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Nuclear Concerns; Catastrophe in Japan; Before and After; Nuclear Situation Update; Short on Necessities

Aired March 13, 2011 - 01:00   ET

THIS IS A RUSH TRANSCRIPT. THIS COPY MAY NOT BE IN ITS FINAL FORM AND MAY BE UPDATED.


(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

PAULINE CHIOU, CNN ANCHOR: Hello again. I'm Pauline Chiou at CNN Hong Kong.

NATALIE ALLEN, CNN ANCHOR: I'm Natalie Allen at CNN Center. We want to welcome viewers in the U.S. and from around the world to our continuing coverage of the aftermath of the earthquake in Japan.

It has been 48 hours of hell for Japan. The country is reeling from the double blow of the huge earthquake and tsunami that followed. One of the biggest concerns right now is the threat of nuclear complications. More on that in just a moment.

But first, Japan's Emergency Headquarters says the death toll has just passed 800. That is a number certain to rise. At least 678 are confirmed missing. More than 1,400 listed as injured. Those numbers only hint at the devastation. One Japanese news agency reports almost 10,000 people missing from one town alone.

Local media is already reporting word from the prime minister that more than 3,000 people have been rescued. Our Paula Hancocks was the first reporter to arrive at the town of Minamisanriku. She reports that about half of the town's 18,000 residents are simply missing.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

PAULA HANCOCKS, CNN CORRESPONDENT: This is the town of Minamisanriku and it's just north of Sendai and it's extremely badly hit. We have 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 about 9,500 people are still missing.

Let me get out of the shot so you can have a look at just how badly this area is damaged. Now where we're standing here is 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 are boats that have actually 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 to 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. It's impossible to see how many people could have survived in those houses. We do understand the search and rescue teams are still going, according to local reports. They have pulled out 42 survivors this Sunday morning.

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 local media are saying. So it is still very much a search and rescue mission.

We understand they have found a couple of badly injured people further towards the shore. At this point they haven't brought them out though.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

CHIOU: Now to the nuclear concerns. We are getting some seemingly conflicting information regarding what's happening at the Fukushima Daiichi nuclear facility. Japan's ambassador to the U.S. told CNN there is no evidence of a meltdown there. He said this a couple of hours ago.

But a Japanese nuclear safety official tells CNN that a meltdown may have occurred at one or more of its nuclear reactors. He said, quote, "we do believe that there is a possibility that meltdown has occurred. It is inside the reactor. We can't see. However, we are assuming that a meltdown has occurred."

Now he went on to say, "with reactor number three, we are also assuming that the possibility of a meltdown as we carry out measures. However, government officials insist the situation is under control and there are no indications of dangerously high radiation levels in the atmosphere, but they have acknowledged there is some radiation in the air."

Whether there has indeed been a meltdown, we know radiation has been released and it is affecting people. The chief cabinet secretary addressed that as well.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

YUKIO EDANO, PM'S CHIEF CABINET SECRETARY (through translation): People who were evacuated on buses, among them nine people, after diagnosis. We have confirmed they may have been exposed to radioactive material. Four out of nine had a reading of about 40,000 which was the highest.

So their clothing or on the surface of their skin, they have been exposed to radioactive material. Now they are trying to make sure that they have not internally exposed to radioactive material. (END VIDEO CLIP)

ALLEN: CNN's senior international correspondent Stan Grant is monitoring all of this from our Tokyo bureau and he joins us live with more on the situation. Stan has the government had any updates on this in the past hour?

STAN GRANT, CNN SENIOR INTERNATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: No, nothing in the past hour. What you're reporting there still stands, and that is this official from the Nuclear Safety Agency is indicating they're concerned there may be a meltdown inside the reactor.

Now this has been developing over the past two days, ever since the quake knocked out the ability to cool the reactor. What he's talking about there is the Daiichi plant, which has six different reactors in it. He's talking about the number one and potentially also number three reactor so two reactors potentially experiencing this.

