Return to Transcripts main page

THE SITUATION ROOM

Nuclear Fear Spikes After Third Blast; 'It's Easy to Get Overwhelmed'; U.N. Resolution to Pressure Libya; 'Inspired by Egypt's Revolution'; Concern About Nuclear Reactors in Japan; Face-to- Face With Tsunami

Aired March 15, 2011 - 17:00   ET

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


WOLF BLITZER, HOST: Happening now, breaking news we're following -- radiation testing and fears spike to a new level in Japan after a third explosion and a fire at a nuclear power plant. A French official now says this crisis is getting almost as bad as Chernobyl, the worst nuclear plant accident ever.

Every day, the enormity of the quake and the tsunami destruction becomes more painfully clear. It now seems likely to be the most expensive disaster in history -- even worse than Katrina.

So how will Japan handle this enormous challenge?

And more than 10,000 people are dead or missing. Stand by for the dramatic new video coming in and the personal stories of reunions and rescues, survival and loss.

We want to welcome our viewers in the United States and around the world.

I'm Wolf Blitzer. You're in THE SITUATION ROOM.

Lots happening here. We're in Egypt today, also in Japan. We're following all the breaking news.

CNN's Isha Sesay is joining us, as well, from CNN International.

I've got to tell you, there's so much news -- I've been a reporter for a long time, but I can't remember a time when there have been so many breaking news stories of such enormity happening, Isha, at the same time.

ISHA SESAY, CNN INTERNATIONAL ANCHOR/CORRESPONDENT: Absolutely, Wolf. No doubt about it. We are, of course, closely following the events taking place in Japan that are rapidly unfolding. But as you mentioned, you are there in Cairo with the secretary of State, Hillary Clinton, an important visit there. And many in the Arab world watching closely to see, as she meets with Egypt's new leaders -- Wolf.

BLITZER: It's a critically important trip she's having. There's no -- by no means a done deal here in Egypt that everything is going to work out just fine. Just a little while ago, down in Tahrir Square. And I was -- I was there. There were gunfire -- there were gunshots going out, as some Coptic Christian protesters were running. There were hundreds of people running on the streets. It's still tense. We're going to have a lot more on this part of the story.

What's happening in Libya right now. Gadhafi is moving quickly and moving, supposedly, even against the rebel forces in Benghazi. We have a lot more on that.

But our top story, Isha, is what's happening in Japan right now and the fears of some sort of radiation -- significant radiation problems developing because four reactors or buildings around them are in trouble right now.

Let's bring in Jeanne Meserve.

She's following all the latest developments -- update our viewers, Jeanne, on what we know right now, because this is, potentially, the worst nuclear disaster since Chernobyl.

JEANNE MESERVE, CNN HOMELAND SECURITY CORRESPONDENT: That's right, Wolf.

A top European energy official compares the situation in Japan to the apocalypse. And most workers who have been struggling to control the situation left the plant when radiation outside the gate spiked up to levels that can harm human health. Those levels have now dropped.

In addition to evacuating people in a 20 kilometer radius around the plant, the government is now urging people within 30 kilometers to shelter in their homes. Also, a 30 kilometer no fly zone has been put in place around the plant.

There are two reactors at the Fukushima plant currently of grave concern. And Reactor Four, where there was a fire, the concern is that spent fuel rods and storage pools have been exposed. The power company is considering dropping water from helicopters to cover them back up.

There was also concern that an explosion in Reactor Two on Monday night might have compromised the primary containment vessel. If that happens, that would allow radiation to escape.

The U.S. Energy secretary, Steven Chu, was up until 2:30 in the morning, he says, monitoring the situation and the U.S. has experts and equipment en route.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

STEVEN CHU, ENERGY SECRETARY: A great deal of monitoring equipment that can be used by the Japanese. It includes airborne equipment that can you put in airplanes.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: This is to -- to monitor the radiation.

CHU: The radiation and --

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Right.

CHU: -- the radiation release, the type of release. We also have ones that can be deployed on the ground so that we can be sure that whatever does get released, if it begins to go in the direction of major metropolitan areas, that we -- we can give people fair warning.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

MESERVE: Why all that monitoring equipment?

