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THE SITUATION ROOM
Crisis Escalating in Japan
Aired March 15, 2011 - 17:57 ET
THIS IS A RUSH TRANSCRIPT. THIS COPY MAY NOT BE IN ITS FINAL FORM AND MAY BE UPDATED.
WOLF BLITZER, HOST: We are just learning from TV Asahi that there's yet another fire that has just broken out at one of the nuclear reactors. We're told it's the northwest fourth floor, nuclear reactor number 4. That's one of the areas of the Daiichi complex that has been so, so worrisome right now.
Just what they don't need, Isha, yet another fire certainly complicating efforts to keep the situation under control. You know there are a limited number of fire workers there to begin with because it's so dangerous because of the potential of radiation poisoning. But now confirmation that yet another fire has just erupted.
We're all over this story. We're getting more information.
But this, I've got to tell you, Isha, is very, very disturbing.
ISHA SESAY, CNN INTERNATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Yes, no doubt about it. Of course, this fire happening on the northwest fourth floor of reactor 4. Reactor 4 was the area we were talking about earlier on today because there was a fire previously there on Tuesday.
Also, a fire that involved the cooling pond that was used for nuclear fuel. This was a development bringing reactor 4 into the picture, of course, Wolf, because we had previously been talking about reactors 1, 2 and 3. And that's where there had been explosions. And then there was a fire in reactor 4.
And now we're getting this breaking news by TV Asahi that there is a new fire that has broken out in that reactor 4. So many questions, Wolf, to be asked.
We're looking at four days, and we've talked about three explosions and two fires. This new fire being the second one.
And the question is, they've only got about 50 people there working at this plant. Can they cope with the multiple problems that they're clearly dealing with, Wolf? And the other question that we're all going to be wondering about now is, what does this do to radiation levels? -- Wolf.
BLITZER: And, you know, they were thinking of bringing helicopters in to start dumping water on these areas, although there's what they call a no-fly zone over this entire region because of the potential for radiation and other problems emerging. But you see right now on the screen -- you see those four reactors, all of them in some significant trouble right now. And if, in fact, this fire is in a sensitive area, that will merely compound all of the trouble that's going on.
Let me just repeat what we know right now.
The Tokyo Electric and Power Company, they're having a news conference in Tokyo. TV Asahi, which is our affiliate in Japan, has been monitoring it.
They've discovered -- this is what they're reporting -- the fire was discovered in the northeastern corner of reactor 4. That's at this Daiichi plant, and it's happening right now. So it's a very, very worrisome situation.
We know that the fire was discovered. We have no idea if it's been contained or if it's just getting worse. But that's the last thing they need right now, a fire at this plant, given all the enormous concern that's going on.
It seems one disaster leading to another disaster. And we can only imagine what happens next.
But we're worried about it. We're staying on top of it. And we'll get back to more information as we get it.
Isha, I've got to tell you, as soon as you think that maybe the story is being contained, the developments contained, something like this breaks out.
SESAY: Yes, indeed. And we need to ask, but we need to get the information as to what the source of the fire was, where it's taking place, specific location, what caused the fire. We need to know that. There are just many, many unanswered questions.
People raising other questions about whether we're getting enough transparency for those who are leading the operation there at the Fukushima Daiichi plant.
Let's bring in our Tom Foreman now, who is standing by with some more information on the situation and really a breakdown on the lay of the land.
Tom, I know that you're at the wall. Give us some overview of the landscape we're talking about.
TOM FOREMAN, CNN CORRESPONDENT: I will do that, Isha.
And as you and Wolf just pointed out, one of the real problems here is a lack of information. The Obama administration itself is getting concerned about the lack of information about what is happening. But let's zoom inside here and talk about all four of those facilities as Wolf mentioned a short while ago.
There you see them. That's the way they were before all of this started. This is the way they are now. They have had -- in one, two and three they have had what are believed to be partial meltdowns. They have had cooling problems in all three of them. You can see the results of the some of the explosions that have happened, the hydrogen explosions.
Number four is up here, though. And I think this is very important when you talk about the northeast quadrant up it, which would be up in this area, because that is the same place where you would have this container for the spent fuel rods.
These are outside -- and this is important. These are outside the hardened container that is used to contain the active nuclear activity here. They're put outside there because they're considered a lower threat overall. But I was talking to a nuclear expert earlier today who said that is actually a bigger problem in this case, simply because they can be more easily exposed.
Here's what we have had so far. The highest radiation dose near here was measured in this area yesterday at about 400 over here. It's equivalent to 57 chest scans in just a few minutes. More importantly, if you're talking about these rods up here, which would be about 60, 70 tons of them, even though they're somewhat degraded, if the water has drained away from them, because they're kept in water so that they don't overheat, the coating on the outside can catch fire.