What that exactly means, though, is still unclear. Let me wind back a bit because yesterday there was a lot of concern about this cesium, this radioactive component that they found traces of in the atmosphere. Now that is normally an indication of something occurring, disintegration within the reactor because that is normally stored within the reactor.

At the time there was speculation there was melting on the casing outside the reactor and now we're getting this news of perhaps a meltdown inside the reactor itself. You hear this world "meltdown" and it does bring a lot of alarm bells. I had to put this 20 kilometer, 13-mile exclusion zone around the area, evacuating potentially as many as 200,000 people from their homes.

But remember within the structure itself, within the nuclear power plant, there are many what they call redundant safety features and that is if something fails, something else is in place to guard against potentially harmful consequences.

Now the question is if all of those various safety valves, if all of the safety procedures, if you like, fail, what happens then? Does the radioactive material go into the soil and cause even greater problem? Is it released into the atmosphere?

These are the areas of uncharted territory that they could be entering now. Many steps before you get to that and the government cautioning over the course of yesterday the radiation detected in the atmosphere had actually been decreasing. Pauline.

ALLEN: What do they expect, as far as -- it's Natalie, Stan -- when are they saying it's a crucial time for them as far as monitoring the situation? Will they know something definitive say within the next 24 hours?

GRANT: Well, it's a crucial time right now. It's been a crucial time since it started to happen. What happens here is the reactor, the water level drops in the reactor, these reactors generate an enormous out amount of heat and that builds steam that is transferred into electricity.

That powers about a third of the electricity for the country. Now when the water level drops, the reactor is exposed and it continues to generate heat and that's when you lead to the potential disintegration of that.

Every hour that goes by, we've had experts talking about this, every hour that goes becomes more critical. It is a race against time. Heat continues to build. Talking about a potential or fear of the beginnings of a meltdown within the reactor, clearly you've entered into a critical phase. So if you're talking about what is crucial now, now is crucial, Pauline.

ALLEN: Stan Grant for us. Pauline.

CHIOU: All right, thank you. Well, the developments at the Fukushima plant have reignited the fierce debate over the safety of nuclear energy. The Citizen's Nuclear Information Center, which is based in Tokyo, is an avid anti-nuclear campaigner.

Now, the group wants a nuclear-free world. Philip White belongs to this organization. He is a nuclear expert and he joins us now on the phone from Tokyo.

Philip, thank so much for joining us. I do want to ask you, if things do get worse, even though each hour counts as they go by, if things get worse what do residents need to do to try to protect themselves?

PHILIP WHITE, CITIZENS' NUCLEAR INFORMATION CENTER (via telephone): Well, there are basically two things. It's better inside a building than outside a building and the further away you are, the better.

But -- and I really hope that all the people who are somewhere in the vicinity of that plant are safe from serious radiation exposure. However, it's just something you've got to bear in mind is that the worst case scenarios are out there that could happen.

They may not happen, but in the worst case scenario, really you take all of the measures you can. But there's lit that can be done because as much as 100 kilometers away people could be getting lethal doses. That's not what the situation is now. I'm not suggesting that's what's happening now. But that is the worst case scenario that can occur. It's really important -- sorry.

CHIOU: I wanted to ask you if you think that the measures that the government has taken so far are the appropriate measures, pumping in seawater into one of the reactors to try to cool it down and evacuating residents to a radius of 20 kilometers, are these the appropriate measures or in your opinion do you think something else needs to be done?

WHITE: Firstly, evacuating the people is the right thing. How far they should be evacuated is probably debatable, but I think the further, the better. And 20 kilometers is probably more a matter of convenience and the total impracticality of moving vast numbers of people in the midst of an earthquake and tsunami is the important thing to bear in mind.

