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CNN BREAKING NEWS
Nuclear Plant Threat; Anatomy of a Meltdown; Short on Necessities
Aired March 13, 2011 - 00:00 ET
THIS IS A RUSH TRANSCRIPT. THIS COPY MAY NOT BE IN ITS FINAL FORM AND MAY BE UPDATED.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
YUKIO EDANO, JAPANESE CHIEF CABINET SECRETARY (through translator): And reactor number three of the number one nuclear power plant is in danger and now have you informed some -- have you issued any additional evacuation order?
(END VIDEO CLIP)
PAULINE CHIOU, CNN ANCHOR: Radiation levels are said to be going down at a damaged nuclear reactor in Japan. Now, another reactor is running into trouble. It is 2:00 p.m. in Tokyo. Welcome to our continuing coverage of the earthquake and the tsunami in Japan.
I'm Pauline Chiou in Hong Kong.
ROSEMARY CHURCH, CNN ANCHOR: And I'm Rosemary Church of CNN Center in Atlanta. We want to welcome our viewers in the United States and all around the world.
CHIOU: That right. And we start with the greatest worry at this hour, which is a possible -- a possible nuclear meltdown.
Officials are focusing on two nuclear power reactors at one of two nuclear plants in trouble in northern Japan. Reactors control the initiation and the generation of power.
An official with Japan's Nuclear Agency says a meltdown may be underway in one of the reactors at the Fukushima Daiichi plant, but that's disputed by other officials.
There was an explosion at the plant on Saturday injuring four workers but that was the containment wall. Officials have widened the evacuation zone around the plant to 20 kilometers affecting some 200,000 people. Workers are now pumping seawater into the reactor in a last-ditch attempt to cool it down.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
EDANO (through translator: -- if that we can stabilize the situation of the reactor. And although the air being vented out does contain some minimal radioactive material, however, we believe that it is a minimal level that does not affect human health. So venting out air, as well as feeding in water through the pump, is being carried out on reactor number three. (END VIDEO CLIP)
CHIOU: CNN's Stan Grant is at our Tokyo bureau and he joins us with the very latest. Stan, just a couple of hours ago the Japanese ambassador to the U.S. told our own Wolf Blitzer that he didn't know of any sort of meltdown. So we seem to be getting different variations of information. What can you tell us to help clarify the situation?
STAN GRANT, CNN SENIOR INTERNATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Look, the information really has been open to wide interpretation and, of course, with this unfolding nuclear emergency, which is now into its second day since the quake knocked out the cooling system at the Daiichi plant, this really is about how people see the events and how they interpret some of these factors.
We've heard the word meltdown being used. We've heard a partial meltdown. They've been talking about the casing of the reactor melting.
There's also been talk about this cesium, which is a nuclear particle which has seeped into the atmosphere. Now that normally is found restricted within the core of the reactor. So the fact that that was detected in the atmosphere also gave rise to a belief that perhaps the casing of the reactor itself was melting down. So with these different interpretations, people are putting different weight on the events.
You mentioned the explosion that took place yesterday. Well that explosion also raised fear that it was an explosion in the reactor. They've since clarified that. In fact, it was an explosion in the outer wall surrounding where the reactor is. So it damaged the outer wall not the reactor itself.
But, as you say, there is a lot of precaution in place. They've widened the exclusion zone to 20 kilometers, about 12 or 13 miles. Up to 200,000 people are in the perimeter. So they're being told to evacuate their homes.
And we understand that iodine has also been handed out. That's useful to take to ward off the impact of radiation, if you come into contact with it.
So certainly a lot of concern. The word "meltdown" is being used. But exactly what the consequences of that are and exactly how significant that may be, we are still yet to determine.
CHIOU: And this is all, of course, putting a lot of pressure on the infrastructure there in Japan.
Stan, what's the power situation where you are in Tokyo?
GRANT: It's okay right now, but we are being told that perhaps as of tomorrow there's going to be rolling blackouts. You're going to lose power for certain periods of the day. Now this is to preserve the power supply to the country. You know the nuclear -- nuclear reactors here provide about a third of the country that the electricity needs and we understand that several millions of people had their power blacked out after the tsunami.
So there's now been warnings that that energy needs to be preserved and we're go to see some of those blackouts tomorrow here in the Tokyo region.
This is all, again, a precaution while they try to work on the main problem here and that is getting enough water -- you mentioned the seawater being pumped in. That's an attempt to try to flood the reactor and keep the water at a level so that it can allow the reactor to cool and not have the worst case scenario, of course, which is for the core to meltdown and then even worse, some of that radioactive material to seep into the atmosphere or perhaps go into the ground -- Pauline.
CHIOU: All right. Stan Grant with the latest on the nuclear reactor situation, reporting live from Tokyo.
So, Rosemary, still some variations in the different kinds of information that the residents are getting there.
CHURCH: Yes. And we're going to try and sort some of this out. Thanks so much, Pauline.
