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Japanese Town has More Dead Than Living; Race to Prevent Nuclear Meltdown; Gadhafi Forces Retake Town; Controlling Libya's Electricity; Quake Might Spike Tech Prices; Worst Quakes in Japan's History; Earthquake Early Warning; Congress Expected to Pass Stop-Gap Bill This Week; AWOL State Senators in Wisconsin Back Home; Bachmann Makes Historical Gaffe

Aired March 13, 2011 - 14:00   ET

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


FREDRICKA WHITFIELD, CNN ANCHOR: American search and rescue teams, on the ground, ready to urgently assist in Japan after that huge earthquake and tsunami.

Also, conflicting reports on a possible nuclear meltdown there. What's actually happening?

And all of this causing a sizeable economic impact in Japan, the U.S., and beyond.

You're in the CNN NEWSROOM. I'm Fredricka Whitfield.

We'll get to all of those angles in Japan and beyond. But first, a look at some other top stories.

In the Middle East, Yemeni security forces fired guns and tear gas at protesters outside Sana'a University today. At least 110 people were hurt. Protesters are angry over high unemployment and what they see as government corruption and a lack of political freedom.

Two men with ties to Egypt's former leader have been arrested for orchestrating this assault on protesters in Cairo's Tahrir Square. Armed attackers charged through the crowd on horses and camels last month. Nine days later, Hosni Mubarak was overthrown.

And in the U.S., New York police and the NTSB are investigating a bus crash that killed 14 people. There are conflicting reports about what caused the bus to flip and swerve into a pole yesterday. The driver says he was cut off by a semi-truck, but witnesses say the bus was speeding.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

RAY KELLY, NEW YORK POLICE COMMISSIONER: The bus turned on its side. And as a result, the pole of the stanchion, in essence, cut the bus in half.

CHIEF EDWARD KILDUFF, NEW YORK FIRE DEPT.: We had about seven or eight people pinned in the rear of the bus that we had to actually cut out by either removing seats or we cut a hole in the roof of the bus.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

WHITFIELD: The bus driver was hospitalized with non-life-threatening injuries.

And residents of northern New Jersey are hoping today could be the start of a drying trend. Days of heavy rain have soaked the state. Evacuated residents in Red Cross shelters want to go home, but there's still major flooding in the cities of Patterson and Wayne, where two big rivers crested overnight.

And at a Texas air show, a wing-walking team is critically injured after their aerobatics plane crash-landed. It happened in Brownsville yesterday. Take a look.

A woman was doing her wing-walking act when the plane's engine simply failed. Her husband, the pilot, got the plane to the ground, as you saw there, but then it caught fire. Both suffered extensive burns.

Now to our focus on Japan.

Japanese officials say it's possible a minor meltdown has already happened at a nuclear plant in northeast Japan. Monitors detected what may have been the melting of a fuel rod at the plant, but they say there's no sign of dangerous radiation levels in the area.

On CNN's "STATE OF THE UNION" today, Candy Crowley asked Japan's ambassador to the United States about efforts to cool the reactors.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

ICHIRO FUJISAKI, JAPANESE AMB. TO U.S.: It is better to put in clear water, but we do not have enough supply of clear water there. So we are putting in seawater to cool it down.

CANDY CROWLEY, HOST, "STATE OF THE UNION": So it's not necessarily a sign that things are dire, it is a sign that you don't have the kind of water you'd like to use?

FUJISAKI: We do not -- if there's clear water, it would be better for the reactor itself. But in order to cool down, seawater would have the same effect as clear water. And the effect we are trying to get is trying to get the reactor to cool down.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

WHITFIELD: In just a few minutes, we'll talk with an expert on nuclear plants on other measures that might be considered.

Japan has now started rolling blackouts and turned off the lights at major landmarks to conserve electricity. The nation is struggling to repair power plants that Friday's earthquake and tsunami damaged. 1.3 million Japanese are still without power today.

An American carrier group is running emergency supplies into Japanese coastal towns. The USS Ronald Reagan was already in the area when the earthquake struck. Japan's prime minister said today that this is Japan's worst crisis since World War II, and made a call for national unity.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

NAOTO KAN, JAPANESE PRIME MINISTER (through translator): Please, I ask each one of you, please have such determination, and to deepen your bond with your family members, neighbors, and the people in your community to overcome this crisis so that Japan can be a better place. We can build together. This is the message I'd like to emphasize to the Japanese people.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

WHITFIELD: Rescue teams are searching for quake survivors in Sendai, Japan. That's the city closest to the quake epicenter.

