Return to Transcripts main page


Japan: When Disaster Struck; Breaking News on Libya Airstrikes

Aired March 19, 2011 - 20:00   ET


DON LEMON, CNN ANCHOR: Hello and welcome to our viewers around the world. This is a CNN Special Report on the ongoing crisis in JAPAN: WHEN DISASTER STRUCK. I'm Don Lemon in Atlanta.


Over the next hour, we're going to take an in-depth look at the remarkable and tragic events that impacted this country over the past week, from the first tremors to that crushing tsunami, to the verge of a nuclear meltdown. It was a horrifying chain of events that few will ever forget - Don.

LEMON: And horrifying to say the least, Martin. Thank you very much. We'll get back to you.

But first, the latest from Libya now. The time for warnings over. The time for action right now. As the U.S. joins a coalition of countries targeting Moammar Gadhafi's forces.

The Pentagon says U.S. and British ships and submarines fired more than 110 tomahawk cruise missiles on Tripoli and Misurata. They hit about 20 Libyan air and missile defense targets. The mission is being called Operation Odyssey Dawn.

France actually struck first against Gadhafi's forces. French planes destroyed military vehicles after Libyan forces attacked the rebel stronghold of Benghazi. French planes are still over Libya preparing to enforce the U.N.'s no-fly zone. The U.N. imposed that no-fly zone with the resolution on Thursday. The goal, protecting civilians from air attacks by the Libyan military. The U.N. says it will not stand by any longer as Gadhafi kills his own people.

Gadhafi says his people will fight back against what he called naked aggression. He also says he's opening Libya's arms depot - depots up to all the people there. All of this has been building since protests erupted in Libya in mid-February. Rebels are demanding an end to Gadhafi's four-decade reign. Despite claims, his forces are abiding by a ceasefire, one American military official says Moammar Gadhafi is clearly on the offensive.

So let's go to the ground now with CNN's Arwa Damon live near Benghazi, the rebel stronghold. Arwa, what are you seeing? Arwa Damon, are you with us?

All right. Apparently, we're having a little bit of a technical problem getting to Arwa Damon. But, again, she's near the rebel stronghold of Benghazi and Arwa has been in the region for quite some time covering this very volatile situation.

As we said, the United States among a group of coalition forces that fired on Libya today. A hundred and ten tomahawk missiles fired on Benghazi, and also Tripoli - excuse me, on Tripoli and also Misurata. And also, France joining in, Britain, Germany, as well. We told you about - those are the first pictures now of those tomahawk missiles being launched in the Mediterranean towards Benghazi.

Also, we got earlier pictures of the first strikes being launched from the U.S. Navy, and this is U.S. Navy video. A hundred and ten of these launched today.

U.N. Security Council Resolution 1973 approved this. This is in accordance with that. Before that, it was Resolution 1970, which put sanctions on Libya. That didn't work. So the U.N. went back to work and started on Resolution 1973, which approved military action, military force against Gadhafi.

The president speaking out today. President Barack Obama in Brazil. He's on a trip there saying that Gadhafi obviously has lost confidence with his people and that he needs to go and that he should stop immediately firing on innocent people.

Also, Nicholas Sarkozy of France reiterating the president's thoughts as well as he spoke out today in Paris along with the secretary - U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton who took questions today in Paris and also spoke out against Moammar Gadhafi, saying all the forces of the world, the allied forces would come down on Moammar Gadhafi if he didn't stop the violence, the civil war among his own people.

We're going to get back to CNN's Arwa Damon. Do we have Arwa yet? All right. We will get Arwa. Obviously, it is a very volatile situation there. The lines are down we're being told in Libya, and where - where Arwa Damon is. Again, she is live near Benghazi, the rebel stronghold.

Back to Arwa Damon as well as all of our resources there on the ground in Libya and also much, much more on Japan. And we come right back here on this CNN Special Report on the ongoing crisis in Libya and Japan, "When Disaster Struck." I'm Don Lemon in Atlanta. We'll be back in just a bit - Martin Savidge.

SAVIDGE: Don, right now, the concern, of course, is for the food levels and there are two specific food sources now that we're talking about. The radiation that is coming from these nuclear facilities up there in Fukushima, the fear had always been that what if it gets into the food chain? Well, now there appears to be some proof that in fact that's happening on a limited scale.

Two things that have been - we'll take a look at what's being tested and what the concern is right after this.


LEMON: Let's get back now to our Breaking News on Libya. CNN's Arwa Damon is live near Benghazi now, the rebel stronghold. Arwa, there have been claims that forces are abiding by the ceasefire. Are you witnessing that or are you seeing unrest?

ARWA DAMON, CNN CORRESPONDENT (via telephone): Well, Don, as far as we can tell, that so-called ceasefire does seem to still be in effect. But this is and remains a city very much on edge. Residents that we were talking to at the scene where earlier in the day tank rounds fired into civilian buildings, telling us that they fully expect Gadhafi to attempt to attack yet another time.

