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THE SITUATION ROOM

Japan in Crisis

Aired March 14, 2011 - 18:00   ET

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


WOLF BLITZER, CNN ANCHOR: Stricken by disaster, overwhelmed with grief and shock, Japan right now a country in crisis. More than three days after an earthquake and a tsunami of historic proportions struck, we're only beginning to realize the magnitude of what has really happened.

We have extensive live coverage for you.

Let's begin with CNN's Anna Coren. She's in the disaster zone in Sendai in Japan.

Anna, set the scene for us. What's the latest right now?

ANNA COREN, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Well, as it stands at the moment, Wolf, the death toll is just approaching 2,000, but government officials believe that that will rise well beyond 10,000.

That is the harsh reality as the days continue and they find more and more bodies, more towns, more cities where houses have just been absolutely destroyed, house after house, street after street, neighborhood after neighborhood absolutely decimated.

This tsunami hit the coast with a 10-meter wave and it just came ashore collecting everything in its path. Now, we spent time with people in these hard-affected areas. One man in particular, he clung to his roof as the tsunami swept by. Others say their neighbors just weren't so lucky. They saw them swept away.

We spent time with a military team, Wolf, and they were going from house to house and collecting the bodies. This is something that will continue over the coming days, if not weeks. We also know that international help is finally arriving.

A number of American teams have arrived with equipment and sniffer dogs. New Zealand is sending a team, this team that was only in Christchurch last month helping go through the search-and-rescue operation for the city of Christchurch. We also know that Britain is sending a team. This help, Wolf, is desperately needed.

BLITZER: Anna, I take it that there are still, though, whole areas of Japan in the northeast where rescue workers have not even been able to get close, given the disaster and who knows what's going on in these areas. What can you tell us about this?

COREN: Yes, that's exactly right, Wolf. I mean, we have only been able to get to one of the cities that was really hard-hit. I mean, we are here in Sendai down at the port. Yes, there is a great deal of destruction, but, even further north, much further north and for hundreds of kilometers -- this is a coastline that has been completely leveled, some five, eight kilometers in.

So, it will take weeks, if not months, before they can actually access all these areas, so a huge job ahead. And who knows if they will ever know the actual -- the death toll, Wolf, because so many of these people, while they're finding bodies in houses or in rivers washed up on banks, so many of these bodies were also swept out to sea.

So, for the people who are missing their loved ones, they may never know where they are.

BLITZER: Are there still shortages, Anna, of food and water and medicine, or is the relief operation succeeding?

COREN: As it stands at the moment, Wolf, there is a severe shortage of food and water and fuel. This is something that is really gripping the city of Sendai here.

And further north, there is just no power, no water. So, it's extremely tough for these people who have survived the quake and the tsunami to try and pick up the pieces. We know that the government is trying to get these services back up and running, but, at the moment, Wolf, we are seriously in short supply of all those things.

BLITZER: Anna Coren is on the scene for us in Sendai.

And, later this hour, Isha, we're going to be sharing with viewers how they can help. I'm getting tons of tweets, a lot of e- mails from viewers all over the world. They want to help. We're going to give them information what they can do right now, because folks just want to come out and help these people in Japan -- Isha.

ISHA SESAY, CNN ANCHOR: Indeed, Wolf.

And this is a complicated situation there on the ground in Japan because this is a multilayered crisis. Of course we're dealing with the issue of search and recovery, search and rescue. But Japan is also dealing with the fear of a possible nuclear disaster, with a second explosion at a stricken power plant that has taken place.

Let's bring in CNN's Tom Foreman. He's following this breaking news for us.

Tom, what are you picking up?

TOM FOREMAN, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Hi, Isha.

All eyes are on the Fukushima Daiichi plants up here. All these plants have had problems, but this is the one that everyone's concerned about. You mentioned these explosions. This is the first one, a hydrogen explosion inside one of the buildings containing one of these reactors up here.

The issue -- and if you take another look at this from above, this is a satellite image from Digital Globe. You can see right here that's how much damage was done to that facility with that explosion. The issue here has been a series of failures. This is the reactor. These are the rods of uranium inside that will be working there.

When the earthquake hit it, these control rods arose in here. They absorb neutrons between the uranium rods, and they slow down the process of reaction here. It doesn't stop it entirely, but it slows it down a good bit. There's still heat being given off from these.