Well, a senior administration official says that at this point in time, there is not a clear picture of how much is being released, where it is and where that is going.

The Nuclear Regulatory Commission, meanwhile, says the steps being taken by the Japanese parallel those that would be made by the U.S. in a similar situation -- Wolf.

BLITZER: All right.

We're going to have a lot more on this part of the story coming up.

Jeanne, thanks very much -- Isha, I've got to say, a lot of folks in Japan are very, very nervous right now. We've heard these reports. People are not only wanting to get out of danger zone immediately surrounding these nuclear facilities, a lot of folks simply want to get out of Japan right now.

SESAY: Yes, we are, indeed, hearing a lot about that -- lots of anecdotal tales about people trying desperately to get out of way, as they fear that there is, indeed, an upcoming nuclear disaster. That is a fear that many have. We're waiting to get more information as the situation unfolds.

We do have correspondents that there are there on the ground. They're trying to get to as many areas of the disaster zone as possible.

CNN's Kyung Lah is right now reporting from Akita in Northern Japan.

And she joins us now on the phone -- Kyung Lah, I know that in has been a massive deployment of military forces there in Japan, as part of the search and rescue operation.

What's your sense as to how things are progressing?

KYUNG LAH, CNN INTERNATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Well, it's really been tough for the last 24 hours, Isha, primarily because of the weather. It's been very rainy, cold. It's also been heavy snow in certain parts of the coastal area. So that -- that has really slowed down some of the search and rescue operation.

What the -- what they're also waiting for, those military people that you're talking about, they need to wait for the water to recede. But because it's been raining, they haven't been able to do that. The reason why they need that water to go away is because they do believe that bodies may be under that water. There are so many reports of people who are missing.

You mentioned the number of dead, that being around 3,000. Well, that number is certainly expected to climb, because there are so many parts of this coastal area that rescuers (AUDIO GAP) to look at. So those numbers are certainly going to fluctuate.

As far as how the victims are doing, people -- some people have been able to go back to their homes to look at how they -- how they are, if they're -- if they're standing. Others have simply been looking at the newspaper and news reports on television, trying to piece the information together, to figure out if their neighborhoods are still there. And if their neighborhoods aren't still there, they simply have to guess and deduce what's happened to their family members.

Many people are still going from shelter to shelter. And, you know, these are schools, they're community centers that have been turned into residences now for hundreds of people. And they're just trying to leave messages, trying to find somebody.

So the situation on the ground here is that it's still very much -- and it feels like, at least, the very early stages of a rescue and recovery operation.

SESAY: And, Kyung, to focus in on the situation with those shelters, where it's my understanding that at least 450,000 people are in shelters right now, what do we know of the conditions there?

Because we know that people are struggling with dwindling supplies of food, water and fuel.

LAH: I do have to tell you that in these shelters that I have been at, they are very clean. They are running pretty well, especially if you consider that these have been set up by community members and the Red Cross. Food has been primarily donated by community members. It is a massive community effort. It is coming from the ground up, not from the top down, as of yet. And so it's been really extraordinary to see.

In these classrooms, if you just stepped in there, you truly see all of the goodwill of Japanese culture at work. People are sharing what they have. If there's only enough food to go around for four people, those four people will split it among six to make sure everyone is fed. So the -- the benefit here is that this disaster has happened in a culture that is egalitarian, that is kind to one another and really truly wants to get back on its feet.

SESAY: Kyung Lah reporting there from Akita, Japan.

Kyung, appreciate it -- and, Wolf, to toss it back to you, that is, indeed, a point that's being made over and over again, that it is Japanese culture that largely accounts for this lack of a breakdown in social order that we're seeing -- Wolf. BLITZER: Yes, so far.

All right, let's -- let's stay on top of the situation, Isha.

I want to go one of the areas hardest hit by this disaster.

Our own Brian Todd is traveling with U.S. search and rescue teams as they hunt for survivors.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

BRIAN TODD, CNN CORRESPONDENT: We're here in the town of Ofunato, which was devastated by the earthquake and tsunami. You see some of the rescue workers there going into that very unstable house.