That we have simultaneously infrastructure wiped out by those factors, and then we have on top of that a nuclear disaster. This is something that we've been warning for a long, long time but the government has refused to take on board this double whammy when these things happen together. But anyway, what is actually possible, I don't know.

But the further they can get them away, the better. As for the seawater into the core, we held a press conference last night in Japanese in which we had experts speaking on the issue. The reactors' designers that we had there said that basically it is a recognition there is no future for this reactor. This reactor is finished.

CHIOU: That's what most experts are saying. Phillip, that's what most of the experts are saying that when you pour sea water in with elements there, that you cannot use this reactor, it's not all salvageable again.

I do want to ask about the weather because we did speak with a resident on CNN who said that he's concerned about rain because radiation is already in the air. If it rains, a significant amount, does that pose any more danger to residents, say in Tokyo?

WHITE: It depends where the radiation is blown. If the radiation is blown out to sea that is to say by the winds, that is the safest, as far as human beings are concerned. But if it is blown over populated areas and then the rain falls, that means that the radiation is no longer in the air, it's falling on top of people and it's falling on the ground.

And so the radioactivity is then being ingested, being deposited into the soil. In the case of the Hiroshima and Nagasaki bombs, there was so-called black rain after the explosion, which rained radioactivity on the population. And this is one of the major causes of radiation exposure at that time.

CHIOU: So we are certainly watching the forecast. We're checking in with our meteorologists often. Phillip White, nuclear expert from the Citizens for Nuclear Information Center. He's joining us from Tokyo. Thank you so much, Mr. White. Natalie.

ALLEN: The story out of Japan is really about people, people whose lives have been completely turned upside down and wondering what is next. Our Kyung Lah is on the ground in Sendai, which is a city completely devastated by the tsunami. Kyung, what have you been able to gather so far?

KYUNG LAH, CNN INTERNATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: We've been primarily spending our day, Natalie, in this one neighborhood of Sendai and what I wanted to show you is just a little bit of what we're looking at.

If you look over this way, to my left, this area that you're seeing that's completely underwater, now part of it is rice fields. But everything beyond, everything towards the back of that water you're looking at that was once homes. If you look in the foreground, you'll see the force of the tsunami was able to pick up vehicles and then just drop it in different parts of the city.

Homes have been completely washed away. What is at the ground now, under that water now, is foundation which the military says the water has to go away before they can start looking for any survivors and think bodies. We want to walk you over this way. You can see the military is here.

That's very good news. They are able to try to find victims. But what they're encountering stuff like this, debris. This is a vehicle, completely upside down. It's covered in debris. You can see the tires and the front of the car, that's a truck that is.

This is a snapshot of just one of the many things that being repeated along the coastline here in Japan. This is an elementary school. The elementary school had about 450 students, teachers and workers in it when the tsunami warning came.

Now residents here say many of them did get out, some did not. There were bodies found inside the school. Rescuers are still finding survivors. We have seen some of the crews from the air plucking people and lifting them into safety.

So there are still signs of life, but increasingly now that we're more than 48 hours into this disaster, Natalie, is getting to be much more difficult to have hope for any of the survivors and people who are missing and believed lost in all of this.

ALLEN: Such a tragedy, there in front of that school. I'm wondering, Kyung, how long did people have to get out once the call came in to get out of harm's way? How long did they have?

LAH: It's something that's a little difficult to gauge here because some people had their mobile devices with them. Some people heard the alarms. So that was approximately 30, 40 minutes from the time that the warning came out to when the tsunami came ashore.

The question is, whether everybody got the message when that message went out and that's very difficult to gauge. A lot of the residents here say many of them did manage to leave as soon as they did hear. But some people did not.

They decided to stay or they just didn't quite hear that alert. So it does vary about how much time because we don't know what time everyone got that alert or heard that warning.

ALLEN: We'll certainly -- no one is there now. It looks like a virtual ghost town. Is it from what you can see from where you are?