Robert Apthorpe spent years working at a nuclear utility and has been very active on Twitter, the last couple of days, answering questions about these Japanese power plants and he joins us via Skype from Chicago. Thank you so much for speaking with us.
A lot of concerns, a lot of anxiety, right, across Japan, and, indeed, the world. A lot of people weighing in on this issue because there are major concerns about nuclear power.
What sort of words are you sending out on Twitter to comfort some people who are feeling that anxiety?
ROBERT APTHORPE, SR. NUCLEAR ENGINEER, FAUSKE & ASSOC.: Well, my goal from the outset has been to point people towards verifiable information. To explain the technology and to give some context to the information and to answer basic questions.
There are a lot of people asking, like, is this a -- I'm sorry this is a stupid question. There is no stupid question. This is an unfamiliar technology for most people. And as engineers, we really owe it to society to engage and explain this technology to people in a way that they can understand.
CHURCH: You know, last hour I had a guest on, Jay Lair (ph), and he pretty much said 100 percent -- he was 100 percent confident that the problems at the plant -- the nuclear plant there, can be contained. That the cooling issue can be solved and the radioactivity is not going to be a major problem. Do you agree with that?
APTHORPE: I -- my background is in probabilistic analysis. And in our field we never use 100 percent. There is always some room for -- I don't want to say error -- but we consider a spectrum of possibilities.
Now if they can maintain cooling on the core and they can maintain the pressure below dangerous limits inside the containment building, yes, they can keep this accident from getting any worse than it is already.
But we have to watch very carefully over the next 24 to 48 hours, because it is still a live ballgame, to put it in a colloquial sense. It's -- we're not out of the woods yet.
CHURCH: Something I -- sorry to interrupt you. We're running out of time here. And I do want to ask you about the use of the seawater because I put to my guest that very question. Because a lot of people have been saying that is a last resort an actual fact, an act of desperation. He did not agree, despite, you know, we have heard that from many other people. What's your stand on that?
GRANT: I would tend to agree that it's a last resort. That's -- at that point you are admitting that you are probably never going to restart this reactor.
See, generally you put very, very pure water in the reactor, and if you are reduced to putting, say, firewater or seawater in the reactor, you have run out of other reasonable options.
CHURCH: All right. Robert Apthorpe, thank you for taking the time out to address some of these major concerns for people across the globe and more so in Japan. Appreciate it -- Pauline.
CHIOU: Well, we want to get straight to our correspondent, Paula Hancocks, who's part of the CNN team in the tsunami zone. Paula joins us right now from Minami Sanriku.
And, Paul, this is a town that we've been hearing about because almost half of the residents are still unaccounted for there. What are you seeing and hearing?
PAULA HANCOCKS, CNN INTERNATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Well, Pauline, this is the town of Minami Sanriku and it's just north of Sendai and it's extremely badly hit.
We have heard local media reports that around about half of the residents are missing, as you say. It's a town that did have 18,000 citizens. So that would mean that about 9,500 people are still missing.
Let me get out of the shot so you can have a look just how badly this area I damaged. Now where we're standing here is right on the edge of town. You can see just a couple of houses still standing, because we're about 3.3 kilometers away from the sea. That's almost two miles from the coastline.
So you can have a sense there of just how strong this tsunami was, to be able to destroy houses completely to this level. There's boats that have ridden on the tsunami and come all the way up here. Just behind one of the houses still standing there's a huge truck that was carried on the wave all the way up this far as well, 3.3 kilometers.
Now, as I say, there were 18,000 residents here. We spoke to a couple of them that have come back to see what's left of their homes and try and start the impossible cleanup. But they say that they ran when they heard the tsunami warning. One woman said she knows some of her neighbors stayed in their homes when there was the tsunami warning. So, inevitably, they would not have survived. But it's impossible to see how many people could have survived in those houses.
Now we do understand the search and rescue teams are still going, according to local reports. They have actually pulled out 42 survivors this Sunday morning. Now we can't confirm that with the police at this point. The police here are not saying much, but this is what the local residents and the local media are saying.
So it is still very much a search and rescue mission. We understand that they have found a couple of badly injured people further down towards the shore. At this point. they haven't brought them out though.
Now the police are trying to stop people from going too far down. Just about 20 minutes ago, there was another tsunami warning. Inevitably after an 8.9 magnitude, you're going to have very strong aftershocks. And this is what would have happened. And then there was a tsunami warning. And you can see the residents that have gone back to see their homes sprinting up the road, making sure that they were on higher ground, which is just not surprising when you see the utter devastation further down where we were wandering just a little earlier.
Houses are completely flattened. There is nothing left standing. It is completely waterlogged. So certainly, for many people who decided not to heed the tsunami warning, it's difficult to see how they could have survived. But at this point, there are still survivors being found -- Pauline.
CHIOU: That is at least hopeful news and -- hopeful news to hear. Paula, when you look at Minami Sanriku on the map of Japan, you can see that it's inside an inlet along the coast.