And if we move past that, we look at this is the way it would normally work. You have pumps out here putting water into it. That goes through it, carries the heat away. Steam is released. That's how you actually operate the plant. But that failed. So a backup system came in. They started pumping in water from another source with a generator, but we heard the talk about power out there and fuel. This failed. We're not entirely sure why. It may have had something to do with the tsunami itself.

So they went to a third system to try to bring some extra cooling in. there. That has also had problems. As a result, the heat has continued to build. That's been partially related to the explosions we have seen there. All of these systems are backup systems that are theoretically going to keep it from reaching this point.

Now, for this particular reactor, as the heat has continued to build, they have started pumping in seawater from below to try to keep this cooled down. That has been a relative success. It's been good at times. At other times, they have had the water level drop and they have had them exposed and the heat has been building up.

The whole issue here is you have a buildup of steam which you have to release in some fashion. That will automatically release some sort of radioactivity into the environment. The question is how much. Does it pose a real threat? Right now they're trying to say pretty much not.

But if they can't control this, if they can't this heating under control, if this goes further, then you start looking at a meltdown. And there's talk already that there's some degree of a meltdown happening inside here. The truth is it doesn't seem like anyone really knows what's happening inside this unit.

But if these rods start melting, they move up to around 2,200 degrees with the heat they produce. Uranium rods will melt at about 2,100. So if they start melting, the concern is that eventually they could collapse entirely. And if the containment building fails, as the backup systems have failed, then you could have a catastrophic release. That's what everyone's watching for, hoping against right now -- Isha.

SESAY: And Tom Foreman joining us there with the breakdown on the situation -- Tom, we appreciate it. And, Wolf, that's the thing, that many people are still looking to see what has actually happened inside the reactor itself, talk of a partial melt, the fears of a complete meltdown, of course. But right now, we just don't know -- Wolf.

BLITZER: So many failsafe systems that apparently did not work, given the magnitude of the earthquake, given the magnitude of the tsunami. Isha, stand by for a moment.

I want to dig deeper with CNN contributor Jim Walsh. He's an expert, he's a real expert in international security and research. He's a research associate at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology's Security Studies Program.

We're seeing, Jim, this dramatic stuff happening, the meltdown potentially, a worst-case scenario, the core overheating, all of this going on. There were a lot of safeguards in all of the nuclear facilities in Japan. But, apparently, they failed, given the magnitude of the tsunami and the earthquake.

If someone would have asked the experts in Japan a week ago, could they sustain any realistic earthquake and tsunami, I'm sure they probably would have said yes. But apparently they haven't.

JIM WALSH, CNN CONTRIBUTOR: Yes, that's right, Wolf. And I think there are several things going on here.

One is they weren't expecting this particular severity of event. This was a plant that was built to withstand a seven-point-something earthquake, but not an 8.9 earthquake. But the irony here is that the reactor as far as we know, and we don't know yet, more or less survived, right? It shut down, didn't collapse.

The Achilles' heel here was the cooling, because even though they shut down the reactor successfully, it continued to run hot, just like if you put a pan in an oven, even if you turn the oven off, it continues to be hot. And then they had failure after failure because of the tsunami in the cooling system.

And now they have been forced to the worst of all possible choices from their perspective of pouring raw seawater into that plant. But we don't have a lot of experience doing this. This doesn't happen very often. And it certainly doesn't happen to three different plants in a row in three days in a row, compounded by hydrogen explosions that have done presumably some damage to the buildings, if not the reactor core.

So I think you can prepare for events, but sometimes events that have a low probability still happen. That's what's happening here. And then have you interaction effects, like people taking different drugs. You have a tsunami and an earthquake and a breakdown and other things all going together at once. And that's something -- those interaction effects are not things that people could have predicted.

BLITZER: Well, we know what the best-case scenario is, that everything works and there's no radiation and everyone is fine. We know what the worst-case scenario is, but here's the question. What are the chances of that worst-case scenario unfolding, based on what we know right now?

WALSH: Well, I think we have to be honest and say no one can answer that question. I don't think the government knows. I don't think the utility knows, because, you know, this -- it all depends. The worst-case scenario depends on this containment vessel, feet and feet of concrete with reinforced steel that is surrounding the reactor core.

