BRIEN: Yes, absolutely. A couple of things that I noticed on our way even just driving in to Sendai which is the highways, you had to get a special pass to be allowed on the highway with the other rescue vehicles and journalists as well, but if you could get on the highway it really shortened your trip.

And every single time there was a bump or crack in the highway they had put cones out. They are already monitoring where the most damaged areas of the highways are. Gas stations we're told they're going to start trying to bring some fuel and supplies back into towns like this because they're really running very low.

Many places on the way in were closed all together. And as I said, the Self Defense Forces going home to home, we can't -- we haven't really seen anybody with a list of who they are specifically looking for but there's a sense that they're going to try to figure out, you know, are there bodies trapped under some of this rubble.

I will say this, Anderson, and you and I were in Haiti and we both covered the tsunami, and we don't have that smell of death that we both experienced even in the early days of that disaster when you have so many people who are believed to be missing and possibly dead. Usually there is just a horrible smell when bodies start to decompose. There's no nice way to put it.

And it's something that we have remarkably have not noticed here at all. So I'm hoping that that's a very hopeful sign here, that people who are missing have just gone to higher ground, gotten away and there's no good cell service so they just can't communicate and maybe that -- it doesn't -- we won't see the high numbers that some people are predicting as far as death toll.

COOPER: Yes. Certainly it is difficult to communicate right now. And we'll check in Soledad again throughout these two hours that we're going to be broadcasting from Japan.

But there's a lot of fear here, a lot of concern. Remember, it is not just this -- the aftermath of the tsunami and the earthquake. You also have this emergency situation with nuclear power plant. With at least two nuclear power plants right now in an area called Fukushima which is north of that area outside the evacuation zone.

But it is a great concern. I can tell you for anyone traveling in this area, you want to know exactly where that evacuation zone is. The government is saying anything close to 20 kilometers, about 12 miles from the plant, is a no-go area. They've evacuated people.

But there's a lot of people who are worried that maybe the government is downplaying it, and so obviously you want to be as far as way from those nuclear plants as possible.

I want to go Dr. Sanjay Gupta who's in an area just south of where Soledad was in an area around the city of Sendai.

Sanjay, what have you seen in your time this morning?

DR. SANJAY GUPTA, CNN CHIEF MEDICAL CORRESPONDENT: Well, you know, Anderson, the first thing you really notice is when you're walking through is the remarkable smells. When you're just -- this amalgamation of smell and sort of this industrial smells -- smells that you just don't think should belong, you know, smells from the sea despite the fact that we're this far inland.

That's the first thing you sort of notice just walking around here, talking to the people. They talk about this sense of displacement. But the sights. I know you've been seeing these for some time now for the last few days but it's worth showing again and pointing out that we're more than a kilometer inland and things that don't belong together very much are together.

You have houses inside of -- cars inside of homes. You have a taxi cab over here. A lot of these things all sort of thrown together. Sleeping bags over here. Some sort of medical kit. There's a couch just all of a sudden in the middle of this open area. There's a little baby doll -- I don't know, Anderson, if you can see -- over here. That little doll.

Just reminders of people's lives that they were living in this area and a lot of them forced to evacuate.

What I would tell you, Anderson, and you know this as well as me, we saw this in Haiti, we saw this after the tsunami in South Asia six years ago, is that the numbers that people keep citing about the number of dead, the number of injured, the number of missing really don't mean a lot.

It's very hard to put that together. I was at a refugee camp, one of the largest in the areas. We're about 1 1/2 hour north of Sendai. This refugee camp -- it houses hundreds of people at any given time and with these hundreds of people they have really no communication with the outside world.

It's very hard for them to know to communicate that in fact they are still alive, they are OK, they are in this refugee camp. They are among the missing, hundreds of them, at any given time.

As communication improves over the next several days the number of missing will start to change as well but the injured, to your question, Anderson, with this sort of injury unlike with Haiti, you saw so many people who had neither survived nor had died but were really caught in between. Crushed by the rubble, in need of amputations, in need of acute medical care.

