Return to Transcripts main page

The Situation Room

Devastation in Japan; Debris, Water and 140+ Aftershocks; Conflicting Reports on Meltdown

Aired March 12, 2011 - 19:00   ET


WOLF BLITZER, CNN ANCHOR: And since filing that report, Brian is now on the way to Japan with the Fairfax Search and Rescue Team. He'll be reporting later from Japan for all of us.

We want to welcome our viewers here in the United States and around the world. This is a special edition of THE SITUATION ROOM.

Happening now: conflicting reports about a dangerous emergency at one of Japan's earthquake-damaged nuclear power plants. An official with Japan's Nuclear and Industrial Safety Agency tells CNN a meltdown may, repeat, may be under way. But Japan's ambassador to the United States tells me that's not true. He says there is no meltdown.

On top of that, we're seeing reports of a second reactor at the same facility -- report that it failed just hours ago.

But the story and the scope of the disaster is much bigger. The official death toll from Friday's catastrophic earthquake and tsunami is now at 686, but the toll will be much, much higher. In just one town, nearly 10,000 people are now formally officially listed as missing. So far, at least 3,000 people have been rescued.

You're watching CNN's continuing coverage of the disaster in Japan. I'm Wolf Blitzer. You're in THE SITUATION ROOM.


BLITZER: Let's beginning with the breaking news right now at that nuclear power plant: a state of emergency is in effect for three reactors at these nuclear power facilities, the same place where an explosion today injured four people. As we said, there are conflicting reports about a meltdown in one of the reactors. A meltdown is a catastrophic failure of the reactor core with a potential for a widespread release of radiation.

CNN's Anna Coren is in Sendai, a port city closest to the quake's epicenter, a city -- a city of about 1 million people. It was devastated, though, by the tsunami. Anna is joining us now.

Anna, just tell us about these two most recent aftershocks that you've just experienced.

ANNA COREN, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Wolf, we have experienced two major aftershocks in the last couple of hours to the point where everything is moving. We're, obviously, standing outside a building. But we're seeing our television equipment, it was moving. The trees were moving.

The earlier one, I was actually inside the building. And that was far more distressing because you're feeling the building sway from side to side. And the lines were moving as well.

But as we have mentioned, Wolf, this is a country that is used to earthquakes and is used to aftershocks. But what has devastated this place so much, particularly Sendai and the northeast of Japan, is that massive tsunami, that 10-meter wave that just hit the coast and engulfed absolutely everything in its wake.

BLITZER: How close, Anna, have you been able to get to the real devastation there? Because the images that we've seen, that the entire world has now seen, are so devastating.

COREN: Wolf, we are several kilometers away from the coast. As soon as we finish our obligations with you, that is exactly where we are heading. We are planning to head up north to those really hard- impacted places.

There is a -- there is a town called Minamisanriku, which is about two hours north of where we are, we heard from the official news agency here in Japan that 9,500 people from that village are missing. So, that is the toll that we are getting for the unaccounted in that village alone. That's more the half the township is unaccounted for.

So, this could be the situation for so many -- so many towns up that coast that was so hard hit by that tsunami that hit some 10 meters high and then came some five to eight kilometers inland, to try and survive that massive amount of water is near impossible.

BLITZER: You know, Anna, that there's tsunami alerts and warnings in that entire area where you are. And if there's another significant -- really significant, maybe larger than a 7.0 earthquake, that could trigger another tsunami. And if you get to close to that area, you could be in danger.

I want you to be very careful. But tell us if you're ready to take that chance.

COREN: Well, we are aware of the warnings. And we know that has been issued for the entire coast. But it's not been downgraded. And those aftershocks continue to keep coming. We know that that alert is certainly in place.

People here in Sendai, a lot of people are wanting to get out of the city. This is a city of some 1 million people.