If it catches fire in this uncontained fashion, because this is just a building around them -- it's not the real hard container inside -- then the dust, the ash, the smoke all would carry cesium with it. Cesium is the same thing they had a problem with at Chernobyl. And it would spread out. That's what has everyone afraid here.
In fact if these were uncovered with water, one nuclear expert said to me you couldn't get within 50 yards of this without having a fatal dose of radiation. That's why all these workers are being pulled back because of concern about just that kind of thing.
Let's widen it out and look at what the Japanese government has done here. This is a 12-and-a-half mile zone where they have told everyone that they really have to get out. About 70,000 people from that area were forced to evacuate. Beyond that, though, if you go even wider, you get to this one, the 19-mile radius. And out here you have people being warned to not even go outside. Close your windows. Keep homes airtight. Don't run the air-conditioning or any kind of ventilators. Hang your laundry indoors.
And if you're outside, take off your shoes and your outer clothing before you come inside. This is very serious and in large part because of number four, Wolf. That's the one right now we have to watch very closely, even as we watch the other three.
BLITZER: And we're told, Tom, that the firefighters are working this fire right now. They're trying to contain it, but it's still continuing. The fire, by the way, is in the building over there at that reactor. That's significant.
Let's discuss with Jim Walsh. He's our national security expert who has been helping us. He's from MIT. What's your immediate reaction, Jim, when you hear that yet another fire has erupted at this building, at this nuclear reactor complex?
JIM WALSH, CNN CONTRIBUTOR: Well, it's -- obviously it's disturbing. We started to talk about this a couple of days ago, that everyone was focusing on the reactors, and maybe we need to pay attention to the spent fuel ponds, especially after those hydrogen explosions.
But I think it's curious that a second fire has started in the same building. I also take note of the fact that the International Atomic Energy Agency, the IAEA, on its Web site today in an update also points to potential spent fuel pond problems at reactors five and six, the other two reactors that were in cold shutdown.
If that's the case, then all six reactors have issues all at the same time, obviously not as dramatic or threatening as what we're seeing right now at reactor four, but it raises an issue that we started to talk about yesterday.
When you do modeling, you can imagine you have a problem at one reactor and you can deal with that problem. But when you begin to have problems at multiple reactors and you're cutting back staff because you don't want to expose them, then there are really limits to what humans can handle, in terms of compounding crises all at the same time.
And, of course, one of the concerns here, Wolf, is that if you had a major release of radiation in that area from the spent fuel pond, what do you do? Do you send those 50 people home? You can't do that because then the reactors one, two, and three are in danger, the ones that are -- we're hoping the reactor cores will cool down.
But if you keep those workers there, then you're putting them at tremendous risk. So I think you're really facing a devil's dilemma if something serious happens and you get real radiation exposures at reactor four or one of the other reactors.
BLITZER: There's a scale one through seven of dangers at a nuclear reactor. Chernobyl was the worst, a seven, Three Mile Island, what was a five.
There's some suggestion now, Jim, that these reactors in Japan, they're in a level six, somewhere between Three Mile Island and Chernobyl. Is that what you're hearing as well?
WALSH: I have heard that. I heard that a French nuclear official or nuclear engineer had offered that assessment. In some ways you could understand it, because in Chernobyl you had the outright release of large amounts of radioactivity because there was no containment vessel. And you had a steam explosion and a fire that carried that directly into the environment. That has not happened yet. We are not at that point.
But we seem to a be a little worse. And I know this is shocking for people here. We're actually in a worse position than Three Mile Island. Three Mile Island, yes, there was a meltdown, but most of that radioactivity was contained. The containment vessel held.
And now we're somewhere in between that. We are worried about the containment vessel at reactor number two. It's not confirmed that it's breached, but there's worries of possible damage. And then we have these fires and potential problems with potential spent fuel ponds.
So you could see why people would say where we're somewhere in between a Three Mile Island and a Chernobyl.
SESAY: But, Jim Walsh, it's Isha Sesay here in Atlanta. Let me jump in there, if I can, Wolf. How long can a team of 50 people or thereabouts work to prevent a full meltdown? Which hasn't happened in this case, let's be absolutely clear for our viewers. But how long can they go for with this small team to prevent that eventuality?
WALSH: I think they have to be up against it. Why? There are 50 of them. They have been working round the clock since Friday, Saturday. When they're out there now, they have to wear suits because of the high levels of radiation. So you do anything in a suit and it's more difficult. You're losing water through sweating. These are physical tasks, right?
They're not sitting at a desk typing at a computer. They're up there trying to move equipment, trying to deal with hoses, fight fires. This is tough work. And you're doing it across multiple sites. So I personally don't see how they can sustain this.
I would hope -- and I talked to a former person who used to work in the nuclear industry here in the United States. I would hope that they would call on international teams and get some international, Americans, IAEA, other -- French, other people in there to help them. They're going to need the help.
BLITZER: Jim Walsh, stand by for a moment.