And as CNN's Kyung Lah discovered, it's now a town in ruins.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

KYUNG LAH, CNN INTERNATIONAL CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): Military helicopters continue the search for the living in the tsunami-ravaged city of Sendai. In this one residential area called Futaki, rescuers are still pulling the injured to safety. A silver gurney lifts a survivor.

But increasingly, the found are the dead. Search crews pull a body from the waters, someone who drowned in a car. Another body lies under this tarp. The large number of military and search crews finding more dead and fewer living victims as the hours pass.

"Frightening beyond belief," says Hiroki Utimo (ph). "I have no words." Utimo's (ph) mother and uncle are missing and feared dead. They were both home as the tsunami came into Futaki. Utimo (ph) and his father, now waiting for word.

Witnesses here say the first tsunami wave was as high as the top of this tree line, tossing cars like toys into piles, blasting out windows, crushing homes, or sweeping them away completely. This flooded area once had a row of houses. Now, gone.

(on camera): The force of the tsunami flipped this truck completely upside-down. It landed here, at this elementary school, wheels up. This school is quite a bit inland, but you really start to see the signs of the tsunami.

You can see how high the water and the debris line here, especially against the white wall of the school, and the power of the tsunami. The doors of the school are completely blown off. And look down the hallway. That's a car.

Four hundred and fifty students, teachers and workers were in the school when the tsunami warning came. Many managed to escape. But the Japanese military says they pulled bodies from the school.

The residents of Futaki started returning home, but only briefly, then carrying out what they could to evacuation centers. They face challenges on dry land -- little gas, long lines wrapped around the few stations open, and even longer lines of people, several blocks long, at food and water distribution centers. A waiting game on multiple fronts for these tsunami survivors.

Kyung Lah, CNN, Sendai, Japan.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

WHITFIELD: So, looking at the destruction there in Sendai, it's hard to imagine what that area looked like before this one-two punch of an earthquake and then a tsunami.

CNN's Reggie Aqui is with us now to show us an astonishing view of the before and after.

REGGIE AQUI, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Yes, Fred, this is pretty amazing stuff that we're seeing. And there's a real thirst for people to go to our Web site and check this out. So I'm going to try to kind of lead you through this.

This is what the landing page is like when you go there. And there's a site that you can click on here that goes to an image of Japan. And as you click on the various images here, you'll see photos that come up, video that comes up.

I'm going to show you right now, this areas that we've been focused on for the past 24 hours, at least, and this is the power plant that we've been talking about and the possible meltdown there. This is a before picture of what it looked like.

I want you to take particular notice of these buildings that are at the bottom and closest to the water on this image. I'm going to scroll this over from before to after. You're going to see that all of these buildings that were at the bottom of the image are now gone.

And we have this for Sendai. We have it for the Sendai Airport.

Getting a little closer now to that area, in Fukushima, you can see what is happening there, as many of the -- many of the people who live in the area are now tested for radiation. In fact, we're told at one hospital, at least one in five people was being tested for that radiation.

Going to show you, again, another before-and-after picture before I leave you here.

This is the town of Ishinomaki. And you can see it's very populated in this area, very close to the sea. I'm going to take that from before and show you the after. These homes, now under water or missing.

Then you can go to the photos here --

WHITFIELD: The water has kind of engulfed it.

AQUI: Yes, absolutely. And you can see up close then, Fred, when you click on the photos that we have, what it looks like as they're rescuing some of the elderly in the area.

And this is the photo that continues to haunt me as I look at it, this woman, standing in town, all the destruction behind her, a blanket around her, and that face. I mean, that's a face that many people in Japan --

WHITFIELD: Shocked.

AQUI: -- are now wearing as they walk around today.

WHITFIELD: Yes. Very sad, indeed. All right. Thanks so much, Reggie Aqui, for that incredible look at the before and after and what people are dealing with from this point on.

All right. Back in Japan, and around the world, people are scared about a possible nuclear meltdown. Could a simple thing like weather actually help or hurt?

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

WHITFIELD: People in Japan and all over the world, for that matter, are worried about the risk of a nuclear meltdown in Japan. Two nuclear plants have released radiation beyond normal levels since the earthquake and tsunami hit.

James Walsh is a CNN contributor and an international security expert.

Good to see you.