Here the situation seems to be different at least from the people that we've been talking to, the medical personnel, talking about the fact that people either lived and they were OK, getting to these refugee camps or they died due to drowning, severe trauma due to head injury, or just the force of the tsunami as Soledad O'Brien was just talking about.

But it's a very different situation in some ways than other natural disasters we've seen in recent history.

COOPER: Sanjay, I'm getting information that that aftershock which we felt on camera just a few moments ago was a 6.2 magnitude. One of the many aftershocks. Dozens of aftershocks. This according to Japanese media. 6.2.

Sanjay, in this next break we're going to talk about the radiation fears and the nuclear emergency which is happening. Very briefly though, the government here is talking about handing out iodine tablets to people. And I know it does something with the thyroid to prevent the absorption of radiation.

What exactly does it do?

GUPTA: Well, it's an interesting thing, Anderson. If you look at previous nuclear disasters, including Chernobyl, including Bhopal, India, for example, one of the big things that was learned after Chernobyl is that you're taking all this radioactive iodine, you're putting it out into the atmosphere. That's the concern, and that can be taken up by the body.

That's sort of what this concern is about a nuclear accident. One of the big concern is the thyroid gland in particular can take up this radioactive iodine. So this is sort of a simple yet important concept, is that if you get a stable iodine -- in this case, potassium iodine -- you're sort of flooding the thyroid gland with a stable component.

And even if there is an exposure to this radioactive element, it doesn't -- it doesn't get taken up by the thyroid because the thyroid is all full of normal, stable iodine. That's sort of the theory here. It seems to work pretty well. It's just simple potassium iodine tablet. Potassium iodine tablets.

Now that's not going to work after someone has already been exposed. That's not going to necessarily protect people against other effects of radiation poisoning, and that not going to obviously protect them against some of the acute effects -- the nausea, the vomiting, the skin changes, the effects on the bone marrow.

But again this is something that seems to be pretty effective against one of the most disastrous potential complications due to radiation.

COOPER: OK. We're going to check in with Sanjay again. We're on for the next two hours, trying to bring you the latest information that we can from the ground. We have our correspondents all throughout this entire region.

When we come back more on the nuclear emergencies. We're going to talk to nuclear experts to explain exactly what is going on inside those nuclear plants. The government here believing there may have been at least one meltdown with one of the reactors but they haven't been able to confirm that because it is simply too hot.

We'll explain all that ahead. We'll be right back.



UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE (Through Translator): Managed to survive but my daughter was washed away. I don't know what to say. I hope my daughter is still alive somewhere.


COOPER: There's so many people right now been separated from their loved ones and simply don't know. You see lists in some places where, people -- you know, lists of injured, list of those who've been confirmed dead.

But again -- even though it's three days since this earthquake and tsunami hit, it is still very early days and early hours, and as I said, the official death toll is some 1600 people but one Japanese police official in the north predicted that the death toll could rise into the tens of thousands according to NHK reporting. According to that Japanese official.

Another Japanese government official today said this is the biggest tragedy to hit Japan since World War II. The biggest tragedy they've had to deal with since World War II. In other words, this may be the most expensive earthquake in history.

Sanjay Gupta again joins us from the area around Sendai.

And I want to bring Jim Walsh, a CNN contributor as well. Want to focus now on this nuclear emergency that we are -- that we are facing in an area south of where Sendai is, an area called Fukushima, which is just a little bit south of where I am. We're kind of on the outskirts of it. That's where we flew into earlier today.

The biggest plant of concern right now -- there are a number of nuclear facilities in that area but one is called the Fukushima Daiichi Plant. And Japanese officials believe that in at least two of the six reactors there may have been a partial meltdown.

They are assuming there has been a partial meltdown -- I stress partial -- in two of the six reactors but they can't confirm that at this point because it is simply too hot inside those reactors for them to really check and they're taking the incredibly unusual step of actually pumping in seawater.

So I want to bring in Jim and talk to him.

Jim, explain what that means, a partial meltdown in two reactors.