LAH: It's actually not. This is one section of town. This is an elementary school. The elementary school is deserted. But in another part of the town, there are a lot of people going back and forth.

There's one road open into this residential area and people are going there, trying to pluck some of their clothes, perhaps on the second or third floor of their homes, trying to get some supplies because supplies is a big challenge here. Trying to get water, trying to food, if there's any dried food, a lot of the residents are taking that dried food and taking it home. Further down the street, this is, you can see there's a roadway here and there's homes behind there.

Homes that are still at least on the top part of those homes still standing and so people are trying to get home and grab whatever they can, especially blankets, because there's little, spotty, electricity throughout the city as well.

ALLEN: Can't imagine what it must be like to there be. We appreciate your reporting. Kyung Lah for us in Sendai, thank you. Pauline.

CHIOU: Natalie, let's go back a few days and backtrack to Friday, when disaster strikes the small southeastern city of in Iwati.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

CHIOU (voice-over): Wow, you can see and hear the force of the water, an unrelenting flow of water propelled by the tsunami crashes into this historic coastal city, washing away everything into its path, leaving property and livelihoods in ruins.

It's not yet known how many lives were lost in this town, but one thing is certain, lives of survivors in Kamaishi are change forever. As we see that one house on the right fall down. The resident remained shell-shocked after the quake.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

CHIOU: The disaster that struck on that sunny Friday afternoon left their homes in shambles, their lives never to be the same again. Japanese broadcaster NHK shows us how it all unfolded.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: At 3:00 p.m. Friday afternoon, Kamaishi City Hall issued the tsunami warning. Residents quickly evacuated their homes looking for higher ground. These people managed to get to this hilltop, mothers held on tightly to their children. They listened anxiously to the radio for more information.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: At 3:11, a massive tsunami swept through the city.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

ALLEN: What those children have just witnessed, a look at reality on the ground there in Kamaishi. Things are far from settled, as we know. People dealing with aftershocks since Friday. Meteorologist Ivan Cabrera is keeping track of them, and there are many.

IVAN CABRERA, METEOROLOGIST: Indeed, many and we're still counting. In fact, I just refreshed it for you. I was thinking, you know, when tracking hurricanes and typhoons, as they make landfall, the worst is over, just a few hours later. We have clear skies after that and we're done. When you talk about an earthquake here, the aftershocks continue for hours and days and sometimes weeks at a time, and the last thing someone that has just gone through an incredible and traumatic experience like an earthquake is to feel the earth shaking beneath you because you don't know how intense the next one will be.

We have had now numerous aftershocks. Take a look at cluster here on our map and in fact, some of them have been significant here. I'll go through the list and then through the category of what they have been. We are nearing now 300 aftershocks.

We only had one major earthquake after that, happened shortly after the 8.9, which by the way is the fifth strongest earthquake we've ever recorded since we've been keeping records. There you see, 171 between 5 and 5.9. Just to put that in perspective here, that could certainly cause moderate damage here.

As we take you into the scale here, but thankfully we have not had anything above a 7.0 in quite some time. I want to do is leave you here with pictures of Kamaishi, which is just incredible here, as we fly you in. I want to show you essentially what's happened before on Google satellite and what is left of the town at this point here.

And there it is, there is Kamaishi and watch what happens after the calamity, after the tsunami hit. You can barely make out what's left. There are rescue crews in this mess trying to get people out. I will be back in the next half hour to let you know how weather conditions will play a role as that recovery effort continues. Natalie.

ALLEN: You just heard from our nuclear expert how important it is that it doesn't rain, in case there is some sort of radioactive fallout from the nuclear plants. Ivan, thank you.

Up ahead hear, a look at what's being done to help food, water, equipment. Countries are pitching into aid and rescue efforts however they can. We'll show you how you can get involved that's next.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

CHUI: Welcome back to our special coverage. We want to update you on the nuclear hazard after Japan's earthquake and tsunami. After the explosion at the Fukushima Daiichi nuclear power plant on Saturday, the prime minister's chief cabinet secretary says there may have been meltdowns in two of the three reactors.