These guy are very courageous. They go into these structures all the time knowing that they could come down at any minute.

The devastation here is really kind of hard to put into words, but you can see just endless whole blocks of nothing but rubble. And this is what these guys have to come and try to sift through to find people alive.

I'm going to show you one stark contrast. You can see up that hill. That's what high ground down in a tsunami. It can save those structures, save the people in them.

But of course, down here, they just almost didn't have a chance. Just on the other side of these buildings is an inlet that comes in from the ocean. So it kind of funneled the tsunami waters in here. And rescue workers tell us that it -- that it made the waters even stronger -- just incredible force that game through that funnel, through that inlet and just swept over this entire area.

I'm here with Chief Chris Schauf of Virginia Task Force One.

Chris, when you come upon a scene like this, how do you guys even get started?

How do you not get overwhelmed with all this?

CHIEF CHRIS SCHAUF, AMERICAN RESCUE WORKER: You know, if you look at it in the big picture, it is easy to get overwhelmed. The way that we break it out by sticking with search teams, groups and breaking it down into small coordinates and small grids, it makes it easier for the guys and girls to focus on their jobs while they're here, so you can move from grid to grid instead of city to city. That would be too much and too much to process.

TODD: And you have other teams here helping you. And you're kind of cordoning off parts of the city, right?

SCHAUF: We do. It's been cordoned off, this particular location between us, L.A. and the U.K. are here. We've divided into seven coordinates or seven quadrants. And we're working in the lower three here. And then we've broken that down further by search groups and rescue teams that are working here.

TODD: All right, well, Chief, good luck.

Thanks for doing this.

SCHAUF: Thank you.

TODD: One thing that Chief Schauf has told us is that what they count on a lot in these situations, not only for the canine teams that are just over there -- they're swarming around here, also, by the way. The dog teams are very impressive. They can find people alive in the rubble, but they also count on friends and relatives kind of waving at them, pointing to people, you know, who may be inside these structures, may be under these rubble piles.

But Chief Schauf told me something that was pretty daunting a moment ago. In a situation like this, he said, there may be whole families that have gone missing. So, of course, no one is looking for them.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

BLITZER: Brian Todd, thanks very much.

It's hard to believe what a tsunami can do to a 4,000 pound car -- until you see Anderson Cooper's report. It's an amazing report -- Isha.

SESAY: And we'll dig deeper on Japan's nuclear emergency, the actual danger and how it compares to past nuclear accidents.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

SESAY: We want to show you these brand new pictures today that aired on TV Asahi, pictures that show you once again the devastating impact of those floodwaters, as they inundated parts of Northeastern Japan.

You see survivors just staring out in awe of the devastation and the mountains of debris that have been left -- left by those huge floodwaters. People working among the wreckage, trying to find survivors. And just the shock as the water tosses cars around like toys.

These are brand new images that were shown on TV Asahi today that we want to share with you, our viewers -- pictures that, once again, just underline the scale of the disaster there in parts of Japan -- Wolf, images which are truly heartbreaking.

BLITZER: Yes. Heartbreaking, indeed.

I want to bring in Jack Cafferty right now, Isha.

Jack's has got "The Cafferty File" -- Jack.

JACK CAFFERTY, CNN CONTRIBUTOR: In the wake, Wolf, of Japan's deadly earthquake and tsunami and nuclear power plant explosions, we have witnessed the almost indescribable chaos that follows a disaster of this magnitude -- loss of life, severe injuries, homelessness, lack of water, food, lack of proper medical care, the physical destruction of entire towns and cities and a growing fear of radioactive contamination from those power plants that seem beyond anyone's ability to control.

But one heart wrenching byproduct of disasters like this one has been missing in Japan -- people looting and lawlessness.

Looting is something we see after almost every tragedy -- last year's earthquakes in Haiti and Chile; the floods in England in 2007; and, of course, Hurricane Katrina back in 2005.