JAMES WALSH, CNN CONTRIBUTOR: Good to see you, Fredricka.

WHITFIELD: All right. Well, first of all, let me ask you to respond to this report of this fuel rod possibly melting in Japan. What would that mean, if that were the case?

WALSH: Well, you have to think about this along a continuum. If the fuel rod melts a little, that's not good. But that's not the same thing as having a full meltdown.

WHITFIELD: OK.

WALSH: And that's what we're -- that's what people are guessing might have happened in two of those plants, Fukushima 1 and Fukushima 3, that so much water had boiled off inside the reactor, that the fuel rods were exposed to the air or otherwise began to melt, and then some of that particulate from that fuel escaped into the atmosphere and then it was picked up by a sensor. That's the theory right now.

WHITFIELD: OK. So then now explain what the meltdown is.

WALSH: Yes. The meltdown, well, that is a partial meltdown. And we saw that in Three Mile Island, where you had a partial meltdown. But that meltdown was contained by the containment vessel.

There are two walls in those Fukushima plants whose expressed purpose is to keep that molten material from leaking out into the environment. It's the last line of defense to prevent a meltdown from reaching the Earth and then being dispersed -- you know, exploding and being dispersed like what happened in Chernobyl.

WHITFIELD: OK. So we heard some of the Japanese officials say that that containment wall, at least in one of those plants, was the result of the explosion, or it participated in some way to that explosion.

What likely would have happened there?

WALSH: Well, the theory is that there is a buildup of hydrogen that then ignited. But both the International Atomic Energy Agency and the local officials in Japan maintain that the containment vessel has maintained its integrity, that it has not yet breached. There's no seen that it has been breached.

So one would hope that if there is a partial melting or a full melting of those fuel rods, that the containment vessel would still be able to hold them so that they wouldn't leak out. But we don't know that, Fredricka. And it's not an experiment you want to run.

You don't want to put this to the test, because this is the last step here before really bad things happen. So, the main focus right now is trying to continue to cool those plants so that those fuel rods do not melt. And that's why you have seawater being poured in, as well as the other measures that are being taken.

WHITFIELD: And what do you suppose the effectiveness of that seawater is that's being used to kind of flood this plant?

WALSH: Well, one would have thought that that would have been highly effective. But when they -- they're doing it twice now. They're doing it for unit one and unit three.

They poured it into unit one, and there still seemed to be problems. It did not cool down as fast as people would have anticipated. That raised questions about whether there were problems with the pumps or whether there was an issue with some leakage. But it appears now that unit one is cooling down, and the government maintains that it's under control.

Now we're moving on to a second round of this in unit three, and the evidence is still early. The latest report is that they have not yet covered the fuel rods, but they're pouring in the water as fast as they can.

WHITFIELD: OK.

WALSH: The other thing to say about this, Fredricka, is that's the poison pill. When you do that, when you pour the seawater in, you're essentially throwing your hands up and saying this plant is never going to run again, this is a dead plant, because that seawater is going to corrode everything inside.

WHITFIELD: So, later on in the afternoon, we're going to talk to you about the economic impact, because that will be a component of that economic impact for Japan a bit later on. But right now, too, talk to me about the weather and how this might impact the containment of any kind of plumes of smoke, chemical, grains, anything that may be in the air. If there's wind, if there's rain, if it indeed might snow, how might that impact or impair any of this?

WALSH: Yes. It's a great question. And you're right to ask it.

Well, when the weather is in your favor, the wind will blow any effluent, any of the vapor. Anything that's vented or escapes from that plant could blow it out to sea if it blows east. But if it blows west, it could blow it back on to Japanese territory, or further on into East Asia, and disperse it.

Now, if it rains, that's a good news and bad news situation. The rain will cleanse some of that material, radioactive material, out of the atmosphere, and so it will fall to the ground. It won't travel as far. But where it does fall, it will be more concentrated. So there's a bit of a tradeoff there.

WHITFIELD: And further contaminate.

And then you said blowing east still a possibility.

WALSH: Exactly.

WHITFIELD: Do you see that possibly blowing very far east, thousands of miles, that it would in any way impact the West Coast of the U.S.?

WALSH: You know, I think that's highly unlikely. We saw during Chernobyl, when you had a full-blown meltdown, you saw trace elements that were found around the globe, in far-off distances, but not at levels that one would have expected to be a health hazard or anything like that. They just sort of showed up. With the amount that they're venting right now, this is not going to be a global issue.