I want to bring Chad Myers into this conversation.
Isha, hold on for a moment as well, because TV Asahi, just want to update our viewers, TV Asahi now reporting that they're battling a blaze of fire in this one reactor.
Chad, walk us through what we know about this, because this is so disturbing. On top of everything else, they don't need another fire at this sensitive location where there are a limited number of personnel that are already trying to contain the potential of radiation fallout.
CHAD MYERS, CNN METEOROLOGIST: As Jim just mentioned, there was a fire in this same building a few hours ago, many hours ago.
But that fire put out an immense amount of radiation. There was a big spike in the radiation when that fire was going. The fire was put out. The spike went down. Right now, Wolf, the wind is out of the north, out of the north at almost 20 miles per hour. A major cold front has gone through the Fukushima Daiichi area. So that is great news as the wind would push any potential cloud or even the ash and the smoke and any type of moisture that does have radiation would push it well to the south, and not toward the west.
The west here would be bad, because that would be Tokyo. That's about 150 miles away, wind not blowing that direction and not going to blow that direction for quite some time. These are models that are put out by the U.S. government modeling where a parcel, just a piece of air, where it would go if you just let it go, or for that matter a balloon that really wouldn't rise very much.
Most of the wind taking it out to the ocean. A few of the parcels that go high in the sky go farther to the north and to the northeast. And then many of the parcels that stay close to the ground will be right here along the ocean, not blowing toward Japan at all, blowing out to sea.
I know you think radiation goes in all directions, and it goes, but a lot of it gets blown around with the wind as it gets pushed out to the ocean. There's not a better direction that the wind could be right now for this potential situation.
BLITZER: So, what I hear you saying, Chad, is that if you're a resident of Tokyo, there are obviously millions of people in Tokyo, at least right now, you don't need to evacuate. You don't need to run away, because I know that there are a lot of folks who just want to get out of Japan right now.
But what I hear you saying, it's contained to a relatively small area of Japan.
MYERS: That's absolutely correct, right along the shore.
Now, the shore does move north to south. It is a straight line north to south right along where this facility is. And so, if you are south of the facility, a town called Iwaki, that would be in the way. That's 30 mile away, wind blowing in that direction, then eventually turning out into the ocean.
I'm sure authorities in that town are already telling people you need to get it out of the way. That's outside the ring that has already been drawn. So that town is definitely going to be looking at getting out of the way of this. This is really quite an amazing map that we have put together here.
All of the aftershocks that have come with this system, it has been -- this 9.0, they upgraded that yesterday. I know you may be hearing and you go, wait, it was an 8.9. It was upgraded to a 9.0. So the wind coming down the coast and then blowing out to sea, not blowing where the population center is right here.
If you notice that right there, though, see that little aftershock there, Wolf? Probably hard for you to see, but it's one dot. That one dot is very close to Mount Fuji. You know, the last time Mount Fuji erupted was 1707, after an 8.6 earthquake erupted in the ocean not that far from Mount Fuji. That's the last time this volcano has gone off. Could you imagine?
SESAY: Chad, it's Isha here in Atlanta.
SESAY: Another question for you in relation to these radiation levels that we're talking about and the emission of radiation.
You have talked about the wind direction. Another concern that people have, and I would just like you to try and allay fears or explain the situation, is rain. Is there any rain in the forecast? And what would that mean for the situation?
MYERS: There is not rain in the forecast. There was rain in the forecast as the cold front went by. And that was today. There has been some snow around because temperatures are down around 30. But the next potential precip that could come in won't be until Friday and Saturday.
So all of this dry air, think of this like just in the middle of our country where a cold front comes by and dry air pushes it just one direction for many days. That's what they're going to see. Thank goodness. They're going to see a perfect forecast for something like this. It couldn't get better for the people of Japan than the front that just went through today.
SESAY: Chad, appreciate it. Stand by for us one moment.
I want to bring in Jim Walsh, if I can. He's been helping us decipher the situation that's ongoing at the Fukushima Daiichi plant.
Jim, let me ask you this. We're getting word that helicopters are now being used to fight this blaze in the building of reactor four. What does that tell you about the situation?
WALSH: Well, I think it tells you that it's desperate. I had seen reports earlier that they might use helicopters. Officials had announced that they were going to consider that.
Obviously they have to find -- there must be some access point. Either a roof has been blown off or there is a hole large enough or some way to get this into the area and onto the fire. The helicopters themselves can only carry so much water.
And you begin to wonder here about -- you need water and seawater for reactors one, two and three, because they need to have water. In this case, saltwater they're using to keep those reactors cores cool. You need water now to fight what is a second fire at reactor four. Essentially there are big demands on being able to mobilize large amounts of water, whether it's seawater and freshwater.
BLITZER: Guys, hold on for a moment. Hold on for one moment, because Anderson Cooper is joining us now. Anderson, tell the viewers where you are. And I know they all hope you're not anywhere near this nuclear power plant. Where are you, Anderson, and what are you seeing?