When some people who have seen life as they know it get tossed out window, they feel that all morality has been tossed out with it. It becomes survival of the fittest and whatever you can get your hands on is yours, no matter who it belongs to.

But that's not happening in Japan. Journalists and social commentator Ed West wrote in the U.K. "Telegraph" yesterday how struck he has been by the Japanese culture throughout this ordeal. He observed how supermarkets cut their prices in the days following the quake, how vending machine owners were giving out free drinks as, quote, "people work together to survive," unquote.

West says he was most surprised at the fact that there was no looting. Many have pointed to the popularity of Japan's distinctive Buddhist and Shinto religions, as well as how the values of conformity and consensus are considered virtues in their culture.

That's one explanation. But it likely has something to do also with remaining true to one's moral code, even in the darkest hours.

The question is this, why is there no looting in Japan?

Go to CNN.com/CaffertyFile and post a comment on my blog -- Wolf.

BLITZER: Yes. A great question, Jack. And I think a lot of us all over the world have got a lot to learn from the Japanese and their culture --

CAFFERTY: I think so.

BLITZER: -- and how they're dealing with this enormous tragedy. And I think you're right.

All right, Jack. Thanks very much.

Isha, let's continue.

SESAY: Well, more than five days after the monster quake, some survivors wander through the wreckage looking for traces of their homes, their cars and really, quite simply, their lives.

Anderson Cooper shows us a small part of what's become a graveyard for destroyed vehicles.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

ANDERSON COOPER, HOST, "ANDERSON COOPER 360": Here in the port in Sendai, there's dozens of cars that have just been tossed all around this entire area. This is actually a brand new vehicle. You can tell the -- that the plastic is still on the front seat. There's still keys in the ignition.

And in fact, there's a number of tractor-trailer trucks. There's -- I count, I think, about four or five of them -- which were actually loaded with brand new vehicles which have just been tossed all around like -- like kids' toys by -- by the power of the water.

This vehicle is still attached to the tractor trailer and the tractor trailer has been flipped over on its side. As you can see, the tractor trailer is over on its side like that.

And then over here is one of the strangest things I've seen today. This is actually another tractor trailer filled with -- with vehicles, about a half dozen vehicles, that's actually wrapped itself around a utility pole. It was just picked up by the tsunami waters, just hitting that pole and literally just wrapping itself around it. It really gives you a sense of just how strong this water was when it came ashore here in Sendai.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

SESAY: Landscapes of devastation.

Well, new quakes, aftershocks and fear -- Chad Myers sizes up the tremors and why they keep coming.

And here -- and in the Middle East, a new state of emergency and clashes with protesters in Bahrain.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

BLITZER: We'll get back to what's happening in Japan in just a moment.

But this just coming into THE SITUATION ROOM right now. The United Nations Security Council just introduced a resolution designed to put pressure on Libya's government and Moammar Gadhafi. Germany's UN ambassador says the resolution would involve an arms embargo, as well as financial sanctions. But a no fly zone is not -- repeat -- not part of this UN Security Council resolution, due to opposition by some members of the Security Council, we assume China and Russia.

The Council is expected to discuss this issue tomorrow -- Isha, lots happening in this part of the world. The UN Security Council beginning to take some steps. But I don't know if it's going to be enough to deter Gadhafi from moving forward.

SESAY: Absolutely. And certainly, the rebels there in Libya will have great disappointment, as they get that news that there is no -- there isn't a no fly zone clause in the resolution as it stands right now.

Secretary of State Hillary Clinton is expressing deep concern about escalating political turmoil in another country in the Middle East, in Bahrain. Security forces fired tear gas and rubber bullets today at protesters in the south, killing at least two and wounding another 150 people. Bahrain's King Hamad has just imposed a three month state of emergency. That's according to state news -- Wolf, there's so much happening in places like Bahrain, of course and Libya.

And you're there in Cairo with Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, as she meets Egypt's new leaders.

What can you tell us about the meeting that she had today -- Wolf.

