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Sunday, March 13, 2011

True scale of destruction revealed as Japan earthquake and tsunami buries hundreds of people under piles of debris

By Wil Longbottom

-Four workers suffer fractures after explosion at power plant
-Metal container housing nuclear reactor was not damaged in blast
-Confirmed death toll stands at 574, but hundreds are still missing
-Region still being hit by aftershocks, some as powerful as magnitude6
-Millions left without power and water as quake cuts off towns
-Four trains missing since tsunami struck still have not been found

Meltdown fears: An explosion destroyed the walls and roof of a building at Fukushima Dai-ichi nuclear power plant

The official death toll in the massive Japan earthquake and tsunami now stands at 574, but officials fear hundreds more were buried in the rubble or washed away by the waves.

Rescue teams have been unable to reach some areas after the 8.9-magnitude quake destroyed roads and cut off airports on the country's east coast.

And there were fears of a nuclear meltdown after an explosion in a building housing one of the Fukushima Dai-ichi's reactors destroyed the walls.

Radiation: Levels around the plant have already reached 20 times normal and there were fears the reactor could meltdown

Emergency: Five reactors along Japan's eastern coast have been labelled as dangerous after the 8.9-magnitude quake caused massive damage

Japan's government said the metal container sheltering the nuclear reactor was not damaged by the explosion.

Spokesman Yukio Edano said the radiation around the plant had begun to decrease and that pressure inside the reactor was also going down.

Four workers suffered fractures in the blast and white smoke was seen pouring from the plant.

Residents were evacuated within 12 miles of the plant as a precaution after the quake damaged the plant's cooling systems.

Footage on Japanese TV showed that the walls of the building had been completely collapsed, leaving only a skeletal metal frame standing.

Pressure had been building up in the reactor - more than twice the normal level - and Japan's Nuclear and Industrial Safety Agency was venting 'radioactive vapours' to relieve the pressure.

Devastation: Thick black smoke continues to rise from burning factory buildings in Sendai after yesterday's quake

Rescue: A soldier carries an elderly man on his back to a shelter in Natori. More than 1,000 people are believed to have been killed in the powerful quake and tsunami

Carnage: Cars lie strewn across a narrow spit of debris and rubbish surrounded by water and, right, the wreckage of a train is left by a shattered station

Five nuclear reactors at two power plants had been declared as dangerous after the units lost cooling ability because of quake damage.

A meltdown is a serious collapse of a nuclear power plant's systems and its ability to manage temperatures.

Yaroslov Shtrombakh, a Russian nuclear expert, said a Chernobyl-style meltdown was unlikely.

He said: 'It's not a fast reaction like at Chernobyl. I think that everything will be contained within the grounds, and there will be no big catastrophe.'

Japan launched a massive military rescue operation today after the 8.9-magnitude quake killed hundreds of people and left part of the northeastern coast a swampy wasteland.

Prime Minister Naoto Kan said 50,000 troops would join rescue and recovery efforts after a 30ft tsunami smashed through towns, airports and submerged highways.

The official death toll currently stands at 574, but 784 people were still missing and more than 1,000 injured.

Help: SOS is written on the ground at Minami Sanriku Elementary School after the massive earthquake struck yesterday

Thrown like matchsticks: Cargo containers were deposited over a wide area by the force of the tsunami after it hit Sendai

Like a movie scene: Smoke billows from a fire after the massive wave destroyed houses and roads in Kisenuma city

Police said between 200 and 300 bodies have been found along the coast in Sendai, the biggest city in the area near the quake's epicentre.

Untold numbers of bodies are believed to be buried in the rubble and debris.
Rail operators lost contact with four trains running on coastal lines on Friday and still had not found them by this morning.

East Japan Railway Co. said it did not know how many people were aboard the trains.

More than 215,000 people are living in temporary shelters in five states and a million homes have been left without water.

The region has continued to be hit with aftershocks 24 hours after the initial quake, which struck at 5:46am GMT 80 miles off the east Japan coast.

More than 125 aftershocks have occurred, many of them above 6 on the Richter scale.

Japan is well prepared for quakes and its buildings can withstand strong jolts, but there was little that could be down about the killer tsunami.

It swept inland around six miles in some areas, swallowing homes, boats, car, trees and even aircraft.

Desperate: Frantic people pick their way through the debris of their destroyed homes in Sendai. The area has continued to be hit by aftershocks

Disaster: Firefighters spray water at a smouldering oil plant in Ichihara. Fires continue to burn in many Japanese cities

Submerged: Swathes of Sendai were covered by the flood waters as a massive fire continues to burn in the east coast city

Koichi Takairin, a 34-year-old truck driver who was inside his lorry when the wave hit Sendai, said: 'The tsunami was unbelievably fast.

'Smaller cars were being swept around me. All I could do was sit in my truck.'

Prime Minister Naoto Kan said: 'Most of the houses along the coastline were washed away, and fire broke out there. I realised the extremely serious damage the tsunami caused.'

A total of 190 military aircraft and 25 ships have been sent to the affected areas.

Supplies at supermarkets and petrol stations have been running low as hundreds of people queued up along the eastern coastline.

Tsunami warnings were issued to the entire Pacific seaboard, but the worst fears were not realised. Widespread damage was caused to some coast areas, including California, but there were no reports of fatalities.

Scale: Cracks can be seen in the snow-covered ground after the 8.9-magnitude quake caused massive damage in Sendai

State of emergency: Japanese Prime Minister Naoto Kan surveys the damage in Miyagi. Millions of homes have been left without electricity and water

Taking no chances: People in Crucita, Ecuador, sleep outside on a hillside after tsunami warnings were issued across the Pacific seaboard. Fortunately, the fears appear to have been unfounded

President Barack Obama has pledged U.S. assistance and said one aircraft carrier was already in Japan and a second was on its way.

Japan's worst previous earthquake was an 8.3-magnitude temblor in Kanto which killed 143,000 people in 1923. A 7.2-magnitude quake in Kobe killed 6,400 people in 1995.

The country lies on the 'Ring of Fire' - an arc of earthquake and volcanic zones stretching across the Pacific where around 90 per cent of the world's quakes occur.

An estimated 230,000 people in 12 countries were killed after a quake triggered a massive tsunami on Boxing Day, 2004, in the Indian Ocean.

A magnitude 8.8 quake which struck off the coast of Chile in February last year also generated a tsunami which killed 524 people. Authorities mistakenly told people in coastal regions there was no danger of a tsunami.



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