But it's been there for 40-plus years absorbing radiation. Has it gotten brittle? Has it changed? Has it cracked? Are there problems? No one knows the answer to that question. And we don't want to test that. We don't want to test the proposition of, if the worst-case scenario happens, will the containment vessel hold?

Now, I'm still going to say, I'm going to continue to say, even though, in the absence of certainty, that I think it's more unlikely than likely that we're going to face the worst-case scenario. I don't think we're going to face it.

But I also think there are a bunch of other issues out there that we're probably not paying attention to that may crop up and we will be looking at a week later, two weeks later, a month later. So I don't think it's as -- I don't expect the worst. The worst rarely happens. I don't expect the worst. But I think there are other things that are probably pretty bad.

BLITZER: Very bad. And it's indicative. The fact that they have to improvise with all these efforts that they're doing right now, they have gone outside their regular playbook to deal with this crisis, underscores how serious this crisis is right now.

Jim, we will be staying in close touch with you, Jim Walsh, our national security contributor. Thanks very much.

Isha, there's a lot more that we're looking at this hour.

SESAY: Yes, indeed, Wolf. CNN's Anderson Cooper is on the ground there in Japan. We're standing by for a live report from him this hour.

Plus, chilling new images of the tsunami disaster as it happened, residents watching as their town swallowed by the sea.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

SESAY: Want to show you these dramatic images just coming into us here at THE SITUATION ROOM. These are pictures coming to us from Miyagi Prefecture there in northern Japan, where a fire has been burning. We're trying to establish the state of the situation right now.

But at least within the last several hours, you see those intense flames that are burning in that vicinity. Miyagi Prefecture of course a place where thousands of bodies have been discovered, the result of that earthquake and that tsunami that struck off the coast of Japan on Friday.

And now we are getting these dramatic images of a fire, of flames burning with abandon there coming to us virtue of TV Asahi. These are the images coming into us here at THE SITUATION ROOM. We're trying to establish exactly the circumstances surrounding it, exactly the vicinity that those flames are burning in, but as you see really dramatic images coming into us, really just adding to the sense of confusion and the devastation that is playing out in Japan right now, as millions of people try and recover from this shocking and devastating earthquake and tsunami that struck on Friday.

We're going to continue to follow the situation. Our people are on the ground there. We have teams all over Japan. We are digging deeper to get a little more information on the situation.

But, Wolf, I want to toss it to you there in Paris, dramatic images coming in to us of flames burning, as if the people of Japan haven't dealt with enough. We're trying to find out exactly what's going on. These pictures coming to us via TV Asahi -- Wolf. .

BLITZER: Yes, as the prime minister of Japan, Isha, says, this is the worst catastrophe to hit Japan since World War II.

Much more on the story coming up.

I want to check in with Jack Cafferty right now. He's got "The Cafferty File" -- Jack.

JACK CAFFERTY, CNN ANCHOR: Remember Libya?

Secretary of State Hillary Clinton is in Paris today. That's the reason actually that Wolf is in Paris. She's meeting with other foreign ministers from the G8 to discuss strategy in Libya. She's also meeting with the Libyan rebel leaders. It's the first time the United States has made contact with Moammar Gadhafi's opposition since war broke out in Libya last month.

No course of action, though, has been decided as of yet. Over the weekend, the Arab League called for a no-fly zone. France called for a no-fly zone last week. The White House applauded the idea of a no-fly zone. It was a topic of conversation at the United Nations today, a no-fly zone.

Talk, talk, talk. No action. Meanwhile, Libya's civil war continues, even as international attention to the rebels' cause has been diverted by the tragedy in Japan. Various reports say the opposition forces are now losing their grip on cities like Benghazi and Al Brega. For the first time since the revolt began, the rebels refused to allow reporters to go along with them, out of fear that news coverage could provide intelligence to Gadhafi's forces.

It's a sign of growing frustration on the part of the opposition, the rest of the world simply watching and talking and doing nothing. And Gadhafi's forces are now gaining the upper hand. And if and when they win this thing, the vengeance Gadhafi will extract, well, think about it. Here's the question. Is it becoming too late now for the rest of the world to help the rebels in Libya?

Go to CNN.com/caffertyfile. Post a comment on my blog -- Wolf.

BLITZER: Jack, thanks very much.