BLITZER: Well, the meetings with the Egyptians are going as planned. I don't think there's any great breakthroughs. It's still a very tense situation. I can personally testify earlier, not that long ago, Isha, I was out on the streets in Tahrir Square. And a lot of protesters still out there, including a lot of Coptic Christians who aren't very happy with the situation right now. In fact, hundreds of protesters were running in the streets. And I ran over to see what was going on. And then we heard some gunshots.

So this is still a work in progress here in Egypt, in this post- Mubarak era.

But there's enormous concern, as you know, about what's happening in Libya right now and enormous fear on the part of Secretary of State Clinton's delegation that Gadhafi is simply going to move and move and move toward Benghazi in the east and -- and take over and defeat the rebels who are trying to go after him.

So that's an enormous issue for the U.S., this no fly zone. And there's no great desire, I can -- I can assure you, on the part of the Obama administration to engage in this no fly zone. It doesn't look like that's going to happen any time soon -- Isha.

SESAY: Indeed. And I know that you're going to be sitting down with Secretary of State Clinton tomorrow, I believe, to have a one-on- one conversation with her. And, really, you know, many questions to be asked about how the U.S. intends to proceed in the region and how it maintains its sense of, you know, being in support of these people in search of democracy and freedom and at the same time is seen as a reliable ally -- Wolf.

BLITZER: Yes. And one thing is clear. You know, they -- you get a clear sense of frustration with speaking with American officials, Isha, that if the United -- that if the Arab League wants a no fly zone, well, you know, why doesn't the Arab League -- why don't some of the Arab countries engage in a no fly zone?

They have air forces, whether in Jordan or Qatar, the United Arab Emirates or Saudi Arabia?

Why always the United States and NATO? And there's -- as I say, there's no great desire on the part of the Obama administration to do so right now. That's one issue, and, obviously, what's going to happen with Gadhafi, after the president of the United States says Gadhafi must go and if he stays, that's going to be a problem for this part of world.

All right. We're going to have more on this part of the story, Isha, coming up.

But our main story what's happening in Japan right now.

Here's a question -- can we trust what the Japanese government is telling us, indeed, what the Japanese government is telling its own people and the entire world about the nuclear plant crisis?

I'll speak with a veteran reporter who's covered the industry. Stand by for that.

And the pictures and the stories of an American who captured the horror of the tsunami while it was happening.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

SESAY: I want to show you some pictures now coming to us from Kesennuma, Japan, where Soledad O'Brien and her crew have been surveying the damage there today. As you see there, just block after block, really, of destruction -- flattened homes and workplaces, places where people used to live, people used to work. And now there is nothing but utter destruction left there.

Pictures from Kesennuma, Japan that, really, again, just show that people have, in my case, have lost everything. They have nothing left. You see the mounds of debris. It really does look like an industrial wasteland in some way. But really, this is where people had lived, they had worked. People had their lives here. And now everything is left in utter shreds.

Pictures coming to us by -- by way of Soledad O'Brien, who's there along with a huge team that CNN has on the ground in various areas in Japan, bringing you the very latest on the situation there on the ground -- and, Wolf, again, every time you see new pictures, it just brings home just the scale of the devastation. And every time, it's jaw-dropping.

BLITZER: It's so heartbreaking.

And we're going to check in with Soledad, Dr. Sanjay Gupta, our chief medical correspondent. Anderson Cooper will be joining us live. We're going to go back to the scene.

But I want to go back to our top story right now, the nuclear disaster that's unfolding in Japan.

Matthew Wald is a reporter for "The New York Times." He's joining us. Matthew, based on everything you're hearings, what's the latest? How concerned should the world be about these nuclear reactors in Japan?

MATTHEW WALD, "NEW YORK TIMES": Well, they sure aren't out of the woods. There was a report that they had a fire in a spent fuel pool which should be a really serious problem, because the spent fuel pool has more radioactivity in it, more radioactive materials than the reactors do. But the latest word is no, no, it was a fire nearby, some lubricating oil. And the next step may be to bring in helicopters to dump water on the spent fuel pool.

The spent fuel pool has maybe five times as much radioactive fuel rods as the active reactor, and it started out with about 30 feet of water over it. That hasn't been cooled since the earthquake, since power was cut off. That takes days to start boiling and boiling away, but it's been days.