ANDERSON COOPER, HOST, "ANDERSON COOPER 360": I'm in a city called Akita, which is northwest of the Fukushima plant.
We left the Sendai area, where we were yesterday, which was some 60 or so or 70 kilometers north of the plant. We're now in an area. I believe it's about 250 to 300 kilometers away from the Fukushima plant.
So we feel we're in a pretty good area, particularly hearing from Chad Myers that the prevailing winds are out of the north, pushing anything that is released into the atmosphere further south and hopefully out to sea.
But this is a situation we're watching very closely. And, Wolf, it's important to remember, in all of the emergency around this nuclear plant, and it's obviously something the entire world is watching very closely, you still have these ongoing efforts to try to bring aid and find people who may still be alive in the wake of the tsunami.
The Japanese government is now saying -- the prime minister is saying they're basically going to try to shift all their efforts to helping those who are still alive and helping those who need food and water, people who have packed shelters and are living in increasingly desperate conditions, rather than putting the emphasis on search and rescue of anyone who may still be living, trapped underneath the debris.
You go to these debris fields, Wolf, and they are just packed with debris, 10 feet, 15 feet thick, that unless you have really heavy earth-moving equipment or a large number of dogs, it is very hard to find anybody who may be underneath.
And there's an increasingly desperate situation with people who are in shelters, people who are homeless, hundreds of thousands of people. Some 450,000 people at last count that I heard were in shelters or had been evacuated in some form.
In some towns, they are actually scavenging for food among -- in the debris, we're told by Red Cross officials. There's just not enough food, there's just not enough water for these huge numbers of people that they are finding. A lot of people are elderly, need medication. Some need medication on a daily basis.
It's an increasingly desperate situation in a lot of these villages and towns along the northeast, where authorities really haven't been able to go and where the efforts are frankly being hampered by the nuclear emergency, by concern over the safety of search-and-rescue crews and emergency personnel, Wolf.
BLITZER: And you can only imagine, Anderson, the concern, on top of everything else, the human disaster that's unfolding, this nuclear disaster that's unfolding as well, and now the breaking news of yet another fire erupting at this nuclear power plant, and, fortunately, not that close to where you are right now.
Are folks where you are, Anderson, really just preoccupied with surviving right now, getting food and water and medicine and shelter, or are they obsessed, as a lot of other folks are, with this potential for radiation poisoning?
COOPER: Yes, Akita as a city wasn't too badly -- wasn't affected by the tsunami and doesn't seem to be that badly affected by the earthquake.
We're still getting aftershocks. There was really a rather sustained aftershock last night about 10 hours ago. So people here are still kind of dealing with that. Even in a city like this, the reason I came here, we evacuated here pretty quickly yesterday was because we feel it is a relatively safe distance from that plant.
But even here, you know, food is a real concern for people, shops. You go into a 7/11 or a convenience store, there's no food. And there are signs saying we apologize for the fact we don't have any supplies, but we have been emptied out in the wake of the earthquake. People are trying to stockpile what they can.
But it's pretty dicey. Just finding stuff to eat is difficult for people. Restaurants are closed down. The regular life has in no way been resumed even in areas that were not directly affected by the tsunami. And obviously these nuclear concerns are a huge issue. People are very, very stressed about it, very concerned about it, and watching it very, very closely.
BLITZER: Anderson, we're going to stay in close touch with you. And I know you will have a lot more, all the latest developments on "A.C. 360" later tonight, 10:00 p.m. Eastern. Anderson, be careful over there. Thanks very much.
Isha, I think it's fair to say all of our reporters on the scene, all of our producers, our photographers, they are literally working around the clock to bring us the news. And we have to salute them for what they are doing. These are courageous men and women.
SESAY: Absolutely. No doubt about that. Our people are working flat out.
CNN is using its unparalleled resources to bring our viewers the very latest on this story. We will stay on top of the breaking news coming out of Japan, news that there is another fire ongoing right now in the reactor four building.
Wolf, as you know, we're working to get the latest information on that. When we come back, we will also have Dr. Sanjay Gupta as he brings us a report, as he talks to survivors of the quake and the tsunami. Stay with THE SITUATION ROOM.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP) DR. SANJAY GUPTA, CNN SENIOR MEDICAL CORRESPONDENT: Now, here's where it gets very strange. All the sudden, in the middle of the street seemingly coming out of nowhere you have this house. It just seems dumped right here in the middle of the street.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
BLITZER: There's a fire right now at a nuclear power plant in Japan. We're watching it closely. Isha Sesay is here in THE SITUATION ROOM with me.
It's not every day that there's a fire at a nuclear power plant. We're getting new information. TV Asahi, Isha, our affiliate in Japan, is suggesting perhaps a hydrogen leak caused this fire. Firefighters are working it. They're thinking of bringing helicopters in with water. Obviously, this is a really serious situation.