I'm wondering if any of the residents believe that this contributed -- its location contributed to the massive amount of damage where perhaps the tsunami really was sort of caught in a bottleneck with no place else to go.
Have any of the locals talked about this as a possibility why they got hit so hard?
HANCOCKS: I don't know the scientifics of it, Pauline, and to be honest, I don't think many of these residents do. Many of them though di say that when you hear a tsunami warning, you do get out of the way. And the one lady that we spoke -- she was in the one of the houses that's almost still standing behind us -- and she was that her family had moved away even though they are right on the edge of town -- 3.3 kilometers, two miles away from the coastline because there have been so many earthquakes. There have been no tsunami warnings. But they still knew that they should get out of the danger area.
And those tsunami warnings are still ongoing. Now this one house that we did go into has seaweed in it. It has a truck that was parked right all the way in town that is smashed into the side of the house.
So for those that did decide to stay, certainly if they were closer to the shoreline, it is very difficult to see how they would have been able to survive this.
But we do understand there are still survivors being found. Now, at this point, it is still very much a search and rescue operation. We understand from residents that there would be many people who have lost their lives here. But, at this point, the focus for the workers and the focus for those emergency teams is to find any sign of life -- Pauline.
CHIOU: All right. Paula Hancocks with at least some good news there from Minami Sanriku where the rescue crews are finding some survivors. Thanks so much, Paula -- Rosemary.
CHURCH: Yes, and, Pauline, certainly people in Japan are looking for any form of good news that they can get their hands on.
Of course, the nuclear plant emergency is not the only thing worrying the country. Life is difficult in most places in the tsunami zone, and even in Tokyo, 2.5 million customers are still without power. That is down, though, from 6 million.
International search and rescue teams are arriving in the country. So far 3,000 people have been rescued. But the official death toll keeps rising. It is nearly 800 now. And more than 9,500 people are still missing in one town alone.
And residents tell us food, water, medicines and gasoline are becoming increasingly hard to find, even in places like Tokyo which is 370 kilometers from the epicenter.
Well, correspondent Kyung Lah has been surveying some of the damage in the hard-hit areas surrounding Sendai and she joins us now live. And, Kyung, I understand the military has arrived. What are they doing at this point?
KYUNG LAH: Well, the military is trying to do two things. One, they are actively searching from the air. We've seen a number -- a large number of choppers flying up above, looking for survivors, and also looking for bodies.
On the ground, there a lot of military boots on the ground trying to also find survivors, looking also for bodies.
There are about 300 people missing in this community -- in Sendai. And I just want to kind of give you a look at what some of the residents told us.
One of the residents whose wife is missing said that the tsunami came across and was at that tree line. And as the water came across, it took out the houses that were right in front of the those trees. There were houses there. They were completely taken off their foundation, eliminated. The foundation now is under that water.
So there were people in some of those houses and that's what search and rescue teams are looking for at this point.
If I can walk you over here this way. This is a community center right behind me. You can see all the windows are gone. Over here, this is an elementary school. Four hundred and fifty children and teachers and community people were inside this school when the tsunami hit.
There is a car inside the hallway. A car that was pushed further inland. This is a car right here. Upside down. It's a little hard to see. Those are wheels and that's the front of the trunk. And you can see it's buried under debris.
And over here is the schoolyard. The schoolyard is littered with vehicles. Those are vehicles from the houses that were by the tree line. All of those cars were pushed ashore.
So what residents here are trying to grasp and trying to understand is how this severe tsunami could have come across so quickly and if any of the missing could have survived. There are a lot of search and rescue personnel on the ground. And as I mentioned, they are hoping to find more survivors. We have seen some active rescues occurring here. And there have also been reports, Rosemary, of some bodies being pulled out. We do know from the military there were bodies found in the school, but they have been removed right now.
CHURCH: Yes. It's just tragic, isn't it? And a couple of hours ago, I did see one of your reports there, Kyung, where the helicopters were hoisting people out. So we were seeing some progress there, at least, some positive news.
But what about the hospital? A lot of concern about that.
LAH: Yes. I think if you're asking about the hospital, I'll talk to you about that in a second. But I want to point out what we're seeing over and over again. What you're looking at -- I believe that's a local fire department because they're wearing similar outfits to the gentleman who I spoke with.
What they're doing is, you can see the long poles that they're carrying, they are pushing those poles in dry land or in low-lying water. They're looking for signs of life. They're looking for people. And this is part of that active search and rescue that I was talking about.
And also what they're hoping to find is that someone may be trapped in a void and somehow survived, now 48 hours after the tsunami hit. And I'm going to also ask my photographer to take a look up above. One more thing I want to show you. Again, something that we're seeing over and over, the military up above. Helicopters playing a critical role in what's happening today. That helicopter, we've seen several of that type of military transport. And what that helicopter's trying to do is look for signs of life, according to the military personnel I've spoken with down here. So hoping that they -- that there's going to be positive news out of the tragedy, Rosemary.