We've spoken to a woman who has been carrying out for more than 24 hours trying to get out. Things are in such short supply here -- gas, food, water. People are -- people are getting what they can from Sendai and then just getting out. So much of the city is also without power and water.

So, things are getting very scarce here. We were told to bring in our own supplies because, really, priority is being given to those disaster-related teams that are slowly into these areas and visiting those impacted villages.

BLITZER: Anna, it's now just after 9:00 a.m. Sunday morning where you are in Japan. And what I hear you saying is that this city of 1 million people, that so many of them, thousands and thousands of them, are getting in their cars and just escaping, wanting to drive away because they feel it's too dangerous? There's no power, as you say, in the city right now either.

COREN: That's exactly right. What we said last night -- that was turned into a bit of an evacuation for people who are without power, who are without water.

As we drove into Sendai late last night, it was a very eerie feeling because so much of the city is blacked out. There is no power and water to so much of the city. There are obviously pockets that are still functioning. But for the majority of people, they are going without.

So, there were cars for as far as we could see, kilometers and kilometers, people just trying to get out of the see. And obviously with both aftershocks, with the threat of tsunamis still occurring, if we get another major quake, people don't want to be here, Wolf, which is completely understandable.

BLITZER: Well, Anna, you're going to stay there for us and for our CNN viewers. Stand by. We're going to check right back with you.

But I want to get back to this issue of a potential meltdown at one of these nuclear facilities right now. The International Atomic Energy Agency is keeping close tabs on the situation in Japan. Agency officials say the Japanese government is preparing to distribute iodine tablets to area residents to prevent their thyroid glands from taking in too much radioactivity.

Our CNN correspondent Matthew Chance is in direct contact right now with IAEA officials. He's joining us on the phone from Moscow.

What are you hearing, Matthew?

MATTHEW CHANCE, CNN CORRESPONDENT (via telephone): (INAUDIBLE) Wolf, because we're getting a lot more information, a lot more detailed information from the U.N.'s nuclear watchdog agency which is in Vienna than we're actually getting from the Japanese agency in Tokyo there on the ground. It seems that the U.N. agency is being used very much I'm assuming sort of a monitor for this nuclear issue.

They're giving us some interesting detail saying that they've been told that an estimated 170,000 people have now been evacuated in the areas around the two nuclear reactors in the Fukushima area that are problematic. Both of those nuclear reactors are having problems with their cooling systems. They're not using the word "meltdown" for technical reason.

But the nuclear fuel inside the core of these reactors must be cooled all the time, and since the earthquake has damaged the cooling system, the authorities in Japan, the workers there, are troubled on getting the reactors -- these two reactors to be cooled down. That's causing enormous problems.

You're right. They have distributed iodine to prevent contamination to the people around there. They've launched this big evacuation as well. But the IAEA said it's also been assured that there's been no breach in the various explosions that have taken place and the various escapes of nuclear materials. There's been no breach of the actual metal unit that contained the nuclear fuel.

And so, in that sense, it's relatively good news at this point. But the IAEA said they're watching the situation very carefully.

BLITZER: We're going to stay in close touch with you, Matthew, because the last thing anyone wants is another Chernobyl that occurred back in 1986. People are still -- still -- feeling the effects of what happened then. They're paying a price for that radiation fallout that occurred in Chernobyl.

Matthew Chance is in direct contact with officials at the IAEA, the International Atomic Energy Agency in Vienna.

And as we said, there are conflicting reports right now about whether one of Japan's nuclear reactors is actually experiencing a meltdown right now. It is a very alarming situation, I must say. Experts tell CNN a full-fledged meltdown allowing fuel rods to be exposed could result in temperatures rising to 5,000 degrees Fahrenheit with radiation so intense it would be impossible to deal with.

Our homeland security correspondent Jeanne Meserve is monitoring the breaking news for us.

So, what are you learning, Jeanne?