We're also watching events unfold in the Persian Gulf kingdom of Bahrain, a key U.S. ally. Gulf coalition troops and armored vehicles rolled into the oil-rich Bahrain area from neighboring Saudi Arabia today. They say they were asked in by Bahrain's own government to keep the peace and restore some security after months of protests against the monarchy and violent clashes there.

They're being deployed by an alliance of six Gulf states, including some 500 troops from the United Arab Emirates. The secretary of state, Hillary Clinton, is here in Paris. She met with the foreign minister of the UAE. They discussed this.

Hillary Clinton now meeting with opposition groups from Libya as well. We will have a full report on what, if anything, was accomplished. She's getting ready to head off to Cairo and Tunisia tomorrow.

We will stay on top of this story for our viewers, but much more on what's happening in Japan right now -- Japan. Truly global in scope, the effort under way. People from all over the world are finding themselves caught up in the crisis in Japan. We will update you on what we know.

We will also hear from one American teacher who survived when his car was tossed around by the earthquake.

Much more of the breaking news coming up from Japan -- right here in THE SITUATION ROOM.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

BLITZER: It's approaching 7:30 a.m. in Japan Tuesday morning. We're just getting this new video in. Look at this. It keeps coming in, this courtesy of our affiliate NHK in Japan, devastating. Every place you look, you see the destruction, the devastation.

It's almost unbelievable. Apocalyptic, I think is a word that is fair to use in describing what has happened in the northeastern part of Japan. And there are still whole areas where rescue workers, military forces have not even been able to get close. And we can only imagine what's going on there as they get closer and closer to the epicenter and to the devastation caused by this enormous tsunami.

The more you look at these pictures, Isha, the more frustrated and angry you get about what has happened.

SESAY: Yes, no doubt about that, Wolf. As you look at the pictures, you get a real sense of the ferocity of this earthquake. It measured 8.9. You see the destruction and how everything is reduced to effectively rubble. Things have been decimated, cars tossed in amongst houses. You know, you don't know the where roads end, where roads begin. You really do see the ferocity and the force of nature as you look at those pictures.

And, you know, Wolf, hundreds of Americans are among those struggling to recover there in Japan.

CNN's Paula Hancocks talks to one of them.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

STEVE BARRETT, EARTHQUAKE SURVIVOR: Yes, it's Steve.

PAULA HANCOCKS, CNN CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): This is the first time Steve Barrett has spoken to his mother since Friday's earthquake and tsunami. He's had no mobile reception, so we lent him ours.

BARRETT: Well, I'm OK. And most of my foreign friends are OK.

HANCOCKS: Barrett has been teaching English in the Japanese city of Ishinomaki for almost two years. After surviving Friday's double disasters, he says he wants to leave.

BARRETT: I was in my car. The car -- I think my car left the ground. There was a hotel immediately in front of me. It looked like it was going to fall down, a giant hotel, like 15-story hotel. People could not stand up. They ran from restaurants and fell into the parking lot.

HANCOCKS: Barrett and another English teacher have been at the hospital looking for friends and trying to compile a list of who's safe.

Inside, the hospital is packed with earthquake and tsunami victims. More than 2,000 have come through these doors. Red Cross officials tell CNN, even though doctors are working around the clock, the government has not supplied them with enough food and water.

Outside, a brief moment of joy, with a surprise reunion. This school down the road is now an evacuation center. Barrett is just one of more than 1,000 guests. It's basic, and it's cold, but it is shelter, and there's food and water here for those who have lost everything, and, as so often seen after natural disasters, the makeshift database of who's staying scoured over by people traveling from shelter to shelter looking for loved ones.

Barrett is just relieved he's now finally been able to tell his family he survived.

BARRETT: You have no idea how nice it is to hear your voice.

HANCOCKS: Paula Hancocks, CNN, Ishinomaki, Japan.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

SESAY: Well, more now from the disaster zone, where of course the quake itself has been updated from 8.9 to 9.0. We're getting that in the last few moments. We're standing by for live reports from CNN's Anderson Cooper and Gary Tuchman. They're in some of hardest- hit areas with the very latest developments.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

WOLF BLITZER, CNN ANCHOR: Let's get right to CNN's Anderson Cooper. He's in some of the hardest-hit areas of northeastern Japan.

Anderson, where are you right now, and what are you seeing?

ANDERSON COOPER, HOST, "ANDERSON COOPER 360": Well, I'm in the port of Sendai. It's kind of a place we have been using as a base of operations.