They've got to find a way to put more water in there. This is one of the drawbacks of this design of reactor.

The bringing in helicopters makes it sound a little bit like Chernobyl, but it's not Chernobyl. It doesn't have a large amount of flammable material that will drive a huge volume of radioactive materials high into the atmosphere, but they've got a lot there, and they could still lose a lot more of it.

BLITZER: It sounds like the Japanese are really improvising, and they are looking for any kind of remedy. Do you get a sense, Matthew, that they are in control of these nuclear reactors?

WALD: Well, they are trying, and as time goes on for the reactor cores, those get cooler pretty rapidly. When they are a week or two out, they will have a lot smaller challenge, a lot less heat being generated.

Actually, it sounds improvised, but people have talked for a long time about the possibility of just bringing in fire hoses, which they have got now, to dump in additional water. Their problem is they have got damaged fuel. The fuel was the first barrier to keeping the radiation in, the radioactive materials in.

They have got damaged fuel, and they have got no way to cool it except by dumping water in and letting that boil off as steam, releasing the steam to get the pressure down enough so they can put in more water. So that commits them to continuing releases probably for weeks to come.

BLITZER: We know that hundreds of workers were evacuated, tens of thousands of people within a 30-kilometer area of this facility were evacuated. There's not that many people actually left, I assume, because they fear radiation poisoning. But those who are left, how endangered are they?

WALD: I don't know what the dose rates are in the plant. Some of the numbers that they have reported would in fact be enough, if you were out there for a few hours, to give acute radiation sickness, which would start out with things like vomiting and diarrhea. And once you're at that stage, and you're a plant worker, you're not going to get a lot of work done. You're not going to haul heavy fire hoses, et cetera.

But I think they probably cut the worker population at the plant to the bare bones minimum because there's no point exposing more people than they need to. Typically, in a situation like this you think about rotating people through as time went by. Probably, they sized their crew in order to be able to keep the pumps running and keep pouring water into the reactors, and maybe the spent fuel pools also.

BLITZER: But can these limited number of people, maybe only 50 people left, can they really solve this crisis?

WALD: They can if they are lucky, if they're at it long enough, if they keep dumping water into the reactors until the reactors are much cooler and the volume of water that they need to do is much smaller. I mean, they can evaporate many tons of water every day when the reactor first shuts down, and that will get down to a much smaller amount later on.

The problem is, every time they have some valve stick, they have some another interruption, they run out of diesel fuel, and they expose the fuel rods, the fuel rods overheat and they crack. It may go beyond cracking. They may open up completely and dump their contents into the water, and there goes your first barrier.

The second barrier in one of these reactors is the containment itself, and that containment was damaged in a hydrogen blast. So they now have a clear pathway, and they are committed to continuing releases. They might get through this without huge additional releases. They are certain to have to keep releasing radioactive materials for some time to come.

BLITZER: Matthew, how much can we trust the Japanese government to tell us the truth?

WALD: Well, the Tokyo Electric Power Company has not been always, as we would say in America, transparent. On the other hand, we do have the -- we have some independent monitoring.

We have the U.S. military out there, at least off shore, and we do have the government itself doing some radiation monitoring. So I will be very curious to see what kind of investigation we go through afterwards.

When we have huge civil disasters in the United States, Three Mile Island, the well Macondo blowout, the Columbia shuttle disaster, we end up with really intensive independent investigations. I think the industry worldwide would like that here because they probably think there are things they can learn.

They can learn about behavior of reactors in dire situations. They can learn about what works and what doesn't. I don't exactly know if we'll get that, but if we do, eventually it will all come out. It doesn't pay to lie up about this stuff up front, because it's all likely to come out.

BLITZER: Matthew Wald covers this important issue for "The New York Times."

Thanks, Matthew, very, very much.

WALD: Thanks, Wolf.

BLITZER: Always very useful to hear what you have to say. Thank you.

Isha, back to you.