They are drawing some reassurance from the fact that the French are in the air. The U.S. has already fired missiles on a number of Gadhafi's positions. But people do not take Gadhafi's threats lightly here. They have learned that for four - more than four decades living underneath his rule. They fully expect him to try - to pull some other sort of maneuver to stand defiant in the face of the international community. They are willing to fight this out. They say they are ready to fight this out.

And in fact, Don, it was the opposition fighters that managed to drive out Gadhafi's forces when they first attacked Benghazi some 24 hours ago. And they are ready to do that once again. Again, drawing much reassurance, though, from the fact that at least now it would seem they're not going to be in this alone.

LEMON: CNN's Arwa Damon. Arwa, thank you very much.

Well, I want to welcome everybody back to the CNN NEWSROOM. A special report on the tragedy in "Japan: When Disaster Struck." I'm Don Lemon Martin Savidge is in Tokyo.

SAVIDGE: The big concern right now is, of course, the impact of radiation that's coming from the Fukushima Nuclear Facility located about 150 miles that would be to the north of Tokyo, a city of 12 million people.

Ever since the earthquake and tsunami, it was the tsunami wave that took out the power supply that ran to the nuclear facility. Six nuclear reactors, all damaged in some way, shape or form and all in danger of melting down or going into a critical situation with their nuclear radiation.

Today, the situation is looking much better. Power has been restored into certain areas around the plant. What they want to do next is check the cooling pumps. To get the cooling pumps working, that would go a long way to help bring stability to the plant. It wouldn't mean that the nation is out of the woods, but it would at least bring stability.

But the concern today, the new one now is perhaps contamination of Japan's food supply. This had always been something that had been feared, but now it appears there is concrete proof of that. It shows up in two sources. One is spinach, this is the leafy stuff growing in the fields. The other is milk.

How did it get there? Well, the radiation fell from the sky, went on to the vegetables, went on to the grass, that was consumed by the cows and that's how it got in the milk. It has been found specifically about 18 miles on a dairy from Fukushima Daiichi. That's the nuclear facility, and it's also been found in the spinach about 65 miles to the south of the plant.

Here's another thing to be concerned about. Extremely low levels - and I mean minuscule levels of radiation have now been found in the water supply for the City of Tokyo. And, again, we're talking the water that supplies some 12 million people. It is not to a health concern, but it is a serious concern nonetheless.

Let's go back to Don.

LEMON: All right. Martin, thank you very much. Besides the updates that Martin just gave us, we have some more information. I want to bring you up to speed in some important developments now in Japan.

The death toll from the quake and tsunami - well, it just keeps rising. It now stands at 7,653. Nearly 12,000 more people are still missing. Many may have been washed out to sea by the tsunami and might never be accounted for.

Meantime, workers at the crippled nuclear power plant in Fukushima made critical progress today in bringing the facility back from the brink of a catastrophic meltdown. Reactor Number Three, one of the most seriously damaged, is being showered almost nonstop with seawater to keep it from overheating. And more importantly, emergency power was restored early this morning to Reactor Number Six. The goal is to get power running to all of the reactors by tomorrow. Electricity is essential here to - to pump water that cools the radioactive fuel rods and shields workers from lethal radiation.

CNN's Martin Savidge joins us from Tokyo in just a bit with more information on what's happening on the ground.

In the meantime, we're going to go to a break. We're back in a moment here on CNN.


LEMON: Welcome back to this CNN NEWSROOM Special Report on the tragedy in "Japan: When Disaster Struck." I'm Don Lemon in Atlanta. CNN's Martin Savidge is reporting live tonight from Tokyo.

You know, earthquakes are extremely common in Japan, but few suspected the sleeping giant just off its northern Pacific Coast. When it awoke shortly before 3:00 P.M. local time on March 11th, no one paid much attention.


LEMON (voice-over): When the earth begins to shake last Friday afternoon, few Japanese are surprised. The country is one of the most earthquake prone nations on earth.

CHAD MYERS, AMS METEOROLOGIST: They have 1,500 a year. The Japanese people have built their lives around their country, how small it is, and that it shakes. Their buildings are secure, their lives are secure. They know that when the ground shakes they are going to be secure.

LEMON: In the Tokyo subway, there's concern, but no panic.

KYUNG LAH, CNN CORRESPONDENT: We're in Tokyo Station and it appears we've have gone through some sort of an earthquake. Take a look up here. You can still see signs sort of shaking back and forth. We're not really sure what the magnitude is right now.

LEMON: But then the shaking doesn't stop.

LAH: For the last few days we've had a series of - we're still shaking - a series of pretty strong earthquakes.