A meltdown is a catastrophic failure, which could lead to widespread release of toxic radiation, but the cabinet secretary says radiation levels so far are not hazardous. Yet nine people have tested positive for high radiation levels due to exposure of their skin and their clothing.

The nuclear plant is only part of the story in Fukushima. There's extensive damage throughout the prefecture. The magnitude is hard to grasp. As we look at these pictures, cars and houses underwater, or simply torn to pieces. Early reports say entire communities are wiped out. ALLEN: And the world community is banding together to offer much- needed help. Dozens of countries are offering help. Among them teams have already arrived from South Korea and Singapore, Seoul has sent two rescue dogs and handlers and three assistants for searches through collapsed buildings. The U.S. military is also sending aid. The aircraft carrier Ronald Reagan has just arrived off the coast and it's preparing for relieve efforts.

CHUI: If you would like to help the victims of the Japan earthquake, you can find more information at our web site cnn.com/impact.

Our impact your world team is collecting links to organizations that are mobilizing all the relief efforts in Japan. On that page, you'll also find a link to Google's people finder database, which aims to reunite people who were separated in the chaos. As the earthquake response ramps up, we'll continue to add information to the page. So please keep checking cnn.com/impact.

ALLEN: Well, the city of Sendai was one of the worst hit. Up next, we'll show you the amazing images that show how the earthquake transformed the city's landscape in just a few minutes.

Plus, the latest on cleanup efforts from a CNN reporter on the ground. Stay with us.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

ALLEN: Our special coverage of the earthquake in Japan and the tsunami that followed continues now. The images from before and after the disaster really give a sense of the devastation there.

This is Soma on the northwest coast. As you can see, it has been almost completely flooded. A Dow chemical facility was reportedly flooded, but the company says there were no injuries.

PAULINE CHIOU, CNN ANCHOR: The city of Sendai may be the hardest hit. It's the closest to the epicenter of Friday's earthquake and it has a population of about a million people. This is a big farming area, and the loss of crops will clearly be devastating. Here's a close-up of the damage in Sendai.

A highway ripped down its center there. Helicopters are helping the rescue effort. Residents are plagued by power outages as well as food and fuel shortages. Also some 300 bodies were recovered in the town not long after Friday's quake and tsunami.

ALLEN: Amazing to watch. Believe it or not, the aftershocks from Friday's earthquake have yet to stop. Our Anna Coren is on the ground. We have her report of how the continuous shaking still has residents on edge.

CHIOU: We have to keep in mind that in all of this devastation there are still rescue operations going on in some very cold temperatures. Ivan Cabrera will give us the outlook.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK) ALLEN: Live news conference has begun now. This is the chief cabinet secretary for Japan, Yukio Edano. Let's listen in.

YUKIO EDANO, PM'S CHIEF CABINET SECRETARY (through translation): So this level, 1,557 microseivert is equivalent to three x-ray examinations on a stomach and the radiation level but lower to 184 microseivert.

According to the statistics, this is one round trip of the Japan, Tokyo, and New York and one time is 200 microseivert of the radioactive exposure. If it's accumulated at the top of the building, but we cannot deny, but for some rare occasions that may trigger explosion like yesterday. It was just like yesterday that it would not damage too much of the damage to the pressure reactor. And the reactor pressure vessel because explosion takes place on outside of the reactor pressure because the vessel is designed to withstand that much of the explosion.

And if the explosive event does take place, in some rare case, that the radioactivity in the vicinity of the power plant is as I have mentioned and therefore there's no need of additional measures of the evacuees or to the level that will adversely affect the health condition of the evacuees who are taking shelter nearby.

Explosive events or the possibility thereof, will create that the sense of fear among them and also to prevent that array -- the fear and the local people that we took this measure of analysis in advance.