JIM WALSH, CNN INTERNATIONAL SECURITY ANALYST: Well, I know when people hear the world meltdown, Anderson, they get very panicky and they think about that -- you know they think about Chernobyl, they think about Three-Mile Island, but there's a continuum here.

You can -- as you rightly point out -- have partial meltdowns. That's very different than the consequences you would have if you had a total meltdown. When you have a total meltdown, the fuel rods all catch fire, they overheat, they melt, they congregate at the bottom of the reactor vessel, and when they do that, they -- you get what's called a criticality accident, and you get something that explodes.

And then the question is whether the containment vessel holds all that or whether it cracks and throws that radiation up into the sky. We are not there yet. That's very important to underline.

COOPER: So, Jim --

WALSH: So we've had what appears --

COOPER: Jim, let me just jump in here.


COOPER: Let me just jump -- Jim, let me just jump in here. Just explain a couple of terms you're using because you're talking about a containment vessel and fuel rods. The fuel rods, that's the actual nuclear material?

WALSH: Exactly. Those are the -- that's the nuclear material that they stick in to the plant that is the fuel for the plant. And by -- and then the containment vessel is something that they did not have at Chernobyl but that they do have here, which -- and the sole purpose of the containment vessel is, if there is a problem, if there is a meltdown, a full meltdown, the purpose of that containment vessel is to keep that contained inside the plant so it does not escape into the environment.

That's what happened at Three-Mile Island. We had a meltdown but it was contained and that's -- you know we're not there yet but if we, god forbid, were to get to this point, we would hope that the containment vessel would nevertheless hold that radiation and that material in so that we would not have a Chernobyl style accident.

COOPER: So why are they pumping in seawater now at this point?

WALSH: Yes. Because they're at -- they got no other choice. You know you don't pump in seawater as your first choice or your fifth choice. They're doing it now because they're trying to keep that reactor cool. They are not able to pump in fresh water. They don't want to pump in seawater because once do you that, that plant is toast.

It will never run again. It is over. That's a billion dollars that's gone. But they have no other alternatives. If they're going to keep it cool, they've got to pump in some water so they're pumping in seawater which is salty and corrosive, along with boric acid which reduces the number of neutrons being created. I won't go into that.

But the bottom line is they're at the last resort to try and keep it cool because they're trying to avoid a meltdown. And so far it appears as if that's been effective.

Earlier in the day there was some questions and I can go into that but it looks as if that is working and that's good news.

COOPER: Sanjay, at this point, as I said, there is an evacuation zone around this Fukushima Daiichi plant, 20 kilometers, about 12 miles. They've evacuated some 200,000 people but we've heard that as many as 160 people have tested positive for some level of radiation either on their skin or their clothes and they continue to test people. What are they -- in these tests, is this -- how do they do that, Sanjay? And what actually does radiation do to the body?

GUPTA: Well, I mean they're testing to see if in fact, you know, there's been some evidence of some of these radioactive substances on the people. So, you know, they use special measuring devices to do that.

As the professor was talking about, there's all sorts of different things that are given off, radioactive materials that are given off as part of this fission process. The concern is there are some of those starting to leak.

One thing I want to point out, and I think the professor is alluding to this, is that even if the numbers are higher than normal, there's a lot of redundancy built into the system, meaning that even eight times higher than normal, 10 times higher than normal is still would be considered safe in the scheme of things. It might be similar, for example, to getting a couple of X-rays.

Now what it can do -- acute radiation sickness, if you get a high dose, and they get it -- and they're very close to the source, all the cells in your body that sort of replicate quickly -- think about the cells in your intestines, think about your hair, think about your skin, all those cell that are replicating quickly can be affected. Your bone marrow.

So you're getting nauseated, you'll get fatigued, and you'll start to lose hair, you'll get rashes. Your bone marrow could be affected so your immune system will be compromised.

