Japan quake toll may cross 10,000, no nuclear meltdown (Second Intro Roundup)

March 14th, 2011 - 12:48 am ICT by IANS  

Tokyo, March 13 (IANS) Japanese Prime Minister Naoto Kan Sunday said the country was facing its worst crisis since World War II, as the toll from Friday’s earthquake and tsunami was expected to cross 10,000. Efforts to avert a nuclear fallout from two quake-hit reactors continued and the government dismissed reports of a meltdown at one of them.

Kan said the situation at the Fukushima nuclear plant “continues to be in an alarming state”, DPA quoted the Kyodo news agency as saying. However, government spokesman Yukio Edano said there had been no meltdown in reactor number 3 of the plant, DPA reported.

But radiation levels had surpassed the legal limits at Fukushima I in the north-eastern prefecture of Fukushima, 240 km north of Tokyo, Edano said.

Radiation was at 882 microsievert per hour and briefly topped 1,204. Japan allows an hourly exposure of 500 microsievert, which measures the biological effects of radiation.

According to Japanese news reports, the cooling water in another reactor has decreased so much that up to 3 metres of the fuel rods were exposed but Edano said fresh water was injected and radiation levels there were “very small and under control”.

Nuclear reactors at the Fukushima I and II plants lost their cooling functions after power and backup generators were cut off Friday, operator Tokyo Electric Power Co (TEPCO) said.

The cooling system in Japan’s Tokai nuclear powerplant failed early Monday (Japan time), DPA quoted the Kyodo news agency as saying, citing fire department officials.

Meanwhile the IAEA said Sunday that Japan had informed it that the first, or lowest, state of emergency was declared at Onagawa nuclear power plant in Miyagi prefecture, the hardest hit by the earthquake and tsunami.

The reactors at the plant were however “under control”, IAEA said.

Some 200,000 people have been evacuated from a 20-km safety zone around the two plants. At least 19 people have been exposed to radioactivity, Kyodo said.

Kan told reporters that more than 12,000 people had been rescued since Friday. But as local and international search-and-rescue teams continued their search for survivors, police said more than 1,000 bodies had been found.

The National Police Agency said there were 3,000 dead and missing, Kyodo reported, while Miyagi police chief Takeuchi Naoto, said he had “no doubt” the toll would rise above 10,000 in the prefecture alone, NHK said.

Kan said that more than 600,000 people in the worst-hit areas had taken refuge in schools and community centres.

The number of soldiers sent to the affected region were doubled to 100,000 as rescue workers were struggling to reach quake-hit areas with many roads blocked by debris.

“I ask for utmost efforts to save the lives of as many people as possible,” Kyodo quoted Kan as saying after a meeting of the government’s emergency disaster headquarters. “We will put all-out efforts into rescuing people who have been isolated.”

Drinking water was transported to quake-hit regions by truck, and witnesses said residents were rushing to stock up on supplies at supermarkets and petrol stations, buying food and heating oil.

Railway links to the quake-hit regions are to remain closed, Japan Rail said, but it resumed operations in the Tokyo metropolitan area. Highways were also closed.

Meanwhile, an unbelievable calm was witnessed in Miyagi as residents despite being hit with shortage of drinking water and meal showed no panic.

“The shop has all its windows and its glass door broken. There is an ATM and shelves with food products inside the shop and no one is guarding it. However, not a person has ever entered it and nothing has been looted,” an eyewitnesses told RIA Novosti.

“Gas and water have been switched off in Miyagi and the central city of Sendai. With rare exceptions, electricity is also off. But there is no panic either in the streets or shops,” the eyewitness, who arrived in Miyagi several hours after Friday’s earthquake, said.

The earthquake, considered the fifth most powerful in the recorded history, triggered a huge tsunami that washed away everthing in its way — cars, ships, planes, house and farmlands.

Mikiko Dotsu, the coordinator of a Medecins Sans Frontieres team, said houses and buildings had been completely destroyed at some places after she arrived in Sendai near the quake’s epicentre.

She said 90 disaster medical assistance teams were deployed in Miyagi.

“At the moment, there is very little electricity and no water supply,” Dotsu said. “People need food, blankets and water. These needs are bigger than medical needs at the moment.”

Miyagi and Fukushima prefectures saw some of the worst destruction.

A municipal official in Futaba town in Fukushima prefecture told Kyodo news that about 90 percent of the houses in three coastal communities had been washed away by the tsunami.

Even two days after the devastation, Japan reeled under powerful aftershocks.

An earthquake measuring 6 on the Richter scale struck off the east coast of Honshu in Japan, Sunday, according to the China Earthquake Network Center. The epicentre was at 37.3 degrees north latitude and 142.6 degrees east longitude.

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