So you mention that there is the possibility of the accumulation of the hydrogen of the top of the building, upper part of the building, isn't there any ways of removing the hydrogen itself?

Basically from the building or from the reactor, from this time, the difference between this time and yesterday is the vent, venting, ventilation is functioning and therefore the basically within the process of the removing the air to the outside of the building.

And in this process where this is taking place and therefore there's a high possibility that the hydrogen is now removed in the process of removing from the building to outside. But for allaying the fear of the people we took measures of reporting in advance.

Is there a meltdown over the core of the reactor?

Well, we have to be very careful with the terminology here. A part of the core, a part of the core to a certain degree of the reactor is deforming and let's say that we do not deny the possibility of the deforming of a part of the core within the reactor because of a certain am of the time there exposed outside of the water.

However, the meltdown in a general sense is a very serious because -- well, the period of time that the reactors of the core were not submerge is not long enough to come to that to the equivalent of the meltdown.

My question is exposure of the core or the rods, while the fuel is exposed and that is a meltdown to us, any data proving this?

I have not confirmed any data of what you have mentioned. The beginning you have been I injecting fresh was somewhere trouble takes place and you switch to seawater. What kind of troubles?

The number three reactors of the power plant that you are pumping into the sea water and so that are you considering that scrapping or abandoning of the power plant?

When we use seawater it will be very difficult to reuse the plant, we understand that. That means that we have to abandon this power plant in the future. According to the report from the experts they say it will be extremely difficult to continuous usage of the power plant, but realizing this for the safety measures to put into priority of safety that we took this measure.

What's the reason the radiation level was raising?

We already vented out the air from the nuclear reactor because the core if the core is not submerged for long enough, the radiation emitted from the reactor temporarily rise. So the radiation level is not harmful. 1,557 microsievert this level if exposed to this level for one hour, you are exposed to 1,557 microsievert.

If you take an x-ray on your stomach that means that you're exposed to 600 microsievert. Currently the radiation level is not harmful. So as a conclusion, I would say that this is not harmful to human health.

Do you have disclosed microsievirt in radiation levels, but was that is the level in the compound. Are you going to survey the radiation level like one kilometer, five kilometers away from the reactor?

I think the more surveying and monitor willing be better. I just held a news conference when -- because I got new information that's why I held the conference.

ALLEN: All right. That is the spokesman for the prime minister of Japan saying currently, the radiation level is not harmful and being asked by reporters about the question of if a meltdown is under way.

He said we have to be careful with terminology, but he said the meltdown in a general sense, is very serious. But reiterating he did say the radiation level is not harmful and there's no need for additional measures for evacuees.

That's the latest from Yukio Edano from the Japanese government. We'll continue to follow developments on that part of this story as we push on. We want to --

CHIOU: Natalie, two days after a huge earthquake and a tsunami hit Japan, here's some of what we know at this time. There is concern over the Fukushima Daiichi nuclear plant, and we just heard from the prime minister's chief cabinet secretary about it.

A Japanese nuclear safety official tells CNN that a meltdown may have occurred and at least one of its reactors. The official death toll stands at over 800, but there are still many people unaccounted for. In fact, a Japanese news agency reports almost 10,000 people missing from one town alone. Natalie.

ALLEN: Right, the city of Sendai one of the worst hit during Friday's earthquake. We want to get an idea of how the city's doing more than 48 hours later.

Joining me on the line now is Melissa Heng. She's been at a shelter in the city. Melisa, I'm told that you are at a gymnasium. First, tell us how you're doing.

MELISSA HENG, WITNESS (via telephone): Hi, Pauline. I'm doing OK. I think everyone here's just a little bit tired. Today, everything seems a little bit better than the last couple of days.

Electricity -- power out in some parts of Sendai. The weather has actually become warmer last few days subzero and snowing conditions and without electricity, it's very, very, cold.