That's a high dose of radiation very quickly. People who are further away getting smaller doses as a result may have more subtle sort of signs. They may get some of those signs but not be as severe. They may get, you know, concerns in the long run, decades down the later about increased cancer risk such as leukemia, such as thyroid cancer, which I was talking about earlier because of the radioactive iodine and its effects specifically on the thyroid gland.

So you can really categorize, Anderson, the dosage and the distance. And as you get lower dosage and further distance the severity and the range of these types of effects start to decrease.

COOPER: Jim, when you hear that the government has evacuated an area of 20 kilometers around the Fukushima Daiichi plant, and they had extended that -- originally there have been a small amount and they may extended it.

I mean are they planning for a worst-case scenario with that or does that seem conservative to you?

WALSH: Well, I think that's about right. They may have done -- perhaps they should have done it a little earlier but listen, Anderson, if you are pumping seawater into a nuclear power plant, essentially writing off the plant, then you're nervous. And when you're getting to that point you better take some action. You better evacuate people.

And I -- so I think that was the proper course of action. Again, that doesn't mean we're going to have the nightmare scenario. There's still some lines of defense here. I started the day real -- at 5:30 this morning being worried because not only is it unit number one, it's Fukushima unit number three.

They're now doing it with that. So that wasn't good news. But as the day has gone on, the news has improved somewhat so I'm a little more confident than I was before. But you don't wait until the last minute to evacuate people especially in a tsunami. You know after an earthquake. You have to start that process sooner and get ahead of the curve so I think they've acted properly.

COOPER: Again, Jim, we'll be calling on you, no doubt, a lot in the coming hours and no doubt in the coming days as well.

We'll talk to Sanjay as well. As I say, we're on for these two hours live from Japan.

When we come back we're going to take you back into Sendai, going to show you the latest from there on the rescue and recovery efforts, and also the long lines of people waiting for food trying to get food, trying to water. Surviving the quake, surviving the tsunami is one thing but then you have to continue living your life and just getting basic supplies. Gas is very, very difficult. We'll show you all of that ahead.


COOPER: So many amazing reunions. That's one of the sort of glimmers of hope that we've seen in these last couple of days. And at times, it's hard to hold on to hope around here. There's so much still yet to be discovered underneath that wreckage.

And again, it wasn't just the earthquake. In fact, most of the deaths that we're seeing have come from the tsunami, from the waves that struck afterward, and these new pictures that we've been getting from when the tsunami struck and we've been getting more just today, had been truly extraordinary. You really get a sense of seeing it up close just limping through streets, people running for their lives. It's been extraordinary.

And again, these videos which we'll be showing you throughout this hour and a half, it's just hard to comprehend. You kind of just keep looking at them and you can't believe that it's real. Of course, it is all too real.

I want to go to Kyung Lah who's in Sendai, Japan. She's been for quite some time now arrived, was the first reporter, I think, from CNN to get in to Sendai.

A lot of lines you're seeing of people looking for food right now, Kyung Lah.

KYUNG LAH, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Anderson, this is what people here in this line are saying, is the potential second crisis. We've been showing you all this video of people getting rescued out of those tsunami zones.

Well, what awaits them on dry land is this: this is a store, a grocery store -- it's not even open. They're opening their door trying to just sell 10 items each to all of these people. This is a line that wraps around the block. It is hours long.

And let's go ahead and just show you -- that's not even the end of the line -- let's show you all of what they have to go through. So, these people then have to wait in this line and what they're aiming for is right over there: the grocery store's closed. There's no power. Each of them are going to get the chance to buy 10 items, most of them opting for food and cup a noodle.

What they're all telling us is that they need items. After they've been evacuated, they don't have power. They don't have rations.

And on this corner, that's this store, there's a store over here. The line has gone down significantly in the last few minutes or so. But there's another store over there, a third store. So, three stores just in this one corner of Sendai.

And if you drive through the city, this is a scene that's repeated over and over again. So, this second crisis that the people here in this town are talking about is one of needing food and water, vital supplies, Anderson, that they say if they don't get, they're worried about what's going to happen, if there's going to be a panic among people who do end up getting rescued, and then end up on dry land -- Anderson.