JEANNE MESERVE, CNN HOMELAND SECURITY CORRESPONDENT: Well, Wolf, you know, the Japanese have been pouring seawater on to this reactor in an effort to keep it cool. In addition, they're pumping in boron in hopes of stopping the nuclear reaction and stemming the production of radioactive material.

But the question has been: is this working? And that's where we're getting the conflicting information.

An official with Japan's Nuclear and Industrial Safety Agency told CNN that there is a possibility of a meltdown. He goes on to say, "We have still not confirmed that there's an actual meltdown, but there is a possibility." The reason they think there's a possibility is that they have detected radioactive cesium and radioactive iodine outside of that plant.

Now, this official goes on to tell CNN, "We actually have very good confidence that we will resolve this."

Similar statements were made just a short time ago by Japan's chief cabinet secretary.

Here's a bit of what he had to say:


YUKIO EDANO, JAPANESE CHIEF CABINET SECRETARY (through translator): A very small amount of radiation has been emitted into the air, although the level is not hazardous. But, in the meantime, in the number one reactor had an explosion, perhaps by hydrogen explosion, for temporarily -- the radiation may have spread temporarily. So, in that respect, that could have caused the radiation to be emitted in a very small amount, which had attached to the surface of people such as clothing. But at this point in time, the radiation exposure is in a very low level and it is not hazardous to health.


MESERVE: The chief cabinet secretary went on to say that radiation contamination had been detected on nine individuals. As you heard Matthew saying, the government is distributing iodine tablets -- that is supposed to counteract the health impact of radiation, at least to a certain extent. In addition, we know they have expanded the evacuation zone around the plant to about 12 miles, something like 170,000 people have now been evacuated.

NHK is also reporting that the defense ministry has moved into that area, a military team that specializes in cleaning up radioactive contamination. So, unknown whether a meltdown is under way or not at this point in time, but you heard Matthew quoting the IAEA as being told by the Japanese that the containment vessel for the moment is intact -- that although radiation has been released, much of this has been through controlled releases in an effort to relieve the pressure inside the reactor, but, at this point, nothing catastrophic, no major exposures of radiation outside that plant.

Back to you.

BLITZER: Let's hope it stay that is way. Jeanne, thanks very much.

Jeanne is not going to go too far away. She's working her sources to get all the latest information.

We're going to check in with all our correspondents who are in Japan, near this disaster site, including Anna Coren, we'll check in with her. We'll also check in with Jim Walsh from MIT. He's a nuclear expert. We'll get the full perspective on what's going on on the breaking news right now.

Much more of the coverage coming up in THE SITUATION ROOM right after this.


BLITZER: We're following the breaking news out of Japan, in the aftermath of the earthquake and tsunami. These are new images, new pictures just coming in to us. And you can see what happened when that tsunami ripped apart these whole areas, tossing around cars as if they were nothing.

Just watch these pictures for a moment. You can see what's going on. As we watch these pictures, I also want to get back to the fear that a meltdown may -- repeat -- may be under way at one of the nuclear power reactors. We're getting conflicting information on that.

Jim Walsh of MIT is joining us right now.

Jim, we don't know for sure that a meltdown is under way. It could be under way. The Japanese ambassador to the United States said it's not under way right now. Others are fearing that it is.

If, in fact, there is a meltdown, though -- just for the average person who doesn't appreciate or understand what that means -- explain what it means.

JIM WALSH, MASSACHUSETTS INSTITUTE OF TECHNOLOGY: Sure. And I think it's important to distinguish between melting and a full-blown meltdown. So, if the temperature inside the reactor gets hot enough or if it loses water and those fuel rods are not covered in water, they're exposed to air, then you can get melting. And if they are completely exposed and that goes on for too long, then all the fuel rods can melt and you get a meltdown.

So -- but, you know, there are degrees of this. And there may have been some melting.

There were reports earlier that the fuel -- that even though they were dumping seawater into the reactor, part of the reactor rods were still exposed. We might have had a little melting. That maybe why we saw some cesium and some iodine being out in the environment -- that would be a sign of that. But that doesn't mean that all the fuel rods have melted, and that would be a full meltdown.