WHITFIELD: All right. Got you.

All right. Jim Walsh, thanks so much. We'll see you again in one hour or so from now. Thanks so much.

WALSH: Looking forward to it.

WHITFIELD: Let's check in with our Jacqui Jeras and talk a little bit more about the impact of the weather.

We heard Jim talking about different things that might happen as a result if there's rain, more concentration, if the wind shifts one way or the other. That could potentially also be a problem.

JACQUI JERAS, CNN METEOROLOGIST: Yes. And we're going to have both of those things, actually, in the next 24 to 36 hours or so.

(WEATHER REPORT)

WHITFIELD: And, of course, there are weather woes right here in the U.S., including in the Northeast. And right now, a very anxious wait in New Jersey, in particular. Flood watches and warnings are still in place. And relief could be days away.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

WHITFIELD: Time to go "X Country" now for a look at some of the other stories that our affiliates are covering.

Government records show a tour bus company involved in a deadly crash has been involved in at least two other accidents with injuries in the last two years. The bus overturned yesterday in the Bronx, New York, killing 14 people. Investigators are still trying to determine the cause.

And in New Jersey, flood warnings and watches are in place along several rivers and streams. The Passaic River is at major flood stage, but has started to recede some. The flooding has driven hundreds of people from their homes.

And on to Oklahoma, firefighters are still trying to contain several big wildfires east of Oklahoma City. The flames have destroyed at least 40 homes.

(WEATHER REPORT)

WHITFIELD: All right. Japanese officials, well, they're desperately trying to prevent yet another nuclear catastrophe. An update on that effort after these images of a devastated country.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

WHITFIELD: Officials are keeping a close watch on the nuclear plants there in northeastern Japan. Already, monitors have detected what may have been the melting of a fuel rod at one of the plants, but there's no sign of dangerous radiation levels in the area.

And in the wake of last week's earthquake and tsunami, 1.3 million Japanese households are still without power today. Japan's prime minister says that to prevent a massive power outage, the Japanese people will have to endure rolling blackouts.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

KAN (through translator): We could fall into power outage in a wide area, and sudden power failure could devastate the lives of people, as well as to the industrial activities. And this is something that we must avoid.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

WHITFIELD: In Bahrain, more violent anti-government protests. Police fired tear gas at one of several demonstrations in the kingdom's capital. In another protest, several people were hurt at Bahrain University when supporters of the royal family faced off with student protesters. And forces loyal to Libya's Moammar Gadhafi are back in control of Al Brega. Libyan state television reports the troops retook the town, but opposition leaders tell CNN their forces left, calling it "tactical retreat."

Al Brega is very important because it's the site of a large oil refinery and natural gas processing plant. The group who controls the region could turn off electricity in key parts of the region. We'll have report from Ben Wedeman in Benghazi on that in just about 20 minutes from now.

Nearly 1,600 people are now confirmed dead in Japan. As rescue workers and reporters reached the hardest-hit areas, expect that number to grow even more. CNN's Gary Tuchman has been driving across Japan and came across some of the worst devastation that he's seen so far.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

GARY TUCHMAN, CNN CORRESPONDENT: This is Minamisanriku, Japan about three miles from the Pacific Ocean. Never in my career of covering natural disasters have I seen a town so utterly pulverized. Just completely mowed down, but this is not from the earthquake.

This is from the tsunami and we know that, because this is where the water stopped on its way from the ocean. If you go to the half-mile if here, a half-mile to the west, there's absolutely no damage whatsoever in the nearby neighborhoods. But here, there's nothing left. We see cars, we see trucks, we see motor homes, trees, personal belongings of people all over the place and they come from all over this town of 20,000 people.

Now there are still thousands of people unaccounted for. That doesn't mean they're all dead. It doesn't mean they're all hurt. It's hard to keep track of people. But the fact is, there are still many bodies under this rubble. Throughout the day today and yesterday, ambulances were coming in and out. They heard people screaming. They took them out.

Right now, we hear no more voices. We're being told by rescue emergency officials, they don't believe there's anyone still alive in the rubble. But as we said, there are still people who perished in this earthquake and the tsunami. I think what's really unusual about the situation, is we drove across the country from the west coast of Japan to here on the east coast. And we saw virtually no damage whatsoever until we got to this spot three miles away from the Pacific Ocean.