COOPER: Kyung Lah, Sendai is about -- I'm told about 1 million people in it. Any sense of what percentage of the city was actually, you know, directly impacted by the tsunami, by the earthquake?

LAH: If you think about the actual tsunami and earthquake in zones, that's the best way to think about it. Closer to the shorelines -- and this varies depending on how we look at a shoreline, because remember it is very jagged. Some parts are limited to about two miles in. Other parts of Sendai, six miles in.

Right now, it's very, very difficult to tell the exact impact zone of the direct tsunami. As far as victims and numbers -- many of those people are still buried under the water, still buried under the rubble. Rescuers who I've spoken to say they've got to wait until the water recedes so they get an accurate picture of how many people have been impacted.

Then you look at the earthquake zone. There's no power here. There are many buildings are destroyed or shut down or in the center of the city. So, as we bring out to different zones and where the earthquake that impacted, that's really where we're seeing a bigger picture. It's very difficult to tell how many directly are impacted.

COOPER: Yes. As I said, it's early days in this thing. Even though I know for a lot of people back in the State or wherever who are watching this around the world, they might think, oh, look, this was three days ago. This is -- we're learning new information every hour frankly here on the ground and it seems very slow certainly to the people in the affected area.

But there's a lot of folks rushing to this area trying to do the best they can. We've seen a lot more Chinook helicopters, large scale, big helicopters in the skies carrying supplies and obviously bringing in troops and the like to help in the rescue efforts.

We'll have more from Kyung later on.

Let's go to Soledad O'Brien who's I said is about an hour north of Sendai right now -- Soledad.

SOLEDAD O'BRIEN, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Yes, we're exactly about an hour north of where she is. It's been really interesting to see.

I want to show you some remarkable things. If you head to this gentleman's house, he's been clearing some of the stuff, whatever he can grab out of his house while he can sort of parked out in front here. Look at the construction. I mean, this is so close to the center of the earthquake and also has been hit by a tsunami, and yet it's largely intact.

I want to bring Anna Coren in. She's been here since yesterday, really digging through with some folks looking for bodies.

It always surprises me when you see how high that water line is. Maybe we can have a shot of that, Mark, to see really the -- how intact the house is and how much damage there is to other houses.

ANNA COREN, CNN CORRESPONDENT: It is amazing. We were with a military team yesterday and they were basically going from house to house, trying to find any survivors. I mean, that was -- that was the hope here. It quickly became apparent that this was not a search and rescue operation, they were here to recover bodies. And that's what they were doing, they were pulling people out of these houses like this one.

And, you know, a lot of these people are elderly. For the people that we've spoken to who managed to get out in time, you know, they say that they had half-an-hour between the time of the earthquake hit to when that wall of water just roared straight through here. So, you know, for the elderly who were on ground level, you know, standing where we are standing, they would just have gotten, you know, swept up, carried away.

O'BRIEN: It's about a kilometer, I believe, to where the sea actually begins and so, it rolled all the way in and then even further in. How many bodies were they able to recover roughly? Do you know, yesterday?

COREN: Yesterday, couple of dozen here. Yes. But it is just one of those things that it just -- it just is going to continue as they are able to access these small towns, you know, smack-bang on the village, you know, death toll's definitely going to rise. O'BRIEN: Does it feel like it has -- there's a plan? I mean, as we've been watching some people come through, it doesn't seem like they're systematically going house to house, block to block. It's sort of a grid system. Sometimes you see self-defense forces sort of start here, and then kind of move over there.

Have you noticed any kind of a plan? Have they told you about that?

COREN: No, they haven't told us about a plan. I mean, yesterday, they came in here and were literally going from street to street. So, you know, I think they're trying to get through every single house that they possibly can.

We spoke to one man actually who was like that gentleman we just saw, he was going back to his house and he said he clung on to the roof. It was the only way that he was able to survive the tsunami. It just rolled straight through and he was just clinging on for dear life, praying that, you know, he would survive. He just said he was one of the lucky ones.