SESAY: Yes, no doubt about it. This is a fast-moving and developing story that we are closely monitoring, Wolf.
We know that this building four there at the Fukushima Daiichi plant is where there was a fire earlier on Tuesday involving cooling pods and spent fuel rods. We do not know the cause of the fire at this point in time. As you say, there is a news conference under way with Tokyo Electric Power Company. They are addressing, I guess, the gathered media. We have a translator that is closely following the situation and will bring us the latest information as it comes through to them.
But this, as you say, Wolf, is a fast-developing and a critical development in the story.
Let's bring in Tom Foreman, who is closely monitoring all of this for us and has some more information on what is playing out -- Tom.
FOREMAN: You know, Isha, you mentioned the fact that this happened in the same place before. The real concern here is those -- the spent rods which are stored sort of in this area outside the hardened container that contains the active nuclear rods.
This part right here, reactor number three actually has a mix of plutonium and uranium. This is the hottest reactor in the active part, and there's concern about all of these in terms of the active part of it. This part was shut down beforehand, so less there, but more in these three.
There is concern about that, but the problem up here with these rods is that you're talking an area that is outside of the hardened area. And the concern I have heard from nuclear experts as I have talked to them today is that maybe the reason this fire keeps happening is because the water that's supposed to surround even the inactive rods, because they still have radioactivity, has dropped low enough that they're catching on fire. The coating on the outside is catching on fire. And that, at least at the moment, is a much more serious problem than the worry about a meltdown over here, because if it's on fire like that, the smoke and the ash from that can carry it far and wide. We had a reading in here yesterday between number three and number four of 400 millisieverts. That's equivalent to about 57 chest scans in just a few minutes.
And, obviously, the other important thing is if it stayed that way and this dropped off after that, it doesn't stop like a chest X- ray does. So, the big concern is, once you go beyond this to this much wider area, and you start looking at all the work they're doing out here to keep an eye on people, what is getting out here, if anything, at this point? We're talking about going 19, 20 miles out. They're concerned about what would happen with that ash and everything else and whether or not it carries out here and deposits into other areas -- Isha.
SESAY: Tom, appreciate it. Stand by for us.
Wolf, I want to toss it back to you, clearly a fast-developing situation that we're going to monitor very, very closely. There is a news conference ongoing. We have a translator following it for us -- Wolf.
BLITZER: Yes, you hear the words fire at a nuclear power plant, you know that's not good. You never want a fire at a nuclear power plant, especially when there are a limited number of personnel left there. Most of the workers have been evacuated, firefighters not very evident right now. They're trying to contain this fire.
We're covering the breaking news -- much more coming up right after this.
SESAY: We continue to follow breaking news out of Japan, where there's a fire ongoing in the building housing reactor number four, the Fukushima Daiichi plant.
We're following that story, but we're also getting new images that continue to pour in to us here at CNN that really again highlight the damage, the devastation done by that quake and that tsunami. You're looking at some of the newest pictures coming in to us. In many towns, you can see the sheer power of the disaster everywhere you look.
CNN chief medical correspondent Dr. Sanjay Gupta is in Shiogama City for us.
GUPTA: You can hear those sirens in the background just north of Sendai. You immediately get a scope of the damage that was -- that was done by the earthquake and the tsunami and also just how illogical it is in some ways, as well. For example, on this street, you see a relatively normal- appearing building on one side. And then over here you see a car that's obviously been destroyed by the tsunami and another normal- appearing building.
But here's where it gets very strange. All the sudden in the middle of the street, seemingly coming out of nowhere, you have this house. It just seems dumped right here in the middle of the street. And if you go over here and start to get a look inside, you get a sense of remembrances of what this life was like for the people who lived here. Kids' books on the ground scattered, a jigsaw puzzling over here. Some kids' toys, as well. If you look inside, you'll see the clothes in drawers still. You see little mementos on the walls, such as a Donald Duck ping-pong paddle.
This is a life just immediately abandoned, immediately left as a result of this devastation. And this is just how strange, how weird it is to look at the aftermath.
BLITZER: Sanjay Gupta reporting for us.
Some highly-trained Americans are now at work in the quake zone. They're experts in saving victims from disasters, but this time the task they face defies the imagination. CNN's Brian Todd is in the northeastern part of Japan. He's embedded with that U.S. search-and- rescue team.
BRIAN TODD, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Wolf, here in Ofunato, an illustration of the real damage that the tsunami caused. This city is on an inlet. You can see the inlet right there, coming right off the ocean. Rescuers tell us that, because it's so thin in there, it acted as kind of a funnel pushing the water in even stronger. You can see the devastation that it wrought here, and you can also see the contrast. Look how the higher ground protected the houses there.
This is where rescuers have come to try to dig some people out of the rubble. They're just getting started in this really devastated city.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Team leader Bobby Zaldos (ph) from Fairfax, Virginia.