CHURCH: Yes, we certainly want to see that. Kyung Lah reporting from Sendai in Japan. Thanks so much.
Paulina, back to you.
CHIOU: Dramatic pictures. Dramatic stories. And we'll have more on the search and rescue operations on the other side of this break.
CHURCH: We are looking at pictures here at Minami Sanriku in Japan. And you can the debris on the ground there brought onto land by that wave -- that tsunami that brought boats and cars and debris from buildings.
And what we're seeing there -- if we can go maybe a little closer -- are people searching for any possibility of survivors in the rubble there.
And this if the town, of course, where we were telling you a little earlier where 9,500 people are missing. That's half the population -- nearly half the population of the whole town. It is a devastating story. There are 9,500 people missing. Their whereabouts not known at this point.
And so we see the rescuers trying to poke through the rubble there to find any evidence they can of any survivors.
Devastating thing to occur to one town.
CHIOU: Well, let's get you up to date now with some of the basics from this earthquake and the tsunami. Two and a half million customers are without power. That is down though from six million. International search and rescue teams are arriving in the country at the moment and, so far, Japanese officials have rescued 3,000 people.
But more than 9,500 people are still missing in that one town alone that we just saw there -- that Rosemary was talking about. It's Minami Sanriku. And residents also tell us that food, water, medicine and gasoline are becoming increasingly hard to find even in places like Tokyo which is 370 kilometers from the epicenter. So obviously a lot of anxiety there.
And now we go back to that situation with the nuclear power plants. You've heard the word countless times, especially now that the two plants in Japan are in trouble, but what exactly is a meltdown?
CNN's Chad Myers helps to break it down.
CHAD MYERS, AMS METEOROLOGIST: Meltdown means the melting of the core of a nuclear reactor. And literally after that, a large displacement of radiation throughout the entire atmosphere somewhere.
How does it works? It works by a series of closed systems. This -- when you're sitting in your car and you have the heater on in your car. You're not warmed because the fluid that's in your radiator is spraying on you. That would be an open system because you're spraying hot stuff on you. You are warmed in your car because there's a small little radiator under dash, it's blowing a fan through that radiator. That radiator's warming the air and you're being warmed by that air.
If all of these closed systems work in a nuclear reactor, nothing goes wrong. Here you go. The water comes in, it cools down this. This is part of a turbine. The turbine is turning -- whether it's a coal fire plant or not -- the coal-fired turbine warms water. Water turns to steam. Steam turns to turbine. You turn this down, you cool it off, you pump it back through here and you cool down the reactor.
Now rather than burning coal and warming the steam, you're -- well, you've got a reactor core and you have control rods and you have pods here warming with uranium inside a nuclear reactor. Those rods are warming water to warm water, to warm steam, to warm a turbine, and this goes on and on and on.
And as long as these processes are working, everything works great. The problem is that it didn't work right because when the earthquake happened, power got shut off. This was generating its own power. The power shutoff and then the backups came in. The backups were little generators, literally. Then they got flooded by the tsunami. Then they had to go to backup power by batteries. Well, the batteries are only supposed to last for eight hours. Put more batteries in and it's going and going and going. They couldn't get it cooled down. Now they've finally flooded it with seawater and boric acid hoping that this is a final step.
They have killed this reactor. This will never come back online. But that's the only at this point that they can get this thing cooled down. Let's hope it works.
CHURCH: All right. Chad with that explanation. And we do want to give you a better idea of where the Fukushima plant is located and look a little closer. Weather conditions that could help or, of course, hinder any radiation release there.
Meteorologist Ivan Cabrera is at the International Weather Center with that. Ivan, what are you finding?
IVAN CABRERA, AMS METEOROLOGIST: We're going to talk about your winds that are at the surface and then we're going to talk about winds a lot. So let's orient our audience here.
This is the earthquake, the 8.9. Here's the Fukushima power plant -- the nuclear power plant. And here, of course, is Tokyo, about 245 kilometers to the south and west or about 150 miles. As we fly you into the plant, this is going to be important, we have that 20 kilometer radius that has been evacuated because of potential radioactive leak.
Now what I want to do is pull this out because we do have communities that are spread. This is not densely populated here, but as we begin to pull out, if we have more radioactivity leaking here, then we begin to get into trouble because there's Sendai to the north -- about 90 kilometers to the north -- and the deeper reds you see there indicating denser population. In fact, Sendai has about a million people living in it. So that would be a problem here.
Now as far as the winds, that's going to play a role locally because if there is radioactive material leaked, the winds are going to essentially move that, advect that to the north, south, east, west, wherever the winds are moving. And right now, we have an offshore wind which I like to see because any radioactive material would be pushed offshore.
And I think that's going to continue over the next several days. So certainly some good news here as we begin to see an area of low pressure moving in from the south and east. We'll briefly have a southwesterly wind and then back again to northwesterly wind.
Now I want to be very clear, these are the surface winds that will affect Japan locally and any spread of radioactive material if, and only if, we have a significant event at that power plant, then we talk about the jet stream winds which are aloft at 30,000 to 50,000 feet. And if radioactive material gets there, we share that with the entire planet.