And we talked to another man who said, you know, his neighbors are gone. He can't find them.

O'BRIEN: You said this is an elderly neighborhood. Have they talked at all about what will happen next? I mean, I talked to a man who was in his mid-60s who was sort of trying to figure out, you know, do you bother and rebuild at that age? He lives with his mother who's 87.

COREN: Yes. You know, you look at this and you wonder how it is possible for these people to rebuild. But, you know, a gentleman that we spoke to, he spent his life here. He's 65 years old and, you know, he said this is my home. I have to rebuild.

So, you know, you look at this and the building is standing, but there's just debris absolutely everywhere. As you go further towards the coast, I mean, it is just an absolute mess, you know? Yes, totally.

O'BRIEN: All right. Anna Coren, thank you for the update. Appreciate that.

So, Anderson, you see a couple of people coming through on bicycles and cars, that they try to pick up, you know, blankets mostly, pillows. I've seen -- there's not a lot to save in these homes. You've seen very similar things in the wake of a hurricane or other tsunamis that you've covered. Not a lot to grab but people coming in getting what they can before heading back to the evacuation centers.

They're really not hunkering down and spending the night -- Anderson.

COOPER: Yes. Soledad, we'll check back with you shortly.

Soledad was talking about the search and rescue teams. We're seeing numbers of search and rescue teams from all around the world coming in. When I flew in yesterday into Tokyo, there was a team from Taiwan that had just flown in. Team from United States flew in to northern Japan early I believe from Fairfax County, Virginia, well-known search and rescue team.

And as we saw in Haiti, what they like to do is basically make grids of every neighborhood and assign one team to a particular grid and that team is responsible for searching every street and every structure in that area. But that takes time and it takes organization. It may not be the point -- to Soledad's question, it may not be the point where they're organized enough to really section off each team because they're getting more and more searchers, they're getting more and more military personnel, Japanese defense force personnel on the ground here every day, and frankly, every couple of hours.

So, a lot still left to be searched -- a lot of these villages still left to be searched.

We're going to take to you one village coming up shortly, Gary Tuchman, right after the break where they believe that as many as 9,000 people may be missing. We'll have Gary's report in a moment.


COOPER: As an outsider in events like that, you wonder, you know, how do people even begin to clean up, how do you even begin to rebuild your life after something like this. And as we've seen time and time again, it's people just taking a broom and taken a shovel and just starting -- starting somewhere and just trying to do the best they can and helping one another. And that's what we're starting to see already.

But there is still so much need here. If you're interested in helping, you go to for a list of organizations that are working on the ground here in Japan that could certainly use your help if you're so inclined.

I want to go back to Soledad who's with Gary Tuchman, who's in a town where they believe as many as 9,000 people, I think, may be missing -- Soledad.

O'BRIEN: Yes. It's a terrible statistic. Kyung Lah has told you just a moment ago about all these coastal villages that were not only hit by the earthquake and then the incoming tsunami that just ward through. Well, Gary Tuchman has been covering a little bit north of here and knows what that picture looks like.

Tell me a little bit about how far up north you went from where we are, which is about an hour north of Sendai, the capital city in northern Japan.

GARY TUCHMAN, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Earlier, today we were an hour north of here. What's amazing about what we're seeing here, you know, in Haiti, almost every neighborhood in Port-au-Prince was damaged. Here, if you're three or four miles away from the ocean, we don't see any damage whatsoever.

O'BRIEN: Inland.

TUCHMAN: Inland, which basically is clear what caused the damage is not the earthquake but the tsunami.

And when we're in this town, one thing we saw was damage that even a bomb couldn't do. Let's give you a look at what we saw.


GARY TUCHMAN, CNN CORRESPONDENT: This is Minamisanriku, Japan, about three miles from the Pacific Ocean. Never in my career of covering natural disasters have I seen a town so utterly pulverized, just completely mowed down. But this is not from the earthquake, this is from the tsunami. And we know that because this is where the water stopped on its way from the ocean.