And I'm actually standing outside some sort of a factory in the port, and literally surrounded by cars. They're actually trucks filled with -- filled with cars, trucks that were moving vehicles that have just been tossed around. There's about four or five of them. One of them is just wrapped around a lamppost. I have never seen anything like it. It's kind of a -- just one of the surreal things you see here.

And it's like this block after block throughout Sendai and really all of northeastern Japan. As you know, the death toll continues to rise here, as they continue to find more bodies.

We were in a debris field in a village about half-an-hour north of here called Sushiga Yokohama (ph). And, I mean, it's -- it is -- you know, it's hard to describe devastation. And it certainly compares to things we have seen elsewhere.

But just -- it just goes on as far as the eye can see in a lot of these places, you know, vehicles mixed with houses mixed with personal possessions and often the debris fields are so thick, Wolf, that you can't even walk through them or really search them without heavy earth-moving equipment, because if there's a debris field that's ten feet thick, you have no idea what's at the bottom of it.

And often there is still water in some of these areas. In Shustuhama (ph), we couldn't even tell, but it was -- used to be a rice field last week. It now looks like it's just a debris field. And all of that is debris which the tsunami swept into that area and deposited and the water retreated; it just left it all there.

But we've also seen, you know, people continuing to try to get in touch with their loved ones. And the Japanese military, the Japanese defense forces, along with U.S. search-and-rescue teams and search- and-rescue teams from around the -- around the world have been pouring into this area, but it is very slow going.

Here's some of what we saw over the last couple hours.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

COOPER: Each day you see more and more search-and-rescue teams. These are from the Japanese defense forces, the Japanese military. Tens of thousands of them have been deployed. There are obviously teams coming from around the world to help in the search and rescue.

A team like this basically goes, walks down the street, checking cars, checking behind abandoned buildings, behind things that have been destroyed.

This is a disaster message board. You see them in city halls and government offices in towns all along the northeast of Japan right now. Basically with cell phone services down or spotty at best, people are separated, obviously, from their family members, from their cell phones. They can't get in touch with each other. So they come to the local government office, and they leave messages. For instance, this is a message left from a woman for Mr. Kanida (ph). It basically says that she's alive, and it gives the address of where she's staying so he can get in touch with her. Right now, this is about the best way that people have to communicate.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

COOPER (via phone): What's so remarkable, Wolf, though, is just how calm people are here. I man, obviously, they're extremely overwhelmed. There's huge amounts of emotion. But publicly, people are very -- are very calm, often standing in line for hours at a time for water that sometimes runs out.

I was at a water distribution point a couple hours ago. People have been waiting for more than an hour. The water truck ran out of water, and, you know, the government official made the announcement. And people were very accepting of it, and just continued to stand in line. Luckily, they were able to bring in a few more liters of water and give it out to some other people. But a lot of people went away empty-handed.

But there's a sense of, you know, everybody in it together and people maintaining order, maintaining calm and just trying to do the best they can, Wolf.

BLITZER: And do they have the supplies they need, the food, the water, the medicine, because I've been getting some conflicting reports although some very disturbing reports that people are getting increasingly desperate.

COOPER: Well, look, I haven't seen acts of desperation that we've seen in other disasters. You know, I haven't seen any looting, anything like that. Stores are shut down in a place like Sendai or Shusigahama (ph) or any of these towns along the northeast. You know, all the 7-Elevens, for instance, seem to be shut down. You'll see some supermarkets may be open, but they only allow a few people in at a time, and they limit how many items somebody can purchase.

But again, if you don't have cash, obviously, that's a real problem. There are, you know, more than 400,000 people who are in shelters right now all throughout the region. They, of course, are receiving food and water and supplies.

But in a lot of places, it is, you know -- it's kind of tricky. Finding gas is very, very difficult for anybody who has a vehicle that still works. There's long, long lines with a few gas stations that are still open. We're seeing water. You know, you get three liter of water a day in the town that I was in earlier today. And again, that water is in short supply for a town of 60,000 people. There were only two distribution points, two small water trucks.

So they clearly need more supplies. That -- you know, they need to ratchet that up, bring stuff up from Tokyo and elsewhere. But at this point, we haven't seen situations of anyone looting or anything like that which I've seen in places in the past.