But even if that happened, there is still one line of safety, one last barrier left, and that is: unlike Chernobyl, these Japanese power plants have a containment vessel, of thick concrete. That purpose of that containment vessel is to keep that material inside if, in fact, there is a meltdown.

Now, will that work? You know, we don't know. We think it might work. But no one wants to try to test that proposition. So, that's why people are concerned about it.


WALSH: I wouldn't -- you know, I think you need to be aware of the fact that there is a degree here -- you know, you can have melting without a full meltdown. Even if there is a meltdown, there's a containment vessel. But there's no doubt that this is serious business.

BLITZER: We've been showing our viewers that the picture of the explosion at that nuclear reactor facility and all the smoke that developed -- you could see that building shake. When that occurred, that explosion, a few hours ago, a lot of folks just started to panic. And we heard our own Matthew Chance report IAEA officials are saying, what, 170,000 Japanese have already been evacuated from the area surrounding these nuclear reactors.

WALSH: Yes. And Matthew also said something interesting in that report, Wolf. He said he's getting better information from the International Atomic Energy Agency, the IAEA, than he is getting from the utility or the government.

And, unfortunately, over the last 24 hours, that has been the pattern. They have had press conferences. But they've not been able to explain discrepancies.

And you've had different statements at different times. You had a denial that anyone was hurt by radiation. And then a hospital did a survey, a random survey of patients, and found that several had been exposed to radiation and then they had to change the story there.

You know, part of this is that events are moving quickly and the government is under a tremendous amount of stress and I'm totally sympathetic about that. But there's also some foot-dragging and a lack of information and that is contributing to confusion. And that's a bad thing because the government needs to hold on to credibility going forward. It needs for people to believe its statements and if it gets caught in too many conflicting stories, that's going to be a problem for trying to manage the issue later down the road.

BLITZER: Is it fair to say that -- it wasn't the earthquake, the 8.9 magnitude earthquake so much that caused this nuclear reactor problem but the tsunami, the water that came in and prevented any of the coolant -- the back-up coolant operations from going forward?

WALSH: Wolf, that's precisely right. The whole issue is trying to keep that reactor cool.

You know, as you and I have discussed before, it's like an oven. If I put a pan in the oven, it gets hot. If I shut off the oven and I go in and reach for that pan, I'm going to burn myself because that pan is still hot even though the oven was shut off.

The plant was shut down but it is warm inside, still generating heat. And so, the key is to be able to cool it. But what that tsunami did is it knocked out all the back-up generators. So, there's no electricity to pump in cool water.

There may have also been a problem with some of the old pipes. This is an old plant. Unit 1 was built in 1971. So, it's been around for a long time.

I'm told that they did get some electrical generation equipment there. But despite doing that, they still weren't able to get it to work.

So, I think that tsunami impacted the fuel -- I mean, the electrical generation. It may have also affected the plant in other ways that prevents the cooling system from working. And then there's the latest story that that explosion that we're watching on TV right now in that image may have had an impact on the cooling system and destroyed the cooling system as well. Those events combined mean that that reactor could not be cooled and that's why they pour seawater in there even though it kills the plant. That plant is dead. It will never be restarted. But that was the last option they had because they couldn't get knit coolant into the system.

BLITZER: Yes, someone described it as a Hail Mary pass or an act of desperation to get that seawater in there because that's not standard operating procedure in dealing with a crisis like this. So, that explosion occurred by like a few hours ago. It didn't just happen now.

Jim Walsh, we're going to say close touch with you. Thanks very much.

WALSH: Thank you, Wolf.

BLITZER: And we're going to go back to the scene of this devastation. Our correspondent Anna Coren is on the scene for us. Gary Tuchman is there as well. We'll check in with Chad Myers, Paula Hancocks, all of our reporters.