SESAY: Well, Wolf, our correspondents have been on the move in Japan. We'll find out what they have been seeing along the way. Stand by for a live update from the disaster zone.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

SESAY: It's cold. It's wet. And in some places there's damage as far as the eye can see. And conditions may only get worse as the temperature drops.

CNN's Martin Savidge has been traveling in the quake zone, and he joins us now from Akita.

Martin, describe for our viewers where exactly you are and what you've been seeing.

MARTIN SAVIDGE, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Well, Akita is, of course, located on the west coast of Japan. The reason we came here was because of growing concern of where we had been and exposure to the nuclear problems that are occurring on the east coast. So we sort of pulled back a little bit for our own safety sake and coverage point of view.

But as you were leaving, one of the things you noted, there was a tremendous convoy. We were on the highways. We were allowed to use the highways because reporting, according to the government, is very important.

So most of the public is not allowed on the highways. We were allowed to move on the highways. And as we saw coming in the opposite direction, heading into the earthquake zone, just convoy after convoy, heavy equipment, army equipment, truck after truck, ambulances, police vehicles, all moving in the direction of the earthquake zone. So it really appears that they have sort of primed the pump, so to speak, and they are now pushing everything they can into the affected areas -- Isha.

SESAY: As they move into these hard-hit areas, what is your sense of how they are being impacted by these heavy aftershocks that just keep on coming? SAVIDGE: Right. You know, we felt last night, as a matter of fact.

We had two aftershocks. And then, apparently, we had an independent earthquake. In other words, not an aftershock, but another new earthquake of about 6.2. So that is rattling people's nerves, as well as physically rattling their buildings.

And on top of that, it is making it difficult for the emergency response crews because when they are in the affected areas, there's a lot of unstable debris, a lot of buildings that they are trying to go through, a lot of vehicles, you name it. And because of the movement of the earth, it means they have to stop, and stop for a while. And in some areas, this also triggers local tsunami warnings.

That means everybody gets pulled out, all the authorities, all the soldiers. Everybody is told to flee to higher ground. Everything comes to a stop. They wait a while, and then it resumes again. So it's very problematic.

SESAY: The death toll, the number of injured, it's the expectation that that will rise because a number of areas have, at least up until now, been inaccessible. What are you hearing about those hard-hit areas in terms of getting crews to those places?

SAVIDGE: Well, you're exactly right. It has been extremely difficult, not only just to get in there, but it's the scale, it's the magnitude.

I mean, we have been with some of these crews as they begin their search, and initially it was very haphazard. It was just sort of, get in there, see if you hear any voices, hear anything, see if there's anyone alive. Then will have to count on the much more thorough look when it comes to trying to find victims.

And here's what's disturbing, it's the number of missing. We already know the death toll, officially 3,373. But the number of missing has nearly doubled since the last figure we had. It's now at 6,746, so that would be a combination of over 10,000 casualties potentially so far.

SESAY: Martin Savidge, joining us there from Akita, Japan.

Martin, thank you. We appreciate it.

Wolf, I'm going to toss it back to you. Clearly, just many, many challenges facing those that are trying to mount a search-and-rescue operation.

BLITZER: Yes. And our reporters, Isha, I think you and all of our viewers will agree, are doing a dramatic and important job reporting the news.

There are some chilling new looks inside the devastation that are coming into THE SITUATION ROOM right now, new video as it unfolded. Just ahead, one American's horrifying account. (COMMERCIAL BREAK)

BLITZER: Chilling new accounts of the massive, massive devastation in Japan. Those accounts coming in from those who experienced the earthquake and the tsunami firsthand.

CNN's Thelma Gutierrez has the story of one America who managed to document the horror as it happened.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

THELMA GUTIERREZ, CNN CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): It took him three days to get out.

BRIAN BARNES, SAVE JAPAN DOLPHINS: It looks like -- literally like a bomb has just gone off around here.

GUTIERREZ: When Brian Barnes landed in Los Angeles --

(on camera): Welcome home.

BARNES: Thank you.

GUTIERREZ (voice-over): -- the Florida native showed us when he went through.

(on camera): How did this town fare?