TODD: They're the cavalry he's been waiting for.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Presenting the (UNINTELLIGIBLE), I'd like to express my -- our thanks.
TODD: The relieved mayor of Ofunato greets U.S. and British rescue teams as they start their first full day of operations. But his city's condition could lie beyond their reach.
The tsunami came through Ofunato's narrow inlet with such force that a tug boat was thrown several blocks, cars violently scattered for miles.
(on camera) What do you do when you get here, and it's just such devastation everywhere you look? What do you do first?
CAPT. SAM GRAY, FAIRFAX COUNTY SEARCH AND RESCUE: First thing is we find a place to search. We have map grids that are set up by the local emergency managers in the area, and they give us an area to search. We split it up. We take ordinance. We go through the buildings, searching building by building that's standing up or laying around.
TODD (voice-over): The teams fan out through mountains of rubble and teetering buildings, using every tool they brought.
(on camera) One of the rescue officials just told us that there was a paper posted on the side of this beige house here, saying that there was someone alive inside. Now the teams are checking it out. They're about to bring the dogs to see if they can detect anything.
(voice-over) The dogs don't detect the scent of anyone alive.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: If you hear me, knock three times.
TODD: Listening devices, audio signals yield nothing.
Rescuers who did escape the tsunami are in shock. We initially thought Tomuku Shida had lost her husband in this disaster, but when we approached her...
(on camera) What happened to your husband?
TOMUKU SHIDA: (speaking foreign language)
UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Her husband already died, and she had his bone in a box, precious stuff, and she put it into really high places at the room, but when the tsunami came, she couldn't reach the bone and she ran away first.
TODD (voice-over): She's still looking for husband husband's remains.
For those who did lose loved ones in this tragedy, the final casualty count here may never be known.
(on camera) Realistically what do you think your chances are this time, this event of finding people alive in here?
CHIEF CHRIS SCHAFF, VIRGINIA TASK FORCE ONE: With the way we're operating now, that there's still plenty of opportunity for us to find live victims. But you know, as time goes on, those -- those opportunities diminish.
TODD: In many of these places, rescuers say they rely on local citizens flagging them down to come and get a loved one out of a building or a pile of rubble. But one team member told me here in Ofunato, they're worried that whole families might have gone missing and there may not be anyone even looking for them -- Wolf.
BLITZER: Brian Todd on the scene for us in Japan. We're going to get back to the breaking news we're covering: the fire at a nuclear power plant that has just been discovered in -- in Japan. We're going to go to the scene. We're going to see what's going on. Jim Walsh, our national security expert, is standing by with some analysis.
More of the breaking news right after this.
UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE (through translator): We saw a tsunami warning on TV in town so we went back home. We wanted to go to the second floor, but we couldn't. We were immersed in water up to our necks. The bed started to go upright, so we were holding onto the bed and holding onto one another's hands.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
SESAY: Heartbreaking stories of survival. You hear yet another one. Some 450,000 people said to be in shelters right now. And we continue to follow the breaking news out of Japan where there is another fire ongoing right now in the building housing reactor No. 4 at the Fukushima Daiichi plant, Wolf.
We're following that situation, and news coming in to us is that it -- from Kyoto News Agency is that it is in the same location, the same spot where there was another fire burning on Tuesday, that fire occurring in a pool that was storing spent nuclear fuel rods, Wolf. A very, very worrying development.
BLITZER: You never want a fire at a nuclear power plant, especially with all the problems they've had at these various facilities in Japan as a result of the earthquake and the tsunami, which has devastated this whole region.
Tens of thousands of people have now been evacuated from, what, a 30-kilometer radius of these facilities in -- in Japan. And there's a limited number of workers there. We're told helicopters are coming in with water to try to deal with this.
Jim Walsh, our national security contributor, is helping us from MIT. I know you've had a chance to assess what this latest fire at this facility is all about, Jim. Give us the -- give us your analysis of what it might mean.
JIM WALSH, CNN NATIONAL SECURITY CONTRIBUTOR: Certainly, not good news. And if you're trying to deal with this on the ground, you have to ask yourself, why -- is there a second fire in less than 24 hours? What is going on here, and are we going to encounter repeat fires? And are we going to have fires at reactors 5 and 6?
This is purely speculation on my part, but if they're having trouble keeping those spent fuel ponds cool, if they're warming up, they may be generating heat that, in turn, triggers a fire with oil or with some other combustible material that is near the spent fuel pond. So it's sort of a vicious cycle. You can't keep them cool, because you've lost water. And since you can't keep them cool, they become sources of heat that could spark fires.
Now, there may be some other cause, too. But whatever it is, it's happening, and it's happening again. And it will happen yet another time unless they can figure out what's going on.