And our iReporters are there as well and they have been sending us amazing images, videos, still pictures. We'll share much more with you when we come back.


BLITZER: Tokyo is relatively far from the worst-hit areas, about 150 miles or so. But it still has a feel of a disaster zone right now -- aftershocks, debris in the streets and lots of food shortages.

CNN iReporter Jessica Tekawa is joining us on the phone now from Tokyo. Jessica, you sent us some really amazing still photographs of what you saw. But tell us what you felt and what you saw when that earthquake, that 8.9 magnitude earthquake hit.

JESSICA TEKAWA, IREPORTER: Sure. I was in school with my teacher. I was taking a private Japanese lesson. I was on the fourth floor of my school building. And because the New Zealand earthquake had just been in the news, because I think 30 Japanese students in New Zealand, all the images from the New Zealand earthquake were flashing through my mind and I think my teacher's mind as well.

So, we were not really sure what to do. At first, I thought it was just normal. And my teacher was really scared and I said, it's OK, it's OK. As it got bigger and as it got stronger, then I started to get scared, too. We went to the hallway, and ducking down and I think we were just kind of waiting to see if we should go out or if it was going to settle down.

But I didn't really think the building was going to collapse. But I thought if this building collapses, what are we going to do?

BLITZER: You sent us a picture, Jessica, of a lot of empty shelves. We think everything is relatively normal in Tokyo. But I'm hearing from you is that the stores are running out of food, flashlight, water. What's going on in Tokyo?

TEKAWA: It is relatively normal. I think last night there must have been something on the news about a power outage and just in case if the water gets contaminated or something, because we went -- my friend and I, we were trying to get flashlights and if there's water (ph) everywhere. I was looking to see if I could get water. I'm not too worried about water shortages here but the water was gone, totally gone, like, yes, in a few grocery stores.

BLITZER: And now, it's Sunday morning. It's approaching 9:30 a.m. Sunday morning.

TEKAWA: That's right.

BLITZER: Have you been out yet this morning? Have you been able to see if these shortages are still in place?

TEKAWA: I have not been out yet. I'm getting ready to go to church in about a half hour. But I think -- I think it's OK. I'm not too worried. I was just surprised.

BLITZER: Where are you from, Jessica?

TEKAWA: I'm from California.

BLITZER: You're from California and you're there in high school or college?

TEKAWA: No. I'm actually working on Campus Crusade for Christ. I'm 26 years old out of college.

BLITZER: Out of college. And so, you're spending some time. Are you going to stay? Are you going to come home? What's your -- what's your plan?

TEKAWA: I'm here -- I'm not sure how long I'm going to be here for.

BLITZER: All right.

TEKAWA: I have a three-year visa.

BLITZER: OK. Well, good luck over there, Jessica. Thanks for being a CNN iReporter and sending us in those pictures. We'll stay in touch with you.

And thanks to the global reach of CNN. We also have correspondents on the ground right now in Japanese cities and villages devastated by the earthquake and the tsunami, which keep getting hit by dozens and dozens of aftershocks. Just ahead: we'll talk live with a journalist based in Tokyo who survived the earthquake and we'll get his latest on the relief efforts under way.

You're watching CNN's continuing coverage of the disaster in Japan.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK) BLITZER: Even as the rescue effort in Japan ramps up, the ground keeps shaking. Listen to this. The U.S. Geological Survey reports in the past 24 hours alone, there have been more than 140 quakes of magnitude 4.5 or higher. Some strong enough to generate new tsunami warnings.

CNN's Paula Hancocks was in the devastated city of Sendai today.

PAULA HANCOCKS, CNN CORRESPONDENT: The devastation from Friday's earthquake and deadly tsunami is clear here in the city of Sendai. Now we're quite 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 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 down towards the port, you can actually see full-sized trucks that have been smashed against building. Notably, the building 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 the port itself is 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 said, 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 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 if it's burning even more ferociously than when we first got here.

