A mother tries to talk to her daughter who has been isolated for signs of radiation after evacuating from the vicinity of Fukushima’s nuclear plants, at a makeshift facility to screen, cleanse and isolate people with high radiation levels in Nihonmatsu, northern Japan, March 14, 2011.
By Taiga Uranaka and Ki Joon Kwon
Sun Mar 13, 201 – FUKUSHIMA, Japan (Reuters) – Japan battled on Monday to prevent a nuclear catastrophe and to care for millions of people without power or water in its worst crisis since World War Two, after a massive earthquake and tsunami that are feared to have killed more than 10,000 people.
A badly wounded nation has seen whole villages and towns wiped off the map by a wall of water, leaving in its wake an international humanitarian effort of epic proportions.
“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 Two,” a grim-faced Prime Minister Naoto Kan told a news conference on Sunday.
“We’re under scrutiny on whether we, the Japanese people, can overcome this crisis.”
Officials confirmed three nuclear reactors north of Tokyo were at risk of overheating, raising fears of an uncontrolled radiation leak.
As Kan spoke, engineers worked desperately to cool the fuel rods in the damaged reactors. If they fail, the containers that house the core could melt, or even explode, releasing radioactive material into the atmosphere.
Kan also said the world’s third biggest economy faced rolling power blackouts when it reopens for business on Monday.
The Nikkei share average was down 5 percent soon after Tokyo’s financial markets opened on Monday. The yen rallied on expectations of repatriations by insurers and other companies.
Broadcaster NHK, quoting a police official, said more than 10,000 people may have been killed as the wall of water triggered by Friday’s 8.9-magnitude quake surged across the coastline, reducing whole towns to rubble.
“I would like to believe that there still are survivors,” said Masaru Kudo, a soldier dispatched to Rikuzentakata, a nearly flattened town of 24,500 people in far-northern Iwate prefecture.
Kyodo news agency said 80,000 people had been evacuated from a 20-km (12-mile) radius around the stricken nuclear plant, joining more than 450,000 other evacuees from quake and tsunami-hit areas in the northeast of the main island Honshu.
Almost 2 million households were without power in the freezing north, the government said. There were about 1.4 million without running water.
“I am looking for my parents and my older brother,” Yuko Abe, 54, said in tears at an emergency center in Rikuzentakata.
“Seeing the way the area is, I thought that perhaps they did not make it. I also cannot tell my siblings that live away that I am safe, as mobile phones and telephones are not working.”