If you go just a half a mile away from here, a half a mile to the west, there is absolutely no damage whatsoever in the nearby neighborhoods. But here, there's nothing left -- we see cars, we see trucks, we see motor homes, trees, personal belongings of people all over the place. And they come from all over this town of 20,000 people.

Now, there are still thousands of people unaccounted for. That doesn't mean they are all dead, doesn't mean they are all hurt. It's hard to keep track of people.

But the fact is, there are still many bodies under this rubble. Throughout the day today and yesterday, ambulances were coming in and out. They heard people screaming. They took them out.

Right now, we hear no more voices. We're being told by emergency rescue officials they don't believe there's anyone still alive in the rubble. But as we said, there are still people who perished in this earthquake and the tsunami.

I think what's really unusual about the situation is we drove across the country from the west coast of Japan to here on the east coast and we saw virtually no damage whatsoever until we got to this spot three miles away from the Pacific Ocean.

We're still feeling aftershocks here that causes a lot of anxiety in Japan as it did in Haiti last year after January 12th earthquake there. The aftershock continued for a long time. Many people to this day refuse to go in their homes in Haiti scared that those homes will collapse from the aftershocks and that's the situation here in Japan -- a lot of anxiety after the 8.9 earthquake and tsunami which has killed so many people.

This is Gary Tuchman in the earthquake zone in Japan.


O'BRIEN: And we are back live with Gary Tuchman.

So, Gary, how many people do they think may -- you know, estimating obviously at this point are missing in that town?

TUCHMAN: The estimate is that about 9,500 people are missing. But I just have to --

O'BRIEN: That's half the town.

TUCHMAN: That's half the town. I just have to emphasize at this point: we've seen this in other disasters we've covered -- that doesn't mean they're all dead or they're all hurt. They could be with family members on the parts of the country. It's very hard to keep track of where people are, but we know it's very clear the death toll in that little town would be very high.

O'BRIEN: In this town, where we are, about an hour south of where you were reporting, there is this elementary school that's three stories high. And when the alarms went off, everybody ran to the roof of that elementary school.

Was there a similar structure where people could hope to save their lives when the tsunami sirens went off?

TUCHMAN: Coincidentally, there's an elementary school there, too and a lot of people went there. And that particular elementary school is being used as a shelter where people are getting food, water and able to sleep amid the rubble of their neighborhood. It's unusual how many elderly people live there.

And we saw so many elderly people walking with pains. And these are people who spent their entire lives. I mean, this people grew up before World War II here in Japan and know the terror that inflicted this country. But here they are in this neighborhood their whole lives and now it's completely gone and they're living in a school in the neighborhood.

O'BRIEN: So, is search and rescue in there actively working today to try to pull out bodies?

TUCHMAN: They are actively working, but they say they do believe they've pulled out all the survivors. So, there's not a frantic search going on anymore. So, whoever is left, unfortunately, has perished.

O'BRIEN: Does that figure -- and I understand, I'm sort of putting you on the spot.

TUCHMAN: But you can ask me whatever you want.

O'BRIEN: You've covered a lot of disasters, 10,000 bodies buried under rubble. That's around the estimate -- does that seem reasonable for a tiny village in terms of -- as you know -- bodies start to decompose and there's -- it becomes very clear when there's a massive death toll.

TUCHMAN: I think the good news is it's very unlikely the death toll is that high. It's a combination of factors. It's because -- you mentioned it earlier, it's not pretty to talk about, but there is not a strong odor which we smelled in Haiti. And also, we took a good search around and we didn't see bodies and we would expect if the body, the count was that high that we would have seen some, we really didn't.

So, I suspect it's rather high, but not as nearly high as the 9,500 people who are missing.

O'BRIEN: That's some good news.


O'BRIEN: Gary Tuchman, thank you very much for that update.