Again, that is only if we have a major core breach that at the plant which, at this point, we do not. I'll be back with the forecast for the recovery efforts in just a few minutes.
CHURCH: All right. Thanks for doing the research on that, Ivan. Appreciate it. I want to send it back to Pauline in Hong Kong now.
CHIOU: All right. Thanks, Rosemary.
Well, let's put this nuclear emergency into perspective and recall two others famous nuclear disasters. That's Three Mile Island in the United States and Ukraine's Chernobyl plant. In March of 1979, there was a partial meltdown at Three Mile Island.
In that disaster, the water supply to the reactor was mistakenly closed. The reactor core shut down but a series of human and instrument errors led to an overheating situation similar to the one that we're seeing at Fukushima. Very little radiation actually escaped into the atmosphere.
CHURCH: Well, the Chernobyl disaster in 1986 proved to be much more devastating to the environment. Technicians were attempting an experiment and they shut down the reactor's power regulating and safety systems, and removed most of the control rods from the reactor core. A chain reaction started leading to explosions and then a fireball. And the fire in the reactor's core released large amounts of radioactive material out into the atmosphere.
Thirty-two people were killed. Dozens more contracted radiation sickness. Thousands more eventually contracted cancers related to that incident. And radioactivity was spread by the winds, thousands of miles contaminating land over Belarus, Russia, and Ukraine, and as far west as France and Italy.
Well, people who have survived the quake and tsunami are finding long lines at grocery stores and gas stations.
IReporter David Powell shot these photos around Japan today. And he says grocery stores are pretty crowded with people trying to stock up and buy things that will probably start to run short. And bread was very hard to find. And he said dairy products were selling out.
And that's what we're seeing empty shelves -- Pauline.
CHIOU: Of course, Tokyo is the most populous city in the world with more than 30 million people. An earthquake was certainly felt there as well. Let's see how the city's coping two days later.
Steven Nagata joins us now from Tokyo via Skype.
Steven, thanks so much for talking with us. Give us, first, an idea of what the past two days have been like for you.
STEVEN NAGATA, TOKYO RESIDENT: It's been pretty tense. We've had aftershocks constantly for the last couple of days. And so, as soon as you start to relax, you feel the ground start to wobble a little again and you wonder, is it going to stop or is it going to keep going? So, I haven't gotten a lot of sleep.
CHIOU: And what is your biggest concern at the moment? What's your biggest concern now?
NAGATA: Well, in Tokyo, the damage was not anywhere near the order of magnitude they've seen up in the north. We had very little structural damage, almost nothing really. But we did see was major disruption due to the closing of the transportation lines, the trains and the roads that have started to affect supply lines in and around Tokyo.
CHIOU: In fact, we were looking at pictures sent from another iReporter of empty store shelves, where it's difficult to find milk or yogurt or water or even petrol. How are you getting by day to day?
NAGATA: Well, initially, after the earthquake, you se a different pattern emerge. The problem was trains were shut down, which kept everyone who works in Tokyo in the city, and they were unable to leave because many people have to commute over an hour to get home by train, and the trains were shut down. So, immediately, everyone went out and mobbed all of the convenience stores to get as much food as possible, which caused a shortage of food and supplies within the center of Tokyo. Now that the trains are up and run, everyone has moved out of central Tokyo. I live in central Tokyo. So, initially, we saw a complete disappearance of sorts of supplies here.
Now that the traffic has left Tokyo, we're seeing supplies start to appear in central Tokyo but I'm hearing stories of the suburban areas as people are home and trying to stock up in case we see further problems, more aftershocks or potentially something with the nuclear reactors. So, now, there is shortages and more supply disruption in the area surrounding Tokyo as well.
CHIOU: And, Steven, how concerned are you about the information that you're getting from the government, about what's going on with the two nuclear power plants? Are you confident the government is giving you the most accurate and up-to-date information?
NAGATA: I'm not really concerned with the information as much as I'm a little disappointed. There's a lot of anxiety about what's going on, particularly with the nuclear reactors right now.
And the information that we're getting through official channels is sporadic and, honestly, it's not very confidence-building. We're hearing that they don't really know what's going on and they really don't know what's going to happen. And it's -- it makes us a little bit frightened.
There was a press conference -- not an official press conference -- last night with some scientists who went through all of the details of the reactor and that actually helped quite a bit as we understand that there was no real danger from the things that have occurred up until now. But the lack of such forthright information from the official channels makes us nervous.
CHIOU: And, Steven, just curious, it's Sunday today. Tomorrow is Monday. Do you anticipate that things will be back to normal at the beginning of a workweek? Are schools going to be open in Tokyo? Are businesses going to be open?
NAGATA: We have heard there will be power outages coming in tomorrow -- planned power outages will hit various part of the city. It's unclear what this will do to our Monday business day in Japan, whether or not we should be going into work. You know, a lot of people are concerned because they don't want to come back into Tokyo and get stranded in Tokyo like they got stranded on Friday.