ALLEN: Melissa, take us back to when all of this started. Where were you? How did you experience the earthquake? How much time did you to get out of harm's way when you heard the warning of the tsunami?

HENG: I was in a school when it happened. Actually, on Wednesday, we had a small earthquake. It was big at the time. We thought, wow, this is quite a big quake, but you know, in retrospect, it was a small one. But on Wednesday we had a quake. On Friday when the big one hit, everyone just got under the table thinking, here we go again, but it lasted a long time.

It felt very, very long. The magnitude of -- the seriousness of what was going on, I think, when everything started falling around us, happen cabinets falling down, windows smashed out, I've been in quakes before, but this was quite frankly terrifying.

As soon as the quake stopped, we were all under desks -- because that's the drill -- as soon as the quake stop, we'd evacuated everyone. A lot of people ran out of rooms, classrooms, without anything, with just the clothes that we had on so many were unprepared for the snow because we're in the middle of winter.

March is the coldest month of winter. We were in the field. It was snowing. Everybody was crying and the aftershocks were frequent and strong, as well. So for about the first hour, it was -- it was quite -- we had a rough time. Everybody was just scared. Nobody knew what was going on then. It was just a bit frightening.

ALLEN: Can you begin to describe how terrifying it was when you realized the tsunami was bearing down?

HENG: I think the worst -- one of the worst things for many people I'm with is that the phone lines have been down. You know, many people here have families who live in the neighboring prefectures, many of my colleagues have parents, elderly parents who live on the coast. Because the phone lines have been down, no one's been able to call anybody. No one's been able to get any updates how their families have fared or whether they're safe. Even the first time, many parents came looking for their children and nobody knew where anybody was and I think that lack of contact made things even more frightening than were.

ALLEN: Absolutely, can't imagine. I'm sure people at the shelter are in shock of what they're going through. Melissa Heng, we thank you so much for talking with us. We're glad we're able to reach you. We wish you well.

Racing to prevent a nuclear disaster. We have the latest on the dangerous situation at the Daiichi plant in Fukushima and what is being done about it as we push on here.

CHIOU: Also just ahead -- the toll on Japan's businesses. We'll take a look at what's been happening with some of the country's biggest industries. We're back in just a few minutes.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

ALLEN: The latest on one of the biggest post-quake concerns in Japan, the threat of radiation after the explosion at Fukushima Daiichi nuclear power plant on Saturday. The prime minister's chief cabinet secretary says there may have been meltdowns in two of the plant's three reactors.

A meltdown is a catastrophic failure, which could lead to widespread release of toxic radiation. But the cabinet secretary said moments ago there are no indications yet of dangerously high radiation levels in the atmosphere.

Yet, more than 200,000 people have been ordered to leave the area and nine people have tested positive for high radiation levels, due to exposure of their skin and clothing.

CHIOU: The massive earthquake and tsunami deliver another blow to an economy that's already reeling. Japan has been in and out of recession for two decades now, and it's dealing with deflation as well. Global oil prices fell on news of the earthquake.

Japan is one of the world's top oil consumers, third in imports, behind the United States and China and questions remain about the damage to Japan's oil refineries. There were fires in dozens of locates including a refinery near Tokyo.

Also Toyota, Nissan, Sony have shut down their facilities. Two of Toyota plants located near the hardest hit areas. Toyota does not know when it will resume production there.

And supplies are running low in the aftermath of this huge quake and tsunami in hard hit areas like Sendai, rescuers are still under way. But those who have survived are having difficulty finding the basic necessities to live day to day. People are standing in long lines at grocery stores and gas stations. When they get there, shelves were bare. Thomas Nixon shot this photo at a convenience store in Harajuki in Japan. He said he had a feeling the shelves would be bare after Friday's quake.