And again, I'm just overwhelmed by the kind of the sense people have here of just doing the best they can and everybody kind of in this together, pooling their resources and just trying to get through.

BLITZER: It's very impressive the way the Japanese are dealing with this.

Anderson, on top of everything else, beyond the basic needs for food and water and medicine, you've got a potential nuclear fallout, a nuclear problem, as well. Your anecdotal casual conversations with Japanese in Sendai and elsewhere in the northeast, how often do they refer to the problems coming out of these nuclear power plants?

COOPER: You know, people don't really refer to it very much. I mean, I -- there's not much you can do about it once, you know -- once you're on ground. I mean, you can worry about it, obviously, and I think everybody does. You know, I can tell you all of us who are covering it, it's certainly a great concern. But you don't hear people -- you know, there's not hysteria. There's nothing like that. Things again are just very calm.

BLITZER: I think we lost our connection, our cell with Anderson. But we're going to check back with him. By the way, Anderson is going to be live 10 p.m. Eastern later tonight. Gary Tuchman, Soledad O'Brien, Sanjay Gupta, they'll all be with Anderson, a special "AC 360" live from Japan tonight, 10 p.m. Eastern, 7 Pacific only -- only here on CNN.

Japan's army is trying to rescue survivors and a new report from Gary Tuchman here in THE SITUATION ROOM. That's coming up next.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

SESAY: ... local resources to take you right inside Japan's vast disaster zone. CNN's Gary Tuchman is on the ground in one devastated city.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

GARY TUCHMAN, CNN CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): The town of Ishinomaki, Japan, is by the sea but is also now part of the sea. Much of Ishinomaki is underwater because of the tsunami. Many have died here, but hundreds of people have been marooned. Now help is arriving.

(on camera) We're with members of the army right now, trying to rescue these people.

(voice-over) We see a woman waving from her apartment window. She's desperate for drinking water but to our surprise, doesn't want to evacuate her home. So we move on.

But most other people are very anxious and very grateful to go. For more than three days, residents have lived inside this office building, surrounded by the tsunami waters. This is the pickup point for rescue.

Inside the building, tired and frightened people await their turn for their boat ride out. There is no cell service. So these people don't know how their loved ones elsewhere are doing, and their loved ones don't know about them.

Budko Chiba (ph) doesn't know what happened to her parents.

(on camera) How scary has this been for you?

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Oh, I had no word. So scared. We had panicked.

TUCHMAN: You were panicked?

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Panicked very much.

TUCHMAN (voice-over): More boats are brought in, so the pace of rescues can be quickened. The ride is ten minutes long. Most of these people were not aware how devastating the tsunami has been.

I asked this man what's going through his mind. He tells me he just wants to go to a safe place.

This soldier is one of dozens spending the day rowing. He says he knows the task is important but the situation is emotionally difficult.

After they reach dry land, some of those rescued are taken to the hospital. Most of the others are able to walk off but often without knowing where to go. After all, their hometown is underwater.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

BLITZER: Devastation, but Gary Tuchman joins us on the line now.

Gary, describe for our viewers where you are and what you're seeing.

TUCHMAN (via phone): Yes. Right now we're in Sendai, Japan. This is the largest city in the region. And one thing I -- it's really important to stress: Sendai is a huge city. More than a million people live here. Huge skyscrapers. Most of the city is just fine. If you just dropped off another planet, you'd think nothing happened in the main part of the city.

It's by the beach; it's by the shore. And that's what our viewers need to know. The damage is unbelievable. But it's limited to two or three miles from the beach. When you get any further inland, there's almost no damage whatsoever.

SESAY: And these two or three miles that have seen this utter devastation, I mean, what's your sense about the need of those that are carrying out the search-and-rescue operation? Do they need heavy earth-moving equipment? I mean, what's your sense about the feeling of whether people drowned or were basically trapped beneath the rubble?

TUCHMAN: You know, this is a lot different than Haiti. Haiti needed and still needs earth-moving equipment. There's no question about it. There are miraculous stories in Haiti of people trapped in the rubble, rescued and also lots of people who were never trapped -- who were never rescued but who were trapped.

Here that's not the case, because people for the most part, it appears, did not die from the earthquake. They died from the tsunami. They drowned. They were swept out to sea. We really haven't any cases of people trapped in the rubble crying for rescue; that hasn't happened. It's a very different scenario in Haiti. So as far as the amount of -- it's good to have the earth moving equipment, because there's certainly a lot to clean up, but if you're wondering, if our viewers are wondering are there people still trapped who need to be rescued, that's a very low likelihood at this point.

