Japan shaken: survivors look for missing kin, n-meltdown feared (Second Lead)

March 12th, 2011 - 3:46 pm ICT by IANS  

Tokyo, March 12 (IANS) Ravaged Japan Saturday moved to pull itself together from a devastating quake and tsunami that killed a 1,000 people and left its northeastern coast in ruin as the country was rattled by a number of severe after shocks amid fears of a meltdown at a nuclear reactor.

Friday afternoon’s massive 8.9-magnitude earthquake set off huge tsunami waves, some as high as 10 metres, that rushed ashore for kilometres along the northeastern coast, sweeping off everything in its path - buildings, cars, ships, fields and people. Thousands were missing and the bodies of over 400 people have been recovered so far.

On Saturday, the region was shaken by around 20 aftershocks. Quake survivors Saturday desperately sought information about their loved ones in areas mainly hit by the tsunami - Miyagi, Fukushima, Iwate and Chiba prefectures (provinces) and Hokkaido and Honshu islands.

Radioactive cesium has been detected at Japan’s quake-damaged Fukushima No. 1 nuclear power plant, 250 km from Tokyo, indicating an occurrence of a reactor meltdown, Xinhua reported Saturday.

The leak was detected after authorities successfully evacuated people from around 10 km around the vicinity of the plant, after the radiation reached 1,000 times the regular level in the operating room, the Nuclear and Industrial Safety Agency said Saturday.

The government also issued an evacuation order for residents in the vicinity of Fukushima No. 2 nuclear plant.

The nuclear safety agency said residents were not in immediate danger from radioactive leaks, but some leak of radioactive substances could take place when pressure is released in containers housing the nuclear reactors.

Prime Minister Naoto Kan visited the facility Saturday.

Miyagi prefecture, 300 km from Tokyo, bore the brunt of the tsunami.

Desperate relatives were trying to contact their kin who were in Miyagi, Fukushima, Iwate and other places lashed by the tsunami, and with phone lines down, their helplessness became acute.

Lucy Craft, a mother based in Tokyo, was worried about her son who studies in a school in Sendai city, in Miyagi prefecture.

“The phone lines are still down … I haven’t been able to get in touch with him by cell phone, I haven’t been able to contact anybody there. I have his teacher’s phone number … the phones aren’t working,” Craft told CNN in Tokyo.

“It’s a very upsetting situation, as you can imagine.”

The quake left huge buildings, all made to withstand massive earthquakes, swaying dangerously. Over 200 fires broke out across the area Friday as tens of thousands of people were displaced.

Several bridges collapsed, bus and train services were shut down and many roads were closed. Mobile phone networks and landline phone services were affected by the quake.

Many residents in earthquake-affected areas Saturday left to search for basic essentials. People shopped for food, water and fuel, causing stores to run out of supplies and pumps to run dry.

Electricity supply was restored Saturday morning in Sendai city, one of the worst hit in the tragedy.

Sendai resident Christopher Craig told BBC: “Electrical power was restored this morning and the government has announced that some grocery stores will be opened to provide food and water.”

“Aftershocks hit regularly, with almost continuous tremors since the first quake, but nothing has approached the strength of the initial shock,” he said.

Michael Tonge, a teacher from Sendai, told the British broadcaster: “Still experiencing strong aftershocks.”

Tonge said no trains were running. A heavy snow storm that hit Sendai made things worse, he said. “So many people stuck and sleeping rough in freezing conditions as had heavy snow storm just after quake when people running to go to evacuation points in parks,” Tonge said.

Recalling the earthquake horror, a Briton residing in Tokyo said she had gone to collect her children from a school here when the quake struck.

Naomi Van Holbutt-Kirk told BBC: “I could actually see my seven-year-old daughter crouched under a desk with her classmates… the building was swinging like a giant pendulum and I was just waiting for the sound of a crash from the adjacent building where my five-year-old son was still in his classroom.

“It did not collapse and the quake eventually stopped.”

The toll would probably be well over 1,000, said Yukio Edano, chief cabinet secretary.

The Meteorological Agency issued further tsunami warnings for many coastal regions in the country. Some of the aftershocks were over seven in magnitude.

The Nikkei business daily said some 210,000 people had been evacuated in northeastern Japan, while thousands were stranded in Miyagi, waiting for assistance, public broadcaster NHK said.

Rescuers have been searching for survivors amid collapsed buildings in many flooded cities.

Japan’s Self Defence Force (SDF) troops and other rescue teams were being rushed to northeastern parts of the country, officials said.

International assistance was on its way, as the US dispatched more than 140 personnel Friday, and New Zealand said Saturday it would send a 48-member search-and-rescue team.

The Japanese government has mobilised 50,000 search and rescue workers, and sent 190 aircraft and 25 vessels to areas affected by the quake and tsunami.

The SDF has been working with the US military stationed in Japan to transport about 900 Japanese troops and some 250 vehicles by US ships, Japanese government officials said.

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