We understand from locals that it's very difficult for the search and rescue teams and the emergency teams to get close enough to that particular incident to even be able to try and 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 the city of Sendai, there was a long queue of people trying to get out of the city. But bizarrely when you drove through, it didn't feel like very much a change in the city itself. It seemed normal until you turned a corner and then you saw 100 cars queuing to get petrol, waiting an hour to just be allowed 10 liters of gasoline.

You turn another corner and then there's another 100 people queuing for just the one grocery store in the town that was open. Another corner you turn around and then you see another 100 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.


BLITZER: That's an awful, awful situation and it potentially has the ability to get a whole lot worse. Our severe weather expert, our meteorologist, Chad Myers, is watching this for us. What are some of your worst-case fears right now for the people in Japan?

CHAD MYERS, AMS METEOROLOGIST: Well, the morning low temperature this morning now that they're just waking up was down to 32 degrees. You have people maybe buried in buildings trying to literally survive until someone can find them. Difficult to survive there. Plus, now people that are alive, they don't want to live in their house because it's been shaking all day and all night with these 150 or so aftershocks.

Some of the aftershocks even today were as big as 6.3. The high today in Sendai will be 62. Tokyo, 65. That's okay during the afternoon but the problem is tonight when temperatures go down. Temperatures will be back down right to 32, right to that freezing point. Tokyo, 48. Osaka, 48 right now current temperatures. It is warming up. I doesn't get a whole lot better for the rest of the week. Then it starts to rain. It starts to rain and then at night, it stopped raining and now even change to snow.

And by Tuesday morning, Wolf, down to 29 degrees. On Wednesday, 28. And on Thursday, 28 again. You're trying to survive, you're trying to not live in your home or maybe you don't even have a home. And then you have to deal with temperatures below freezing at nighttime. It's a nightmare just to try to be outside. And plus now if all of these men and women trying to find people, it's cold for them as well.

BLITZER: That's Fahrenheit for our viewers around the world, obviously. It's approaching - whatever degree it is at night, it gets very cold, approaching that freezing temperature. And that's so concerning because in Sendai, as you know, it's a city of one million people. And we heard from Anna Coren, our correspondent who's right there, they have no power in that city right now. You can only imagine what these people are going through. She says thousands and thousands of them are getting in their cars and just trying to drive away as quickly as they can.

MYERS: They don't have power. They don't have water. They don't have sanitation and they don't have any way to communicate literally with the outside world. You can't be cut off more than those people are right now. I've had dozens of people trying to say, how do I get a hold of people that I love, how do I find them? And right now with four to six million houses without power and without any connectivity, you can't. You just have to be patient. There's no way to know.

BLITZER: The ambassador of Japan to the United States said right now that number has gone down from six million households without electricity, he says it's down to 2.5 million or so which is an improvement. But 2.5 million homes without power. You think of all those homes in Sendai, which is very close to the epicenter of this earthquake, without power. And no prospects, I suspect, of getting power anytime soon. So you can't blame these people for wanting to get out.

Here's the question, Chad. Rescue workers are coming in, search and rescue teams, not only from Japan but from around the world including from here in the United States, they're on the way right now. You've got to believe there are a lot of people who are still alive but they're trapped in the rubble of these buildings. There's a small window where they could get in there and try to save them. But if there's no power and there's a lot of rubble and debris in the streets, it's going to be hard to even get there.

MYERS: You know, we've been covering disasters like this for a long time, Wolf. Going back to some of my memories that - I guess, some of the better memories, because there weren't very many of them. From the (INAUDIBLE) quake, what happened on the third day of the (INAUDIBLE) quake was a major rain event. A lot of rain came down in some of the areas where people were literally trying to survive. And you think that must be a bad thing. In fact, the survivors that were under the rubble but that were still trapped in maybe some pockets of air, some places that were safe, they used that rainwater to drink.