CHIOU: Understandably so. Steven Nagata, Tokyo resident -- thank you very much for sharing us -- with us your experience.
And we'll have more on the aftermath and effects of the tsunami and the earthquake right after this break.
CHIOU: Welcome back to WORLD REPORT. We also want to welcome our viewers in the United States and around the world. I'm Pauline Chiou.
Here are headlines:
Japan's nuclear agency says a meltdown may be under way in one of the nuclear reactors at the Fukushima Daiichi plant. But that's disputed by other officials -- this, after an explosion at the plant on Saturday. Workers are pumping seawater into the reactor in a last- ditch attempt to try to cool it down.
Crews are working to get power restored as well -- 2.5 million people in Japan are now without electricity. But that's down from 6 million from just 48 hours ago. The Japanese ambassador to the U.S. tells CNN that figure is substantially down. And power rationing in the form of rolling blackouts is set to begin on Monday.
Also, in areas closest to the epicenter of the earthquake, long line at grocery stores and gas stations. You can see pictures sent in from our iReports -- supplies of food and gas are running out in Sendai and also even in Tokyo. The prospect of power outages sent people to stores for flashlights and other supplies.
Aid has been offered by dozens of countries, including the U.S. Personnel and equipment are arriving in Japan to tackle the widespread devastation on the ground. The USS Ronald Reagan aircraft carrier has also been deployed to assist the Japanese rescue and relief efforts.
Now, as we've told you, officials are now worried about a possible meltdown at a nuclear power plant in Japan.
CHURCH: Yes, and they are focusing on two reactors at one of two nuclear plants in the stricken north. An official with Japan's nuclear agency says a meltdown may be under way in one of the reactors but that's disputed by officials. All of this after that explosion at the plant Saturday injuring four workers. And workers are pumping seawater into the reactor -- as we've been reporting -- in a last- ditch attempt to cool it down.
Well, we now turn to an eyewitness account. And earlier, our Wolf Blitzer, spoke with a Wall Street correspondent who was close to the nuclear plant at the time of the explosion.
Take a listen.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
YOREE KOH, WALL STREET JOURNAL CORRESPONDENT (via telephone): I was about a mile away from the explosion of the first reactor, well, 45 minutes prior to the explosion. So, myself and my colleague got out about 45 minutes with the last group of evacuees. And we were interviewing the -- one of the officials heading up the evacuation process, he was very calm, lucid, and then he got the announcement and, you know, his face has changed color immediately. And things got very grim very quickly. And the last group of municipal employees were evacuated and that's the group that we left with.
WOLF BLITZER, CNN ANCHOR: This explosion that occurred -- and we have pictures of it -- we see the huge plumes of smoke that emerges from the explosion. Walk us through how that explosion happens. KOH: Well, Wolf, I wasn't there for the actual explosion. But I can tell you that prior to it, I'm not sure how many people at the latest evacuation center, which is 20 kilometers outside of the town, which is closest to the reactor, things were fine there. I don't know what to extent they were informed of what was happening. I don't know how much the officials back at the first evacuation center knew what was going on, but they knew it was going to be bad.
BLITZER: And this report that a meltdown may actually have started already, you've heard these reports -- the Japanese ambassador to the United States tells me those reports are not true. But what, if anything, do you know about the reports that a meltdown may have occurred, may be occurring right now, at one of these plants?
KOH: I'm not -- I don't think my intelligence -- I'm privy to that type of intelligence. However, I can tell you that when we were leaving the evacuation center, the officials were putting on these bright yellow hazmat-type suits with, you know, facing masks to -- I would assume protect themselves against any type of radiation.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
CHURCH: Now, as we heard earlier, the evacuation area around the Fukushima nuclear plant has been extended. Officials are concerned with any possible exposure of radiation.
I want to check in now with Ivan Cabrera at the international weather center and take a closer look at all of that.
IVAN CABRERA, CNN INTERNATIONAL METEOROLOGIST: Indeed. And this time around, what I want to do is focus in on the forecast as well which will impact that. We start off here with the incredible amount of aftershocks that we have had since the 8.9 great earthquake here. We are now getting close to 300. And I think in the next few hours, we will -- in fact, we're averaging about five to six earthquakes here, which are essentially, that's what they are, even though we call them aftershocks.
But look at this cluster here. We're hiding the northeastern coast of Japan at this point with each plot that we're talking about here and break this down for you as far as the magnitude and how many we've had.
In fact, my concern here is two-fold with these aftershocks here. They can certainly, offshore, if they're shallow enough and strong enough, generate other tsunamis. In fact, we've seen tsunami warnings as a result of that very factor.
And then the other concern, of course, is for those weakened buildings that could be brought down because of a moderate earthquake. In the last several hours, we've registered a couple here in this range, which is very worrisome because that is a moderate earthquake.
