At least 1,000 people were feared dead as Japanese officials scambled to deal with the aftermath of Friday’s devastating tsunami triggered by an earthquake.
Thousands of residents were evacuated from an area around a nuclear plant after radiation levels rose in the reactor, but there was no word on whether there had actually been a leak. Underscoring grave concerns about the Fukushima plant some 240 kilometres north of Tokyo, US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton said the US Air Force had delivered coolant to avert a rise in the temperature of the facility’s nuclear rods. A second US aircraft carrier is heading to Japan to offer post-quake assistance.
Japan’s military sent or readied thousands of troops, 300 planes and 40 ships for quake and tsunami relief and asked for help from the United States, which has 50,000 troops based in the country.
The government mobilised 8,000 troops to help Miyagi and other northeastern areas. An armada of 20 naval destroyers and other ships headed for the devastated Pacific coast area of Honshu island.
The unfolding disaster prompted offers of help from dozens of countries. China said rescuers were ready to help with quake relief while President Barack Obama told Japanese Prime Minister Naoto Kan the United States would assist in any way. Obama said that Japan’s leader told him there was no evidence of a nuclear leak after the quake – even though a Japanese minister conceded a small radiation leak could occur at Fukushima nuclear plant, following build-up of pressure in one of the reactors.
Japanese politicians pushed for an emergency budget to fund relief efforts after Kan asked them to “save the country”, Kyodo news agency reported.
Tsunami warnings were issued across the Pacific but were later lifted for some of the most populated countries in the region, including Australia, Taiwan and New Zealand.
Chief Cabinet Secretary Yukio Edano told people to stay in safe places as the cold deepened into the night. “Please help each other and act calmly,” he told a news conference.
Later a strong 6.6-magnitude earthquake felt hit Niigata prefecture in the west of the main Honshu island about 4:00 am Saturday, broadcaster NHK reported.
In Tokyo, residents who had earlier fled swaying buildings jammed the streets trying to make their way home after much of the city’s public transportation was halted.
Many subways in Tokyo later resumed operation but trains did not run. People who decided not to walk home slept in office buildings.
Other Japanese nuclear power plants and oil refineries were shut down and one refinery was ablaze. Television footage showed an intense fire in the waterfront area near Sendai.
Tokyo has requested a limited number of foreign search and rescue teams to help following its major earthquake, the United Nations said. Earlier, the world body said that some 68 search and rescue teams from 45 countries were on standby.
The international and Japanese Red Cross have set up a website to help thousands of people who have lost touch with relatives or friends. Tsunami waves hit Hawaii, parts of northern California and forced thousands from coastal homes. About 35 boats and harbor docks were damaged in northern Crescent City, while Santa Cruz harbour sustained about $2 million in damages. An administration official said Hawaii appeared to be out of danger, but some risk remained for the West Coast.
Waves also hit Mexico’s northwestern Pacific coast but there were no reports of damage.
Governments in Central America were on alert. In Honduras, the police and army were ready to carry out evacuations where needed, while Guatemala and Costa Rica were telling small ships to stay out of the water. Ecuadorean President Rafael Correa declared a state of emergency across the Andean nation and urged coastal and island residents to evacuate fast to higher areas. Canada issued tsunami advisories for parts of British Columbia. Local governments were advised to evacuate marinas, beaches and other areas below the normal high tide mark. Guam appeared to have emerged unscathed.
Published in The Express Tribune, March 12th, 2011.