13 Mar 2011

Japan ‘facing biggest crisis since World War II’

Japan’s Prime Minister says the earthquake, tsunami and nuclear incidents are “the biggest crisis for Japan since World War II.” Channel 4 News speaks to a woman who cannot reach her family.

As rescue workers comb the debris in a bid to find survivors, and nuclear officials work desperately to prevent more explosions at nuclear plants, the Japanese Prime Minister has said the country is facing its biggest crisis since World War II.

At least 10,000 people may have been killed in the earthquake and tsunami which struck Japan on Friday. A further 5.5m are without power, 20,800 buildings have been destroyed, and whole towns have been wiped off the map. Four trains are still unaccounted for, 300,000 people are homeless and 170,000 have evacuated areas close to nuclear facilities.

The earthquake, tsunami and the nuclear incident have been the biggest crisis Japan has encountered in the 65 years since the end of World War II. Prime Minister Naoto Kan

Prime Minister Naoto Kan said: “The earthquake, tsunami and the nuclear incident have been the biggest crisis Japan has encountered in the 65 years since the end of World War II.

“We’re under scrutiny on whether we, the Japanese people, can overcome this crisis.”

Devastation in Japan after the earthquake and tsunami (Reuters)


Officials in Japan are working desperately to avert a second explosion at a nuclear plant in Fukushima, 150 miles north of Tokyo, after a blast on Saturday sparked fears of a nuclear crisis.

A 20-km exclusion zone is in place as the authorities pump in sea water in a bid to cool down the nuclear reactor. As many as 190 people may have been exposed to radiation already after an explosion and leak at the No 1 reactor blew the roof off the plant.

The instability at the nuclear facilities was caused by the devastating 8.9 magnitude earthquake which struck Japan on Friday, which also sparked a huge tsunami.


As rescue attempts get under way for those caught up in the tsunami, and reports suggest that up to 10,000 may have died, officials are trying to stop the explosions at the nuclear plants from becoming the next disaster.

The explosion at the No 1 reactor may have caused partial meltdown of the fuel rods, Japan’s Chief Cabinet Secretary Yukio Edano said.

“We cannot confirm this because it is in the reactor. But we are dealing with it under that assumption,” he said.

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But he said that, while an explosion was possible at the building housing the No 3 reactor, the steps taken at the plant meant that a meltdown in this region was unlikely, and the reactor core container was also unlikely to be affected.

The plant operator Tokyo Electric Power said that radiation levels around the plant did not mean an “immediate threat” to human health, despite rising above the safety limit. Workers in protective clothing were scanning people arriving at evacuation centres for radiation exposure, with 22 people confirmed to have suffered contamination.

Around 140,000 people have left the area. French authorities have advised all French nationals to leave the Toyko area for the next few days.

“It seems reasonable to advise those who do not have a particular reason to stay in the Tokyo region to leave the Kanto (Tokyo) region for a few days,” a statement on the French embassy website in Japan said.

Meanwhile the Toyko Electric Power Company is enforcing the first-ever rolling blackouts from Monday to prevent large scale power outages in areas struck by the disaster.

The blackouts will hit 3 million people, including large factories and buildings, the company said.

Death toll

Japan is still reeling from Friday’s earthquake and tsunami, with the country’s media now suggesting more than 10,000 people may have been killed by the wall of water which charged across the north east of the country, washing away entire towns.

Around 10,000 people are thought to be missing from the port town Minamisanriku alone.

Across the north east coast, thousands spent the night in emergency shelters as more pictures of the devastation emerged. In Rikuzentakata, a city close to the coast, 1,000 people were sheltering in a school on the hill. Posters listed the names of survivors, and people stood in front of the lists, weeping.

National news agency Kyodo said that 300,000 people had been evacuated nationwide as pictures continued to show devastation, with trains, buildings, and aircraft strewn across the landscape. Around 5.5 million people are without power, 20,800 buildings have been destroyed, and four trains are still unaccounted for.

In Pictures – Japan tsunami and earthquake photo gallery

Click on the image to see more photos from Japan

Channel 4 News spoke to Suzuka Sakurai, who is originally from Minamisanriku. She is now based in Sendai, but she fears for her family who still live in Minamisanriku.

Her family – her mother, father, sister in law, and her brother’s two children aged 1 and 3 years – as well as friends from school are all still living in Minamisanriku and she said she was “very worried” about them.

My brother is in a hospital in Kesennuma. He had an operation the day before the earthquake, and I cannot reach him. Woman in Sendai

She spoke to her family just after the quake, but now cannot reach them.

“My brother is in a hospital in Kesennuma. He had an operation the day before the earthquake, and I cannot reach him either,” she said.

“My family’s house is located on a cliff, the highest in the district. When I spoke to my family just after the earthquake, they could see the water level was really high under the cliff. As the bridges collapsed and roads are under water, my family seems to be isolated and cannot get out of the house.”

She has spoken to one of her friends by email, who is staying safely at a relative’s house on higher ground after her house was washed away by the tsunami. The friend also told her that her father evacuated by boat and was safely rescued.

Even in Sendai, she said that finding information and a shelter has been difficult.

“I can imagine how hard it is for people in Minamisanriku,” she said.

“It has a saw-toothed coastline, so I assume many regions are isolated and supports may not reach out. I hope my story can increase the support for this region.”


Foreign countries have started to send disaster relief teams to help Japan, with the United Nations sending a group to help coordinate work.

The earthquake was the fifth most powerful to hit the world in the past century. It surpassed the Great Kanto quake of 1923, which had a magnitude of 7.9 and killed more than 140,000 people in the Tokyo area.

It has been suggested that the quake was 8,000 times more powerful than the tremor which hit the New Zealand city of Christchurch last month.

Google images: before and after the tsunami

Google has posted satellite images online showing various places in Japan before and after the tsunami struck. You can see them below.

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