SESAY: Jim, it's Isha here. I just want to drill down on that point that you just made. I'm still not entirely clear why in these cooling ponds they would be having trouble keeping the water levels up. I know that in the case of the reactors, it's being said that maybe there's a problem with the valves, and that's why they're having problems keeping the water levels where they are.
What could possibly be the factors causing this situation with the cooling ponds? Not enough water?
WALSH: Well, I'm -- yes, I think that it's either not enough water or there's a problem with the pumps. Remember, what happened when we first started this however many days ago it was, they weren't able to pump water at reactor one because the electrical generation went down. So the pumps would not work.
In this case, it may be that the pumps themselves are suffering mechanical difficulties, and therefore are not generating enough water or pumping enough water. Or it may be a water supply problem.
At this point we don't know. And this goes back -- there are two points issued you made that were important before. One is transparency. We don't know why these things are happening. And the second is the fact that there are -- we're down to 50 workers. And as you rightly pointed out, you know, there's some human limit here to what 50 people can do when they have all these responsibilities. There's also the problem of human error. When you're tired, you work all this time, you're in suits. You're dealing with four or five or six reactors. Then you can also make mistakes. And for all we know, that could contribute to this problem, as well.
BLITZER: And you got to -- you got to wonder how serious this is, because if you take a look, the fire erupted -- it's now Wednesday morning in Japan -- at 5:45 a.m. It's now approaching 7:45 a.m., Jim, and they're still dealing with the fire two hours later.
So this fire, at least the latest information we're getting from our affiliate TV Asahi, has not been contained, and it's a very, very worrisome development. Give me a final thought, Jim.
WALSH: Well, I just think, you know, it's tough to fight fires with helicopters and when you only have a few folks on the ground. And so this is going to bear watching. It's going to bear watching all night long.
BLITZER: We'll stay on top of it all night long. We're going to continue to watch. And Jim Walsh will help us. Isha's here, as well. We're staying on top of the breaking news. Much more of our coverage right after this.
SESAY: There are glimmers of hope in Japan's disaster zone as survivors are pulled from the rubble. Japan's NHK Television has the latest.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: A man named Ishomagi Miyaki (ph) has been pulled from rubble 96 hours after the quake. Local firefighters found him inside a collapsed building after a passerby reported hearing a voice from under the debris.
The man, who is in his 20s, could not escape by himself because of a leg injury.
Four hours earlier in Oshuchi-Iwate (ph) a 75-year-old woman was also rescued from a destroyed building. She has been hospitalized and is expected to survive.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: (SPEAKING FOREIGN LANGUAGE)
(END VIDEO CLIP)
SESAY: That report from our affiliate NHK.
A tsunami survivor is on a desperate mission to find his missing wife. The high waters tore her away. Now he's pedaling through the debris on his bicycle, hoping he will find her alive. Look at this.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: The name of a woman is pasted on a bicycle. This is the bicycle's owner. He says he is looking for his wife on his bike. He circles around, looking for his missing wife. He is carrying her photo. He says he's showing the photo to ask if anyone has seen her.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
BLITZER: These stories keep coming into THE SITUATION ROOM. We're going to have more of them. Much more on the breaking news, this fire at this nuclear reactor. Stand by. We'll be right back.
BLITZER: Brian Todd has just returned from another mission with a search-and-rescue team.
Brian, what are you seeing?
TODD (via phone): Well, Wolf, we had a complication set in in the overnight hours here in Ofunato. Snow fell overnight, which really complicates the rescue and recovery mission here. It's going to be tricky for rescuers to get in, and it makes it more difficult for them to get in amidst buildings that are teetering over huge piles of rubble. It allows for shifts in weight on the rubble and some of the buildings. So the snowfall here has complicated efforts. But they're going in right now, and they're going to make new efforts to pull people out of the rubble here in Ofunato.
BLITZER: Have they found anyone alive, Brian?
TODD: So far yet, Wolf, no survivors pulled out of the rubble here. They found six people deceased in the rubble on Tuesday. But they're going in with a newfound determination this morning. And they are always optimistic. They are going to search every possible building, every piece of rubble they can find.
BLITZER: Let's hope they find someone. All right, Brian. We'll stay in close touch.
Isha, this is a heartbreaking story from every angle.
SESAY: Yes, Wolf. The devastation is so overwhelming. And so are the stories of loss, grief and survival. CNN's Lisa Sylvester has more.
LISA SYLVESTER, CNN CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): Cries of grief in Kesanuma (ph) in Miyagi prefecture.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE (through translator): My wife is handicapped. I tried to flee in that direction behind us, but the car couldn't move because the water pressure was too strong. My daughter and I tried to pull her up onto this hill, but she was too heavy. I think it was somewhere here where I let go of her hand.
SYLVESTER: Nearby, a mother and father search for their son. He was in his kindergarten class with the tsunami came.
UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE (through translator): It's hard to believe almost everything has been washed away. But the fact that we cannot be sure whether the kids are safe.