SESAY: Gary Tuchman joining us now on the phone from Sendai in northeastern Japan. Gary, we appreciate it. Stay safe.

Wolf, you hear what Gary's saying there. It's a very different situation to what happened in Haiti, a situation, of course, our viewers are very familiar with. Here in these coastal areas, the fear is that people were dragged out to sea and they drowned -- Wolf.

BLITZER: Yes, it's horrible. And as often as you think you've seen the worst pictures coming in -- still photographs, video -- all of a sudden, more come in. And we're just getting some new images, Isha. I think our viewers here are going to want to see this, our viewers here in the United States and around the world.

The wall of water that engulfed Japan's northeast coast. We have the tsunami video that you probably haven't seen yet. We'll share it with you when we come back.

Plus the agony thousands of families are facing as they wait for word of missing loved ones.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

BLITZER: The existing radiation levels now in Japan are also affecting U.S. military relief operations in the region, and they are significant.

Our Pentagon correspondent, Chris Lawrence, has that part of the story.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

CHRIS LAWRENCE, CNN CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): A radioactive cloud spewing from this nuclear plant contaminated at least 17 American troops. But even that hasn't stopped U.S. military efforts to help Japan.

On Monday, a Navy helicopter delivered more than 1,500 pounds of food to survivors in Sendai, and the 7th Fleet tweeted, "Relief ops have resumed north of Sendai. Watching winds closely and will move ships and aircraft as necessary to avoid the wind line from Fukushima."

The navy did have to reposition its ships and planes to avoid the radiation that contaminated the 17 crew members. They had flown through the cloud and picked up low levels of radiation, mostly on their clothes, but one had it on his skin. Officials destroyed their uniforms, washed the troops down with soap and water, and retested, at which point they all came up clean.

Helicopters have delivered blankets, water and food. The USS Tortuga picked up heavy-lift cargo carriers in Korea and is steaming toward Japan. When it arrives Tuesday, the crew will take hundreds of Japanese troops and their vehicles to the northern end of Honshu.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: And we'll give them all the resources that we would give anybody in America.

LAWRENCE: Like this one, a Global Hawk can stay in the air all day and cover 100,000 kilometers. Now it's giving the Japanese a better look at the damage. Combine that with Air Force search-and- rescue teams from Okinawa who have arrived on the mainland to look for more survivors.

CAPT. GABE BROWN, PILOT, 33RD RESCUE SQUADRON: We're prepared to search, recover anybody who's still stranded, and you know, if there's any water that's pooled up anywhere, that sort of thing, or stranded offshore.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

LAWRENCE: Some of the ships, the helicopters, they've got sensor equipment that can measure radiation levels. It's something that the military is going to keep a close eye on over the next few days.

The crew members who were exposed, they got about as much radiation as you would get from being out in the sun over a month. But they took it on in just a matter of hours -- Wolf.

BLITZER: Yes, that's worrisome.

Chris there, what, there are usually about 30,000 or 40,000 U.S. troops based in Japan at any one time. Is that about right?

LAWRENCE: That's right. But they're coming, Wolf. You know, at least seven major warships are now there, including the USS Ronald Reagan, the aircraft carrier. So more and more are arriving. As we mentioned, tomorrow, even more ships will be on site there.

BLITZER: I know the Ronald Reagan, the aircraft carrier battle group has 6,000 sailors and marines right -- right there alone. So a lot more troops on the way. Chris Lawrence is our Pentagon correspondent.

Isha, let's get it back to you.

SESAY: Wolf, we want to show our viewers now some incredible video of the tsunami roaring ashore on Japan's Pacific coast. The waves bore down on the town of Minami-Sanriku. Half of that town's population, 9,500 people, are still missing. Watch and listen.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: (speaking foreign language)

(SHOUTING/CRYING)

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: The buildings and homes of some 9,000 residents.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

SESAY: All around the world, there are families right now frantic for word of their loved ones missing in the horrific disaster in Japan. Let's go right now to Lisa Sylvester. She has more on all of this -- Lisa.