LEMON: CNN correspondent, Kyung Lah, in the subway by chance described her experience shortly after the quake.

LAH (voice-over): People in Japan are used to feeling a quake. But that usually is about four or five seconds. If you live in Tokyo, that's normally what you feel. Three minutes later, we're still feeling a shaking - a shaking.

For people who are used to feeling an earthquake, perhaps once a week, this is something that they felt and they felt for many, many minutes. We saw some women pause and they looked very, very alarmed.

MYERS: Why this quake lasted so long is because it ripped a hole, it ripped a seam in the floor of that seabed for miles - tens, hundreds of miles.

LEMON: Despite the concern, underground there's calm. But above ground and outside of Tokyo - near panic.

In Fukushima, more than 100 miles closer to the epicenter than Tokyo, American Ryan McDonald is in his apartment when the quake first strikes.

RYAN MCDONALD, IREPORTER: At first, it was just a regular earthquake that we have. I would say once a month up to about three or four times a month. I know it's (INAUDIBLE) to say that, but we've - we've gotten used to the smaller earthquakes. And then it kept getting worse and it got worse, so then I started filming it. And then it got worse again, and I said, oh, my God. This is the worse one to date.

The building's going to fall!

It doesn't show it clearly on the video, but the walls and other houses and buildings were leaning in a way that I have never seen them lean. And I don't even think that's - I didn't think that was possible.

Suddenly the ground just bounced up some bikes right in front of me. In one part of the video, you can see that they're lined up against the wall, but then suddenly they're in the middle of the alley. And I just - I was terrified at that point. I didn't know where to go. LEMON: The quake's magnitude, a massive 9.0. The largest to ever hit Japan.

MYERS: The entire country shifted eight feet closer to America. There are cracks in the country now that weren't there before. The earth is not on the same axis as it was before the earthquake. The tilt of the earth shifted a little, OK, only inches, but the earthquake moved the entire earth. It shifted the crust of the earth.

LEMON: The epicenter is 80 miles off Japan's coast but it is felt and filmed across the country.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Oh, this is crazy.

LEMON: The earth literally rips in two - shaking everything from offices to shops.

MYERS: The last time there was an earthquake anywhere near this size, Mt. Fuji erupted. That was 1707, 300 years ago. This was the fourth biggest to fifth biggest quake on the planet that we know of.

LEMON: A quake of historic proportions.

MYERS: There are sensors in California that felt the quake. There are sensors in Arkansas for the New Madrid Fault, felt the quake. There were sensors across the entire globe, the whole world shook at least a little bit.

LEMON: But it was just the beginning. Another even greater threat was bearing down on Japan.

Coming up, amid the disaster, stories of survival and a father's desperate search for his daughter.



LEMON: Welcome back, everyone. You're watching "When Disaster Struck," a CNN NEWSROOM Special Report on the tragedy in Japan.

I'm Don Lemon in Atlanta. CNN's Martin Savidge is live for us tonight in Tokyo. We'll get to him in a moment.

But we may never know how many people died in Japan's massive earthquake, but the worst - well, was yet to come. Even before the dust from the quake had settled, a 30-foot wave was racing towards the Japanese Coast. And within minutes, it would deal a devastating blow, wiping out countless more lives and testing Japan's character to its core.



LEMON (voice-over): The earth cracked. The alarm sounds. And Japan's misery deepens.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: A large tsunami is moving -

LEMON: A devastating and deadly one-two punch. First, the massive earthquake -

MCDONALD: Oh, my god. That was the worst one I've ever experienced in my life. It's just -

MYERS: With this much shaking, there's probably a tsunami, there's no question about it.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: The agency has issued a tsunami warning for Japan's Pacific Coast -

MYERS: You had a city on top of the shaking. The city would be completely gone. But there wasn't a city there, there was water there. And all of a sudden that water is translated to course in all directions.

When the ground moved, well, the water had to move. And it was pushed up, because it was a subduction thrust fault and that thrust came up from the ground, pushed the bubble of water up and away. And that bubble of water wants to be sea level again. It doesn't want to be a bubble 30 feet high, it wants to be flat. And that's a flat land, that water went 15 miles inland in some spots.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: The tsunami swallowed up the paddies and farm fields one after another.

LEMON: From the moment the tsunami warning rings out, residents have just minutes to get to safety. English teacher Steve Corbin (ph) -

STEVE CORBIN (ph), ENGLISH TEACHER: When the earthquake struck, I was in my car. I turned on my radio. It said to evacuate to the high ground. There was a tsunami coming. It was going to strike within the next five minutes and it's going to be six meters high. And so I kind of just thought, go.

LEMON: It's a race against time, as residents scramble uphill for safety and water engulfs their homes.


LEMON: In town after town, the same horrific scene, buildings, homes, entire communities swallowed amid cries of despair.