And that drinking water, that just little bit of liquid back into their bodies allowed their bodies to survive one or two more days. You don't think about - when you're back to almost caveman ability that you think just drinking - just give me a little bit of water as rainwater and I can survive just a little bit longer.

BLITZER: All right. What a story. This is going to be the next part of the story, I suspect, and hopefully the next part will not be a meltdown at that nuclear facility. We're going to have a lot more on that part of the story though coming up.

Chad, don't go too far away. Much more of our coverage of the breaking news out of Japan right after this.


BLITZER: We're following the aftermath of the earthquake and tsunami in Japan. I want to go right to CNN's Anna Coren. She's in Sendai for us, right in the middle of the worst part of this devastation. Actually, Anna, a little bit further north from where you are, it's even worse. But it's bad enough in Sendai right now. But set the scene for our viewers who may just be tuning in. What's going on now? It's approaching what 10:00 a.m. Sunday morning in Japan.

ANNA COREN, CNN CORRESPONDENT: That's right, Wolf. We are in the heart of the city. And to a certain extent it is still operating. There are hundreds of cars right around the block. They are queuing up for gas because those shorts of things are in such short supply. Food, water, gas, that's what people need. And so much of the city is without. But there are pockets that are still operating and we are actually in one of those pockets.

But as you mentioned, further north, Wolf, that is where we have witnessed those scenes of devastation. A place called (INAUDIBLE) Kyoto News Agency, which is the official Japanese news agency, overnight it reported that some 9,500 people are unaccounted for. This is a town of some 17,000 and more than half are missing. We believe that as we go further north, further up the coast which was hit by that ten-meter monster wave, we're going to hear more and more stories like that, Wolf.

BLITZER: What about food, water, medical supplies? We understand that they're basically running out in Sendai.

COREN: Yes, they are running out here in Sendai. But priority is certainly being given to those - that are coming into Sendai. They have been making their way to the port and they're assessing the situation, seeing if anybody is still alive, trapped beneath the rubble, trapped in those collapsed buildings. We do know that it was extremely, extremely cold overnight, Wolf.

And we believe it would have been such a tough condition to get through, anyone who was alive still in that rubble waiting to be rescued would have definitely experienced hypothermia.

BLITZER: Stand by, Anna. Because we're going to be coming back to you. Anna Coren is on the scene for us in Sendai. We'll take another quick break. When we come back, this is what I'm going to show you. We're going to show you some before and after pictures, before the earthquake/tsunami, after the earthquake/tsunami, same area. You're going to want to see this. We'll be right back.


BLITZER: Just a few minutes ago, Japanese officials raised the confirmed death toll from the earthquake and tsunami to 689. Another 639 people are officially listed as missing. 1,570 people are reported injured. That's the human toll. Those numbers are going to go up, I can assure you. But here's an example of the physical devastation.

Take a look at these pictures of an airport and what is now the disaster zone and compare these pictures. Compare it to what the same airport looks like after the quake and the tsunami. This is after. You can see it there. The earthquake clearly couldn't have hit at a worse time. This is after - we showed you before. I want to go back. You can see before. This is the airport in Sendai. You can see this is after. You can see the devastation, the tarmac, all the water there.

If you go back and you take a look at the "before," you see obviously an airport that's in very good shape with planes getting ready to take off. The earthquake certainly couldn't have come at a worse time for Japan's economy. It's government is carrying a huge, huge debt load. The nation has been in and out of recession. Just like the United States, it's reeling from the spike in oil prices.

CNN's Mary Snow has been taking a closer look at the quake's economic aftershocks. Mary, what are you finding out?

MARY SNOW, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Well, Wolf, you know, with so much uncertainty now surrounding one of the nuclear power plants, things could change dramatically. It's really impossible to know the scope of the economic impact. Japan is the world's third largest economy. It's a major export of cars and consumer electronics and already automakers have had to halt production at some of their factories. And Sony, for example, has six factories in the northern part of Japan that's been hit.