We're still feeling aftershocks here. That caused a lot of anxiety in Japan as it did in Haiti last year after the January 12th earthquake there. The aftershocks continue for a long time. Many people to this day refuse to go do their homes in Haiti, scared that the homes will collapse because of the aftershocks and that's the situation in Japan, a lot of anxiety after the 8.9 earthquake and the tsunami which has killed so many people. This is Gary Tuchman in the earthquake zone, in Japan. (END VIDEOTAPE)

WHITFIELD: Dozens of countries are offering to help Japan. Take a look at the map. The countries in gold have either already sent crews and supplies, or have announced that they intend to offer assistance. Even the poor southern Afghan city of Kandahar announced it is donating $50,000 to what it calls its brothers and sisters in Japan.

One of the first U.S. search teams are now on the ground in Japan and CNN's Brian Todd is embedded with them. He was able to send this report before the team headed to the areas where we might not be able to make contact again soon.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

BRIAN TODD, CNN CORRESPONDENT: We just landed at Masawa Air Base in northern Japan with the Fairfax County and the L.A. County search and rescue teams. This is the Fairfax County group. You see preparing their gear. They're waiting for the orders as to where to deploy into the quake zone where the worst-hit areas are.

They have a lot of equipment that has been brought with them. Along with dog teams and inflatable boats, jackhammers, things like that all the things they're going to need to go into these areas and extract victims from the rubble of the quake. It's been a long haul from Washington, D.C. area for this team, we stopped in L.A. to pick up the L.A. County search and rescue team and headed to Anchorage, Alaska and landed here in Misawa Air Base.

Just in a bit of a holding pattern now for the next couple of hours, waiting for orders to deploy into the quake zone. These guys are very eager to get started. What they'll do, as soon as we get to the quake zone is set up a base camp and even while they're doing that some of the team will be out just doing recon and already getting into those areas to start to extract people from the rubble. Brian Todd, CNN, Misawa Air Base, Japan.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

WHITFIELD: Next, how Japan's tsunami and earthquake could affect electronics. Our tech guru, Marc Saltzman has the details next.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

WHITFIELD: The Japanese tsunami and earthquake could affect the cost and availability of consumer electronics. Tech guru, Marc Saltzman joins me live from Toronto. So Marc, what is likely to happen?

MARC SALTZMAN, TECHNOLOGY ANALYST: Well, keep in mind, some of the biggest tech companies are based in Japan. We're talking Sony, Panasonic, Toshiba, Sharp, Kyosira, Fujitsu, Nintendo, and Sanyo. The list goes on and on.

So what's likely to happen is there are going to be some major shipment delays, as predicted by a few market research firms, as well as inflatable costs in the short term. Keep in mind, it's not just Japanese companies here that are being affected.

Even American tech companies like Power Houses like Apple, or Sandisk, they order their parts often from Japan. Forty percent of all flash memory comes from Japan. So this is likely to have a domino effect around the world.

WHITFIELD: So that means there are likely to be shipping delays as well?

SALTZMAN: Yes, that's correct. So there's going to be some shipping delays. We've got some major launches around this time of year as well. The iPad II just debuted in the U.S. on Friday as well as around the world on the 25th of March.

We've got two weeks today, the Nintendo 3DS, the portable gaming system about to make its debut, the first gaming system with a 3D display that doesn't require glasses. You know, presumably, the first batch, the first shipment of these units has been sent around the world already, getting ready for retail.

But even Toshiba says in a company statement and I quote, "in addition to delivery interruptions that may arise from factory damage, shipments of product may be affected by disruptions in road, rail, sea and air transportation within and from Japan." So they're bracing for these delays.

WHITFIELD: And so I imagine stock prices of a lot of these tech companies will be impacted as well?

SALTZMAN: Yes, they already have. It hasn't been catastrophic, but we've already seen dips on Friday. Sony is down 2.4 percent. Kyosira slid 3 percent and Panasonic dropped 1.77 percent.

But keep in mind, and unfortunately, the worst, you know, hopefully the worst is behind them in Japan because the company, the country is still bracing for aftershocks. You know, as big as 7-magnitude aftershock as well as trying to contain a nuclear meltdown.

So let's hope and pray that the worst is behind them and that it's upwards and onwards, but it's clear that investors are nervous, as reflected in the stock prices.

WHITFIELD: Yes and of course a lot of people, last thing on their minds there is technology and the manufacturing and shipping, et cetera.