And we also heard from Ryan McDonald a little bit earlier and he put it this way.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

RYAN MCDONALD, EYEWITNESS: The biggest problem right now we have is there's no food anywhere. This is what I had for dinner, 12 hours ago. I have had nothing to eat since then. I had some orange juice.

This is all I've had in 12 hours. All of the convenience stores are closed, grocery stores are closed. Everyone's on the road trying to find something open and it's just gridlock everywhere.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

CHIOU: The earthquake was so powerful it literally shook the entire island of Japan so much so that the country's geography has now physically changed. Chad Myers explains.

CHAD MYERS, CNN SEVERE WEATHER EXPERT: Here's Japan. This would be - it's actually the North America plate. I know it doesn't make any sense because you're thinking that's not North America, but the Pacific plate is the one that was going under Japan.

Japan sits on the North America plate and the Eurasia plates right behind it, but a little sliver of the North American plate is where Japan sits on. When the stresses were building up, the Pacific plate coming in from Hawaii, the Pacific plate is pushing into Japan, and going under Japan's, it's called subducting.

So the subduction zone here is going under. The part that was Japan here that this plays on begins to curl in. It begins to get stresses on it. Go ahead and hit play. The stresses here get pushed in, pushed in, pushed in, and all of a sudden, at the very last minute right before the earthquake, and there is the earthquake, it pops.

And when it pops, it pops the landmass, pushes up the water, and the water gets pushed out as a tsunami. So the story and you'll find it on CNN.com, as well, is that after the earthquake, Japan is now eight feet closer to America than it was before the earthquake. Because it was getting pushed, pushed, pushed, all of a sudden, Japan popped to the east by 8 feet. They know this because there are a number of GPS locations on Japan and these little pins have moved.

Most of them have moved about eight feet. It will be interesting as well to see if part of Japan and I know this will happen, has gone up or down. There will be spots, there will be some of these pins that they'll find them that they went up or down in elevation as well, not just up or down, back and forth, but the story is -- I know eight feet seems like a big deal. But the Banda Aceh quake back in 2004 moved Banda Aceh 20 meters -- do the math -- that's 60 feet. So this was a big quake, of course, but the Banda Aceh quake actually moved the islands there around Indonesia by 60 feet.

Now think of this, the axis issue, the same question. Think of an ice skater with her arms out going slowly and as soon as she brings her arms in, she moves quicker. Well, the arms now are a little bit further out because the islands have moved so the axis of rotation has moves by four inches.

CHIOU: That's Chad Myers reporting, explaining how powerful the earthquake was, so powerful that it moved Japan eight feet to the east. We'll be right back after this break.

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ALLEN: Pictures are simply unbelievable. A young woman I just spoke with a few moments ago at a shelter in Sendai said part of the problem for many people there. They don't know where their loved ones are and whether they're OK.

There is desperation, as you can imagine, hundreds, perhaps thousands of Japanese look for loved ones in the aftermath of the quake trying to call, reach out, poring over lists of those evacuated, seeking information.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE (through translation): My husband hasn't come here yet. He left home a little later than me. Our house was swept away.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE (through translation): I'm looking for my son's wife. I have no idea which shelter she is in.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE (through translation): My son might have been engulfed by the tsunami. I hope he's taking shelter somewhere. I'm struggling to locate him.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

CHIOU: One woman who made it out alive talked about her dramatic escape from the tsunami with her baby.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE (through translation): When I got home, I had a neighbor shouting, tsunami coming, when I got out of the house I saw the tsunami approaching. The elementary school, the evacuation site was too far so I fled to a footbridge.

We were soaking wet. Other people fled to the footbridge helped to keep us warm. We are all right thanks to the help. I'm relieved that my baby was not harmed.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

ALLEN: A few that are OK. We'll continue to follow this story of course. I'm Natalie Allen at CNN center in Atlanta.

CHIOU: And I'm Pauline Chiou at CNN in Hongkong. We continue our extensive coverage of the situation in Japan at the top of the hour. You're watching CNN.

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