SYLVESTER: This amateur video shows the tsunami in Pamaishi (ph), Japan. You can see whole houses and cars washing away. In Ofunato, street after street of devastation. Homes and buildings shredded. Survivors describe how they got away, just barely.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE (through translator): I did not expect the wave to reach up to the third floor, so all six people who were behind me were washed away. I could hear a voice from behind me say, "Hurry up, hurry up," but I could not help them. And that was a little...
SYLVESTER: This woman was swept away by the tsunami but somehow managed to live.
UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE (through translator): I was washed away, but I hung onto a floating tree that came my way. I struggled hard to cling to it to stop myself from going under, but I did go under. During my struggle a tatami mat came floating toward me. I jumped on and stayed there. I was washed away, circling around some houses.
My daughter was also swept away. I still don't know where she is.
SYLVESTER: In the middle of all of this destruction, stories that give us hope, Yuko Kobayashi (ph) of Miyako City was home and had just gone into labor as the earthquake and tsunami hit. She says she spoke to her unborn baby and said, "Not yet."
UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE (through translator): When the baby was born, it was right after I heard that the bodies of 200 to 300 people were washed up. So rather than happiness, I felt a twinge of guilt, and I cried. But I'm happy. It's just with mixed feelings.
SYLVESTER: And people who feared that they would never see their loved ones again are brought back together.
SYLVESTER: And it's nice to see, you know, those rare happy moments in a country with all of that devastation, and where still 10,000 people are still missing -- Isha.
SESAY: Lisa, we appreciate it. Thank you.
We continue to follow the breaking news out of Japan. Another fire in that building housing reactor four in that beleaguered nuclear plant. We're going to have more on that breaking news story when we come back. Stay with THE SITUATION ROOM.
BLITZER: The images are just so, so powerful. But there are some things you just don't joke about, as one former spokesman found out. Here's CNN's Jeanne Moos.
JEANNE MOOS, CNN CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): Sometimes life is too sad for words, especially when those words make up a joke. That's what the comedian before an advertising icon found out.
GILBERT GOTTFRIED, COMEDIAN: AFLAC!
MOOS: And so did a University of Southern California student who picked the wrong thing to rant about.
ALEXANDRA WALLACE, UCLA STUDENT: Don't take this offensively.
MOOS: Many were offended by the tsunami jokes comedian Gilbert Gottfried tweeted.
SHERRI SHEPARD, CO-HOST, ABC'S "THE VIEW": I think you need to -- you've got to read it.
WHOOPI GOLDBERG, CO-HOST, ABC'S "THE VIEW": "I just broke up with my girlfriend, but as the Japanese say, there will be another one floating by any minute now."
MOOS: Gottfried is known as the voice of the AFLAC duck.
GOTTFRIED: I'm here with a duck.
MOOS: Not any more. AFLAC does about 70 percent of its business in Japan, and an hour after the company read the tweeted jokes, Gottfried was fired.
He released a statement saying, "I sincerely apologize. I meant no disrespect, and my thoughts are with the victims and their families."
Likewise apologetic is this UCLA political science major who posted a rant the other day.
WALLACE: The problem is these hoards of Asian people that UCLA accepts into our school.
MOOS: Alexandra Wallis (ph) was most upset about students talking on their cell phones while she tried to study in the library.
WALLACE: Over here from somewhere, "Ohhh! Ching-chong, bing- wong, ting-tong!"
MOOS: But soon, that mocking imitation was itself being mocked.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Ching-chong, bing-wong, ting-tong.
UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: I'm just so sick of the "ching-chong ting- tong" bull crap, OK.
MOOS: The UCLA student made things worse when she blamed all the library's cell phoning on the tsunami.
WALLACE: I swear they 're going through their whole families just checking on everybody from the tsunami thing. I mean, I know, OK, that sounds horrible.
MOOS: So horrible even UCLA's chancellor stepped in.
GENE BLOCK, UCLA CHANCELLOR: This has been a sad day for UCLA.
UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE (singing): Don't crack or poke about the tsunami, and don't think you're smart or even close to hot, because you're the epitome of racist rot.
MOOS (on camera): The rant didn't just generate angry and mocking videos; the UCLA student ended up going to university police saying she'd received multiple death threats.
(voice-over) She told the school newspaper, "The Daily Bruin," "I cannot explain what possessed me to approach the subject as I did, and if I could undo it, I would. I'd like to offer my apology to the entire UCLA campus."
Maybe at a time like this, if you can't say something nice, pretend you're in the library and...
UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Shhh!
MOOS: Jeanne Moos, CNN, New York.
BLITZER: That does it for me. Thanks, Isha Sesay for joining me. She'll be back with me tomorrow.
I'm Wolf Blitzer in THE SITUATION ROOM. For our international viewers, "WORLD REPORT" is next. In the United States, "JOHN KING USA" starts right now.