But we ask these questions because it does make a sizeable economic potentially a sizeable economic impact on a country that's already been suffering quite extensively over the past few years. Marc Saltzman, thanks so much. Appreciate that.

SALTZMAN: Thanks, Fredricka.

WHITFIELD: So as terrible as it is, Japan's national disaster could have been much worse, an early earthquake warning system may have helped save a whole lot of lives, we'll find out exactly how it works. (COMMERCIAL BREAK)

WHITFIELD: The last time Japan experienced an earthquake like this 8.9-magnitude monster was nearly 90 years ago. The great Kanto quake, Japan's deadliest. The 7.9 quake hit in 1923, killing more than 140,000 people.

The next deadliest was the 1995 Kobe quake, with a 7.2 magnitude, 6,400 people died in that quake. So Japan has learned a lot from these previous earthquakes, especially the Kobe quake.

Jacqui Jeras right here now to give us an idea of the kind of very sophisticated system they have in place to help people know what's on the rise.

JACQUI JERAS, AMS METEOROLOGIST: This is one of the best, if not the best in the world in terms of early warning and that can make all the difference in terms of saving lives, right? The more time you have to prepare, the better off you'll be.

Japan has been working on this for over a decade and it cost hundreds of millions of dollars. It's an automatic system and it's not just getting the warning that you guys see on your television when you say earthquake warning or tsunami warning. This is integrated into all different parts of society.

And even when kids are really small, elementary school, they go through these earthquake drills. They have, you know, helmets on their head and they're prepared and everybody takes it seriously. So let's talk a little bit more about it. We have some video that I want to show you that gives you an example of how they were alerted and what happened.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

JERAS (voice-over): There you can see. This is actually parliament that was in session and they were talking. And as we go throughout the video, there you can see the warning alerted on the bottom of the screen. And if you look at the guys in the second row on the right hand side, it takes about eight seconds, all of a sudden they all start looking up.

And so they had a little bit of warning before they started to feel this and this was in Tokyo by the way, which was over 100 miles away from the epicenter. So the warning comes up. It's not just on your television. It's not just on the radio. You can get apps on your Smartphone or you can get alerted that it will even override it if you're on silence. Factory production is halted immediately.

So if production is going on to prevent any additional breaking or anything like that going on and bullet trains are literally stopped in their tracks where they are. Whether out in the open country or maybe even a tunnel. They will stop those bullet trains because they think that will be a safer situation if that thing kept on going. How does it work?

(END VIDEO CLIP)

JERAS: Basically there's millions and thousands of little sensors, which are all over the place in Japan. You know, you hear about the seismograms and they're also on the ocean floor and they detect any kind of movement in the earth's crust.

Now when an earthquake occurs, there are two different types of waves, p waves and s waves. These are the p waves, and it's basically just kind of a compression wave. They come first and they come the fastest.

Following those p waves, are the s waves and these are the ones that go up and down and they're the ones that cause the damage. So these sensors see those p waves that are coming, they send out the warning before that damage occurs and in this situation, I think there was probably about 40 to 60 seconds before they felt the earthquake.

While that doesn't sound like a lot, it might be enough time to get you underneath something sturdy or get you outdoors, in more of a safe condition. On top of that, they have the tsunami warning, which took place and they probably had between 15 and 30 minutes to get to higher ground and sometimes you have to evacuate up to get yourself to a safer position.

WHITFIELD: OK, in about 10 seconds or less, does the U.S. have a system, anything like say the earthquake system?

JERAS: The simple answer is no. We don't have anything automated. We do have a warning system in place, but we're working on it. The USGS says they hope they're five years and a couple million dollars away from having this.

WHITFIELD: All right, Jacqui Jeras, thank you so much. We'll check back with you momentarily.

Time for a CNN Equals Politics update. We're keeping an eye on the latest headlines on the cnn.com/politics desk. Here's what's crossing right now.

U.S. Congress must take action this week to prevent the government from shutting down on Friday. That's when funding runs out. Republicans and Democrats are expected to pass another short-term money extension to avoid a federal government shutdown while negotiations on the final budget bill continue.

A homecoming this weekend in Wisconsin for 14 Democratic senators who fled the state to block a vote on a bill cutting public workers' union rights. They were greeted by cheering crowds at the state capitol. The Republican-controlled Senate passed the controversial bill last week without the Democrats by taking out its spending provisions.