BARNES: There's nothing left.

GUTIERREZ: So all these people were walking around.

BARNES: Are probably dead.

GUTIERREZ (voice-over): Barnes and a team of environmental activists were at the Atsuchi (ph) Harbor monitoring a porpoise hunt for the organization Save Japan Dolphins when the 9.0 earthquake hit. It was a split-second decision to drive through the town, pass stunned residents, up a hill 50 feet above the harbor.

BARNES: There's a hill outside of town that we're going to try to get to.

GUTIERREZ: He grabbed his camera. And seven minutes after the ground shook, the first surge of water.

BARNES: Here it comes!

GUTIERREZ: Then, minutes later, a wall of water slammed through the town, taking everything in its path.

BARNES: It's about 1:00 in the afternoon, and we spent the whole day trying to get out of the tsunami area. We took shelter up on a hill, and everything between that hill and several miles to anything that even resembles civilization at this point was completely destroyed. GUTIERREZ: After the tsunami, Barnes says he saw maybe a dozen survivors as he walked through town.

BARNES: There were several dead bodies behind us that a couple of villagers there had covered up.

GUTIERREZ: Barnes took pictures of the dead who are recognizable in the hopes that one day the missing might be identified. And he's still haunted by the screams of a woman floating on a piece of wood in a sea of debris, a victim he couldn't save.

BARNES: She was, in my mind, sort of a representative of what was happening.

VELSHI: Barnes says he and the team were lucky they were able to leave with their lives, but they won't forget what they left behind.

Thelma Gutierrez, CNN, Los Angeles.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

SESAY: We're going to take you back to Japan for the very latest. Just ahead, our Anderson Cooper reports live from the disaster zone.

Plus, a series of strong new tremors felt just today in the region. Are more to come?

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

BLITZER: New pictures coming in to THE SITUATION ROOM of the devastation and the destruction.

Let's check back with Jack. He's got "The Cafferty File" -- Jack.

CAFFERTY: The question this hour is, why is there no looting in Japan? Got a lot of mail.

Kim writes, "Because Japanese culture, unlike all other modern cultures, is based primarily on honor and dignity. Unlike our Katrina disaster, the Japanese don't see this as an opportunity to steal everything in sight. The so-called civilized world can learn much from the stoic Japanese."

Greg in Arkansas says, "Two words: national pride. The people of Japan love their country, and they do what is best for the nation, unlike the United States, where we love our country and do what is best for ourselves."

Natasha says, "The Japanese are resourceful, innovative, disciplined people with a great sense of national pride. While they also have criminals and felons, it's not quite in comparison to the sleaze balls we have on our streets. It was disgusting to watch those scum bags loot stores in New Orleans during Katrina, when they should have been helping their fellow citizens in need. While watching the devastation in Japan is heartbreaking, it's so refreshing to see the civility of people within the calamity they are facing."

Larry in Texas writes, "I was blessed to visit Japan several years ago on business. I was told if I lost my wallet in downtown Tokyo, the person who found it would make it their mission to return it to me intact. These people are very gracious and kind."

Carol writes, "Sociologists tell you the lack of looting is just the result of large numbers of people developing a more disorderly society to cope with living on a small land mass. Personally, I've always thought it's because they were a more highly evolved race."

Joy writes, "It's the Japanese culture -- very refined, dignified, disciplined and civilized. We could all learn from them. They're the types of people that you willingly help because you know they will make full use of any opportunity to get back on their feet."

And finally, Richard says, "I really don't know. It would be easy to say that they're a very homogeneous society. Perhaps in a way they all consider each other family. In any case, they are to be applauded."

Amen.

If you want to read more on the subject, you'll find it on my blog, CNN.com/CaffertyFile -- Wolf.

BLITZER: I'll join in that applause, Jack. Thanks very, very much.

Houses, literally dumped right in the middle of streets. Our own Dr. Sanjay Gupta, he's going to take us inside some of the more unbelievable sights of the devastation.

And an escalating nuclear energy. How much worse will it get, and could there be deadly health risks? A leading expert standing by to weigh in live.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)