LISA SYLVESTER, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Isha, this is really a sad ordeal. There are thousands of people missing in Japan. The relatives and friends are using everything that they can -- Facebook, Twitter, posting pictures on bulletin boards, anything, really -- to try to find them and reconnect with them.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

SYLVESTER (voice-over): Twenty-seven-year-old Jessica Fleming has been teaching English in Sendai, Japan. That is one of the areas ravaged by the earthquake and tsunami. Jessica's anxious friends posted on Facebook to check if she was OK. For three agonizing days, her mom, Joan Green (ph) did not know if she was alive until she received a text message.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: She's OK.

SYLVESTER: But many still wait. Families in Japan search posters, hoping to hear news from a loved one, and on a special Web site set up by the International Committee of the Red Cross, name after name of the missing are posted online. People from all around the world who were in Japan when the earthquake and tsunami hit.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: One of the things we do is put people who have lost contact with their families in touch with each other. And so when a disaster like that hits, the phone lines are down. People lose touch with their relatives very quickly, and that's one service we provide.

SYLVESTER: The tsunami left in its wake devastation and heartbreak. The official death count is nearly 2,000, but thousands more are missing.

This woman goes back to her house on the off chance her husband is there.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE (through translator): He went back to the office again, because he was worried about the company, and he did not come home even at 7 or 8 p.m.

SYLVESTER: She scans the landscape for her husband's office building, but it is no longer standing.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

SYLVESTER: Now the International Committee of the Red Cross has its Web site up where people abroad and in Japan can post if they're trying to get a hold of someone. That Web site is www.familylinks.icrc.org -- Isha.

SESAY: Lisa, we appreciate it. Thank you very much. Very important information for people who are going through a very desperate time, Wolf. Lives of people, millions of people changed forever.

BLITZER: Our heart goes out to those people. These stories are so heart-wrenching. All right, Isha. Thanks very much.

John King, by the way, at the top of the hour is going to have a lot more. Some more stories, survival stories coming up. Stand by for that. We'll take a quick break. Much more after this.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

BLITZER: Let get right back to Jack. He's got "The Cafferty File" -- Jack.

JACK CAFFERTY, CNN ANCHOR: Wolf, the question this hour: "Is it becoming too late now for the rest of the world to help the opposition forces in Libya?"

Lauren in Chicago writes, "Yes, everybody talks about the U.S. and its failures of judgment in its interventions. But here was an instance when the world could have stepped up to rid ourselves of a brutal dictator, and everyone blinked."

Chandler in New Jersey: "The Libyan loyalists obviously have enough firepower to defeat the untrained, disorganized rebels, with or without a no-fly zone. The rebel leaders ought to publicly ask the Egyptian army to intervene with the goal of forging a democratic federation of Egypt, Libya, and perhaps Tunisia. There is time for an Arab solution to an Arab problem." Bob writes, "With all the huffing and puffing, it seems the U.N. and the west will move only after TV shows 500,000 Libyans massacred and the streets soaked with blood. They could have paralyzed this thug's air force, communications and razed his military bases to rubble by now. No justification for the statements. That means nothing to those who are facing the bomb."

Bobby writes, "Give the U.S. Navy 30 minutes, punch some holes in the military runways and a few shots to destroy Gadhafi's helicopters. Then the playing field is leveled and the opposition has a chance."

Michael writes, "If the Arab League wants a no-fly zone in Libya and wants the U.N. Security Council to enforce it. That means us, the United States. How about this? If the Arab League wants it, let the U.N. Security Council charge the Arab League to enforce it."

Dave in Virginia writes, "I don't know. A terrible situation, but once again, the world is waiting for the United States to intervene and if we do, we'll immediately be criticized for it. Some days I think we ought to become the grouchy old guy in the neighborhood: keep to ourselves and put up 'Keep Off the Grass' signs everywhere."

Jerry writes, "I don't think it's too late, Jack, do you? Let's talk about it for a while."

If you want to read more, go to the blog: CNN.com/CaffertyFile -- Wolf.

BLITZER: All right, Jack. Thanks very much. See you back here tomorrow.

That's it for me. Thanks very much for watching. I'm Wolf Blitzer in THE SITUATION ROOM. Thanks to Isha Sesay from CNN International, as well.

Isha, we'll see you back here tomorrow.

For our international viewers, "WORD NEWS" is next. In the United States, "JOHN KING USA" starts right now.