And an historical gaffe from a potential presidential hopeful during a trip to New Hampshire. Congresswoman Michelle Bachman told the crowd, quote, "you're the state where the shot was heard round the world at Lexington and Concord." Those 1775 battles of Lexington and Concord were in fact fought in Massachusetts. And for the latest political news, you know exactly where to go CNNPolitics.com.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

WHITFIELD: In other news, from overseas.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

WHITFIELD (voice-over): More than 100 people reportedly were hurt in Yemen's capital after security forces fired guns and tear gas at protesters outside Sunaa University. Crowds of young people have been demonstrating over high unemployment and ha they see as government corruption.

Egypt's military has started rebuilding a burned-out church. Authorities believe it was torched because of a feud between Muslim and Coptic Christian families. That has sparked even more fighting and protest.

And forces loyal to Moammar Gadhafi are back in control of Al Brega. Libyan state television reports the troops retook the town, but opposition leaders tell CNN their forces left, calling it a quote, "tactical retreat."

(END VIDEO CLIP)

WHITFIELD: So who controls Al Brega is significant in Libya's evolving civil war. It means they have their hands on the on and off switch for electricity in the region. Our Ben Wedeman explains.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

BEN WEDEMAN, CNN SENIOR INTERNATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: The Libyan government continues to advance. The latest is that they've taken over the strategic town of Al Brega, which is about two hours' drive west of Benghazi.

Now, Brega is very important because it's the site of a very large oil refinery and natural gas processing plant. In fact, the natural gas from Al Brega is what fuels the power plants for Benghazi itself. Who controls that power plant can turn off the electricity in what is effect the capital of the revolution in Libya.

Now at this point, it would appear that the government forces control Ras Lanouf and Al Brega, two very important cities. And there's not much to stop the government forces getting to Benghazi, where I am. It's about a two-hour drive on a largely undefended highway.

What we've seen so far is despite their spirit and determination. The anti-Gadhafi forces continue to be unorganized and essentially completely outgunned, unable to stop this advance by forces loyal to Moammar Gadhafi. I'm Ben Wedeman, CNN, reporting from Benghazi.

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WHITFIELD: And reminiscent of rescues after Katrina, there are rooftop rescues taking place in Japan. More on that after this.

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WHITFIELD: In Japan, the search for survivors is still under way in neighborhoods swallowed by walls of water from the tsunami. Earlier this morning, CNN international correspondent, Anna Coren was in the town of Ishinomaki and described to CNN Pauline Chiu the damage she saw.

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ANNA COREN, CNN CORRESPONDENT (via telephone): The tsunami has just ripped through this city. We're on the outskirts of the neighborhood and I'm just seeing house after house, demolished, absolutely obliterated. There is debris absolutely everywhere.

Roofs were down, houses on their side. Boats tossed around. It just -- it's a scene of complete and utter devastation, Pauline. We've been with the military on what, you know, we hope to be a search & rescue operation. It quickly became a recovery operation, Pauline.

Bodies were recovered, they were removed from the houses and that is what is turning into. While there may be hope of finding some survivors at the end of the day. Where I am, people are really just, just coming out in body bags. It's really quite tragic. That is the scene where I am at the moment. And you just have to wonder, Pauline, as people come back, how they're going to rebuild their lives.

PAULINE CHIU, CNN ANCHOR: Anna, as we're talking with you, we are seeing some taped video of a helicopter that appears to be pulling someone from a rooftop. I'm not sure if it could possibly be a survivor or possibly a rescue crew member.

But at this point, you're saying that it's more of a search-and- recovery effort. Are you hearing anything from residents that you've been able to talk to on the ground, about their situation? What they're hoping to do moving forward?

COREN: Well, I think people are able to get to the second story of their buildings and sturdy, strong, well-built buildings. They could very well have survived. That's probably why the helicopters are able to rescue people off their rooftops.

We spoke to one man here who said he climbed on to the roof while the tsunami rolled through. He said he was so very lucky to be alive. We spoke to know man who got the warning, got in his car and, and drove off to higher ground.

But where I am, a lot of elderly people, this is also quite a rural farming community, with the pockets of houses, sort of estates so lots of houses. And there are lots of helicopters flying over me. There are so many people, particularly the elderly. They weren't able to get out.

It was less than half an hour between the quake and the actual tsunami roaring through this area. So to the elderly, you know, so many of them just weren't able to get out. So from the bodies that we have seen retrieved from the houses today, many of them, most of them were elderly.

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