And then, of course, not to say that the nerves are going to be rattled here across Japan as the 5.0 to 5.9s continue. But here it is approaching again almost to 300. And I think we're going to be doing that.
Sendai not reporting right now. We'll check in on Yamagata, temperatures right now, again this in Celsius, 11 degrees, with a wind chill of 11. The winds line at north.
As we get into tonight, we're going to be seeing some changes here. We've been seeing the reports, live reports -- if you've noticed the sky, it is blue, it is clear, and it is because we had disturbance that essentially has cleared the area. Take a look that, nothing but clear sky out there.
But upstream, we do have a front that's going to be moving in and then an area of low pressure to the south that's going to be moving in, and this will combine to bring unsettled weather, pretty typical stuff here for Japan as the low continues to move off to the north and east. We'll be seeing some showers. I think it will moderate, perhaps even some heavier rain will be moving into Tokyo. But the hardest hit area here in Sendai, where rescue efforts are going to be continuing and are ongoing at this hour, I think will be OK, as far as significant weather moving through the region.
So, let's check in on the forecast here. Behind the low ,we are going to drop, as far as temperatures, and that's going to be important for folks that are exposed out there. Overnight temperatures, again in Celsius, dropping to about zero to one, that's about 32, 34 degrees through the overnight hours. And then our daytime highs will be in mid to upper single digits, really not all that far away from the average high.
The reason we're 15 and warmer on Monday is because ahead of the system, we'll have a warmer southwesterly wind.
We'll stay on top of the wind direction as well for the, again, conditions that are ongoing across the nuclear power plant. We'll have an update on that in the next hour.
CHURCH: All right. We know you shall. Thanks so much for staying on top of this. Appreciate it.
Well, we want to take a moment now to remain you just where the hardest hit cities and towns are in Japan. I want to bring up this map for you.
We've heard from correspondents in Sendai, of course, and you can see how close that is to the quake's epicenter. Now, closer still to the epicenter: Kesennuma. And we've yet to see the scenes of devastation coming out of there.
Also worth nothing here, Fukushima -- we're talking about that a lot. That, of course, where two power plants have been damaged, one of them having leaked radioactive material into the air.
So, that gives you an idea of where things, the lay of the land, very important. And, of course, Sendai is the closest effort major city to the epicenter of Friday's quake, as we mentioned.
Correspondent Paula Hancocks filed this report from there just a short time ago.
PAULA HANCOCKS, CNN CORRESPONDENT: The devastation from Friday's earthquake and deadly tsunami is clear here in the city of Sendai. Now, we're close to the port here, maybe half a mile away.
And you can see how far the mangled mess of these cars has actually been flung. You can feel the weight and the force of the water. And all of the way up here, you can see cars that have just been flipped over onto their head. They've been wrapped around electricity pylons.
Further towards the port, you can actually see full-sized trucks that have been smashed against buildings. Now, notably the buildings themselves are still standing, but the devastation is pretty clear to see and debris all across the tarmac here.
Now, the reason we're not going further down into port itself because there's been at least two tsunami warnings. This is just in the last hour alone. You can see this is obviously from the earthquake itself. There's a lot of cracks in the road around this particular area.
Now, people have been streaming away from this area, as I say. There have been two more tsunami warnings. Obviously, aftershocks are triggering these warnings. The police are moving people away. They don't want to take any chances.
And you can see in the distance here, this very thick, black plume of smoke. Now, we understand from locals, this is from a petrochemical installation. We've been here for maybe an hour, and it does to us look as though it's burning even more ferociously when we first got there. And we understand from locals that it's very difficult for the certain and rescue teams and emergency teams to get close enough to that particular incident to even be able to try to put it out.
So, this is a very quiet area at this point. As I say, people have been moving out the whole time.
As we drove into this city of Sendai, there was a long cue of people trying to get out of the city. Bizarrely, when you drove through, it didn't feel like very much had changed in the city itself. It seemed normal, until you turned the corner, and then you saw a hundred cars cueing to get petrol, waiting an hour to just buy 10 liters of gasoline.
You turn another corner and then there was hundreds of people cueing for just the one grocery store in the town that was open. Another corner was turned around and then you saw another hundred people waiting for a drugstore. There is very little electricity. There's very little mobile connection here. So, many people are just trying to get out.
Paula Hancocks, CNN, Sendai, in Japan.
(END VIDEOTAPE) CHURCH: All right. We're going to continue to watch this story closely. We're going to take a short break now. We'll have more for you when we come back. Please stay with us.
CHURCH: Aerial scenes of the devastation across Japan. And we continue to follow this breaking news story out of Japan.
I want to bring you up to date with what we know so far.
At least 800 people are dead and the total is expected to rise. Thousands are missing. Japanese officials say there's the potential for a nuclear meltdown in at least one or two nuclear reactors and three hospital patients have actually tested positive for radiation. More than 2.5 million people are without power.
CHIOU: Well, Sendai has seen some of the most devastation in northern Japan, but there's more damage north of there.