But economists say the damage to the economy would have been much worse if Tokyo, with a population of 36 million, was closer to the epicenter. Also the region hardest hit is not the industrial heartland of Japan. Now some analysts say it makes up about two percent of the GDP.

Now, one NYU economist professor that we spoke with who specializes in Japan says he expects the total of the economy to be limited in long term and he says there is another factor. And that's resilience.


EDWARD LINCOLN, STERN SCHOOL OF BUSINESS, NYU: The experience we seem to have, including the earthquake in Kobe, is that in the aftermath, people become mobilized. And their reaction is, you know, it's time to pull up our socks, we've got to our pull ourselves out of this. Let's clean this mess up and try to get back to normal. And so, oddly enough, these kinds of disasters seem to produce more optimism going forward, which will be a good thing to help the recovery from this tragedy.


BLITZER: But, Mary, what about the fact that Japan has so much debt right now?

SNOW: Yes, it's very big. I mean, Japan's debt is twice the size of the GDP of the country, which is obviously a big concern as Japan will have to rebuild. But, you know, we talked to a couple of economists who say that one big difference is that unlike other countries with debt held by foreigners, the majority of Japan's debt is held by Japanese investors. And as one economist put it, Japan can afford to rebuild, because Japanese taxpayers will take the pain.

BLITZER: Mary Snow with that part of the story, the economic aftershock of what happened. Mary, thanks very, very much. And we'll follow that story in the days and weeks to come.

We're going back to the disaster zone. When we come back, checking in with all of our reporters. They're standing by. We'll be right back.


BLITZER: Kenneth Cukier is the Japan business and finance correspondent for "The Economist" magazine. He's joining us via Skype from Tokyo. What's it like there now, Kenneth? You've been there since the earthquake and the tsunami, what, almost 48 hours ago?

KENNETH CUKIER, JAPAN BUSINESS AND FINANCE CORRESPONDENT, "THE ECONOMIST": Well, that's right. Tokyo is waking up, the whole country is waking up to the relief efforts. There's been acts of great heroism all day yesterday. The images have been startling, of people being winched up on helicopters.

As you know, the government has deployed twice as many self-defense forces, essentially, they're military. There's now 100,000 troops that are working directly on the relief efforts. Although, of course, the entire military is working in this direction for reconstructing the country. Everyone is also waking up to bad news, which is to say that a second reactor in Fukushima seems to be overheating and there's going to be questions of how do they put that together.

The country's also bracing for the worst because the word has gone out that starting tomorrow, Monday, there will be blackouts, or actually, managed power cuts throughout the day in certain regions of the country, Tokyo included, in residential areas, so that businesses can get some power and can actually start, you know, doing the business of the country and starting the relief efforts and the buildup, because you can't have an - you want to minimize the economic crisis while you're dealing with the human crisis.

BLITZER: So it's approaching 10:00 a.m. now, Sunday morning in Tokyo, where you are. Very quickly, how concerned are people in Tokyo about the potential for radiation fallout from those reactors?

CUKIER: In situations like this one, it has to be very fatalistic. You realize, well, first you're 200 miles away. That's helpful. Secondly, air, when it's released into the atmosphere, generally like areas like that, it will go out to sea to you feel it's not actually going to be a direct current right down to your home in Tokyo.

That said, it's never a relaxing thing. Just as we're bracing ourselves for the potential difficulties that that means, we also feel tremors from time to time that remind us that mother nature is also right below us, right under our feet. So we're doing the best we can.

BLITZER: Kenneth, hold on. I'm going to bring you back. Kenneth Cukier is with "The Economist" magazine. He's joining us from Tokyo. We're going to continue the breaking news coverage. We're going to speak to Japan's ambassador to the United States, get his take on what's going on. The breaking news coverage continues here in "The Situation Room" right after this.