And, Anderson, as you can see, that village is very similar to this one. And we can keep going up the coast, you see, it's really dotted with these villages that are combination fishing villages and agricultural villages where the people really didn't have much opportunity to get out of the way of the tsunami with a lot of time once it hit, especially if they were elderly here for folks in their 80s. We talked to one man who has lost both of his parents. He said there's just no way that they were going to be able to, in their 80s, make it out in time -- Anderson.

COOPER: Yes. And we're going to be doing that, Soledad, over the next couple of days in our coverage, traveling all along the coast, getting to these small towns, these small villages, and bringing you people's stories and also, obviously, covering this nuclear emergency which is still ongoing. We're going to have an update about that coming up.

But when we return, we're going to go back to Sendai, which is south of where Soledad is. Paula Hancocks is standing by there. We're going to see what she has been witnessing this day, day -- three days since the earthquake and tsunami roared through parts of Sendai.

We'll be right back.



UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE (through translator): My son might have been engulfed by the tsunami. I hope he's taking shelter somewhere. I'm struggling to locate him.


COOPER: A mother looking for her child. Again, we have heard so many stories like that, as people are trying to look for their loved ones. It's coming in at 11:00 a.m. here on Monday morning, three days since the tsunami devastated so much northeastern Japan.

Our Paula Hancocks arrived in Sunday, about 24 hours after the earthquake and the tsunami. She's been there ever since. She joins us now on the phone.

Paula, what are you seeing today?

PAULA HANCOCK, CNN CORRESPONDENT (via telephone): Well, Anderson -- COOPER: OK. I'm sorry. We obviously lost Paula. As you can tell, communications are very difficult, even piecing together a program like this with a lot of moving parts, it's very difficult to do. So, I apologize for that.

We're going to try to get back in touch with Paula. Communications are very hard for, you know, obviously, reporters. But more importantly, for people on the ground who are trying to get in touch with their loved ones, cellphone service is very spotty. It's not working up in the northeast.

We're using satellite phones. But, obviously, Internets are down. It's very difficult to try to communicate with people. We'll try to get in touch with Paula.

We'll have all our correspondents -- Soledad, we've been talking to her. She is north of Sendai. And Sanjay is also in the area around Sendai.

Our Martin Savidge has been in Sendai as well. He filed this report a short time ago. Let's listen.


MARTIN SAVIDGE, CNN CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): How do you begin to search what looks like the end of the world?

In the seaside city of Sendai, emergency teams carefully pick their way through the devastation. Dwarfed by the size of the tsunami's impact, often the teams are trailed by anxious civilians looking for any signs of missing loved ones.

I wanted to ask this man who he was looking for, but I never got the chance.

(on camera): So, we were starting to follow this what appears to be a search crew. But now, the problem is that apparently there's been another tsunami warning. So, the crew and everyone else here is being told to get away -- which is what they're doing.

(voice-over): It's hard to tell how real the threat may be. Nerves in Sendai are very much still on edge.

Officials shout their warnings, load up, and head for higher ground.

We go in the opposite direction, heading toward the coast, and the closer we get, the more unreal the scenery. The tidal surge rushed inland in some places six miles. Getting around is difficult. Many roads here are impassable.

Adding to the apocalyptic scenes, huge fires continue to burn unchecked. Thick black smoke and flames boiled from a refinery.

As we videoed the scene, we notice something else.

(on camera): Up until now, we've heard the sirens, we've heard the announcements another tsunami coming, but nobody really seemed to be that anxious. Then, all of a sudden, we notice the water here -- it's racing out. We're leaving.

(voice-over): Fortunately, the threat never materializes, which is a good thing because Sendai has already seen more than its share of hell and high water.

Martin Savidge, CNN, Sendai, Japan.


COOPER: We're going to have a lot more from this region, as I said, with correspondents, producers, camera crews covering as much as we can of the ongoing disaster not only in the northeast as it relates to the tsunami and the earthquake -- but also the disaster, the emergency situation in the area of Fukushima, a little south of where I am, far south of Sendai, but north of Tokyo.

Fukushima now, two nuclear plants -- emergencies at two nuclear plants, we'll have the latest on that coming up in our next hour.

We'll be right back.