Anna Coren is now in the town of Ishinomaki, which is northeast of Sendai, and she joins us now live on the phone.
Anna, can you describe to us what you're seeing right now?
ANNA COREN, CNN CORRESPONDENT (via telephone): Pauline, I am standing in what would have been a street in a suburb now. I'm just witnessing complete and utter devastation. There is debris absolutely everywhere, houses on their sides, roofs ripped off, trucks, tractors --
CHIOU: It sounds like we may have lost our connection with Anna Coren.
Just to recap where she is, she was in Sendai a little bit earlier. She's now moved up north, northeast of that area, to a town called Ishinomaki and that's northeast of Sendai.
Oh, we do have Anna back on the line.
Anna, if you can hear me, you were just last describing the scene, you said there was debris all over the place. You saw houses on their side. What else are you seeing? Are you -- have you been there long enough to try to talk to some residents, and what are they saying?
COREN: Yes, Pauline. We have joined a military operation. They are coming to find any survivors. But clearly not a search and rescue operation, this is a recovery operation.
They've pulled a number of bodies from some buildings. Elderly people, it would appear, middle aged to elderly people.
And from the locals that we have spoken to, those were able to get out to get to higher ground, they had less than half an hour in between the earthquake and then the tsunami striking. I can -- I'm looking at a house right now, Pauline, and the water mark is well and truly above the first story. And there's just no way -- there is absolutely no way that people could have survived this wave. Just the force and what (AUDIO BREAK) ground floor, you would not have survived.
CHIOU: And, Anna, you were just in Sendai and you moved north to this town. Are you seeing that the devastation got worse as you moved up north?
COREN: Most definitely, Pauline, that is -- that is what we have seen. Ishinomaki is probably about a two-hour drive from Sendai, and it has got progressively worse as we've got further up the coast. And it --
CHIOU: It looks like we lost Anna Coren once again.
But just to recap what she said, she's with a military operation in the town of Ishinomaki where she say it is not a search and rescue operation at the moment. It's definitely a search and recovery. Some of the crews that she's with have, unfortunately, pulled out several deceased people from that town. And she also said that the devastation is worse and worse the further north that she goes.
We will have more reports from Anna as the day goes on.
In the city Rikuzentakata, also north of Sendai, survivors have told of their ordeal as they continue to wait for news of loved ones. Much of this town was wiped out by the tsunami. And in the midst of the devastation, people have been clinging to hope at an emergency shelter as this report from Japanese news channel NHK reveals.
(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE, NHK)
UNIDENTIFIED REPORTER (voice-over): A tsunami wave slammed into the coast, crushing buildings. Nearly all areas of the Rikuzentakata City in Iwate Prefecture were devastated. Most of the buildings in the area were demolished. Some concrete structures survived.
At an emergency shelter, people were desperately searching for names of family members in the evacuees list.
UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE (through translator): My husband hasn't come here yet. He left the home a little later than me. Our house was swept away.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE (through translator): I'm looking for my son's wife. I have no idea which shelter she is in.
UNIDENTIFIED REPORTER: Residents rushed to the city hall in Fukushima Prefecture, seeking information about the whereabouts of loved ones.
UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE (through translator): My son might have been engulfed by the tsunami. I hope he's taking shelter somewhere. I'm struggling to locate him.
CHIOU: So many families still hoping to find their loved ones. And that is all for this edition of WORLD REPORT. I'm Pauline Chiou in Hong Kong.
CHURCH: And I'm Rosemary Church at CNN Center. For our viewers in the United States and around the world, another hour of WORLD REPORT is next.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIPS)
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: It is still going. Oh, my God, the building's going to fall!
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: The whole ground was shaking so much. It was unreal. I can't describe it. It's just -- it was -- it felt like someone was just pulling you back and forth like side to side as hard as they could.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: It just blew up. Woo! Woo! This is crazy!
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: You couldn't even stand up. I mean, literally, at the peak of these waves that were washing over the ground, you literally could not stay on your feet.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: We have an earthquake right now and this is actually moving. Can you see the cracks moving?
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: I've been awake about 35 hours. And that's because every time I lie down to go to sleep or rest, there's a big aftershock.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: IReporter Aaron Lace was attending a college graduation at a theater in Tokyo when the earthquake hit.
And, Aaron, just describe for us the moment of the earthquake when all of this essentially pandemonium broke out?
AARON LACE, IREPORTER: It was an absolute horrific event, obviously, because lives were lost. The aftershocks are coming extremely regularly. They're coming literally every hour at least and they're coming in doses that are extreme strong. And it's something that you would not wish upon your worst enemy.
And the way the Japanese people in a dignified manner, in an absolute civilized manner, have handled the aftermath of this. There has been absolutely no loss of law or order, no loss of any kind of civilized decorum of a people.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: You can see my house. It looks like a bomb hit it. You can see there's some damage here. My -- all my pictures are screwed up.
And my kitchen's a little bit in disarray. I think we're OK there. My wife's office is pretty much destroyed.
(END VIDEO CLIPS)