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Video: As Japan's disaster deepens, so does distrust

  1. Closed captioning of: As Japan's disaster deepens, so does distrust

    >>> good evening tonight. in the midst of a massive humanitarian crisis in japan and fears of radiation on both sides of the pacific ocean , for much of the day there's been a disagreement between the americans and the japanese over how dangerous the nuclear crisis is and how much radiation is being released into the environment. here's the very latest on the japan disaster. the humanitarian crisis continues. over 4100 confirmed dead . there are 12,000 unaccounted for. 100 countries have now offered aid to japan . tens of thousands of people have been scanned for radiation. american citizens within 50 miles of the bad reactors have been told to evacuate or stay inside their homes after the most recent spike in radiation was measured in the air. and there are new concerns tonight about two possible breaches in the containment vessel. nbc's lester holt begins our coverage of all of it. he's in tokyo tonight. lester, good evening.

    >> reporter: brian, good evening. the failures are happening on so many levels it's hard to predict where all this is going. the latest crisis within a crisis involves reactor number 4 and spent fuel rods that may now be lying in a dry cooling pond allowing them to continue to heat. some experts say they could melt and release even more radiation.

    >> we do not know if it's caused by the flame or if it's a hydrogen explosion.

    >> reporter: fear and confusion across japan today as smoke and steam continue to billow from the stricken nuclear plant . these new satellite photos give us the clearest view yet of the destruction to the site. there are concerns tonight about a possible breach in the containment vessel at reactor 3. a confirmed breach in reactor 2 is already leaking radiation. and there are new fears that the all-important water cooling the still highly radioactive spent fuel rods at reactor 4 is dangerously low. workers were temporarily evacuated during the night and a water drop by helicopter was aborted after radiation levels briefly surged. tonight officials say they will be running a new power line to the plant that could restore power to the crippled cooling system, potentially a big step forward. but the public no longer knows what to believe. 77-year-old emperor akihito made a rare tv address. [ speaking foreign language ] i am deeply concerned about the nuclear situation because it is so unpredictable, he said. these enormous lines in sendai are people waiting for one bus out of town. near the plant, getting checked for radiation levels now the norm.

    >> people are worried because we don't really understand radioactivity. you have to give faith in the scientists that study this kind of thing.

    >> reporter: our team too was scanned by an nbc news consultant after our drive down from sendai. thankfully, we were fine. our shoe bottoms, however --

    >> is that a good thing or bad thing?

    >> that's a bad thing.

    >> reporter: contain slightly elevated amounts of radiation, but of no danger to us. in tokyo we found stores running out of everything, a sign of growing anxieties.

    >> nothing. no water, no food, so i'm going back to my hometown.

    >> reporter: other parts of this normally bustling city looked like a ghost town . fear and a shortage of gas are keeping people off the streets. back in the disaster zone, snow and cold today hampering rescue efforts, but hope has not been abandoned.

    >> if you can hear me, make a noise.

    >> reporter: u.k. rescue teams search a home after family members believe they hear a voice.

    >> the chance of survival are small but we'll do our best to see if we can get anybody in there.

    >> reporter: after dogs and teams go in, only a body comes out. as time goes by, chances only grow dimmer, as the effects of this earthquake, tsunami and now growing nuclear crisis continue. and with regard to that nuclear crisis, officials are using everything in their toolbox, including reportedly water cannons they may use to refill those dry cooling pools in reactor number 4 . they may also try again with helicopters to drop water on the crippled reactors, brian.

    >> lester holt heading up our coverage out of tokyo tonight. lester, thank you.

Image: Japan's Emperor Akihito addressing the nation on March 16
NHK via AFP - Getty Images
Japan's Emperor Akihito, seen in a screen grab taken off NHK TV, addressed the nation Wednesday, urging people to "treat each other with compassion."
msnbc.com news services
updated 3/16/2011 2:38:08 PM ET 2011-03-16T18:38:08

Japanese Emperor Akihito made an unprecedented televised address to his disaster-stricken nation Wednesday, saying he was "deeply worried" by the crisis at damaged nuclear reactors and urging people to help each other in difficult times.

Looking somber and stoic, the 77-year-old Akihito said the problems at Japan's nuclear-power reactors were unpredictable and described the earthquake that sparked a huge tsunami as "unprecedented in scale."

TV stations interrupted coverage to carry the emperor's first public appearance since last week's catastrophe.

"I am deeply hurt by the grievous situation in the affected areas. The number of deceased and missing increases by the day we cannot know how many victims there will be. My hope is that as many people possible are found safe," Akihito said.

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The plight of hundreds of thousands left homeless by the quake and tsunami worsened overnight after a cold snap brought snow to some of the worst-stricken areas. The death toll stands at 4,000, but more than 7,000 are listed as missing and the figure is expected to rise.

"I hope from the bottom of my heart that the people will, hand in hand, treat each other with compassion and overcome these difficult times," he said, urging survivors not to "abandon hope."

Akihito said he was "deeply worried" about the situation at the Dai-ichi nuclear plant in Fukushima, 150 miles north of Tokyo, where workers were trying to contain the world's worst nuclear crisis since the Chernobyl disaster in Ukraine in 1986.

Japan is reeling from what Prime Minister Naoto Kan has called its worst crisis since the end of World War Two, when the country had to rebuild from its devastating defeat.

Sifting through mounds of rubble
Heavy snow blanketed Japan's devastated northeast on Wednesday, hindering rescue workers and adding to the woes of the few, mainly elderly, residents who remained in the area worst hit by last week's massive earthquake and tsunami.

In Sendai, once a city but now a water-logged wasteland, firefighters and relief teams sifted through mounds of rubble, hoping to find any sign of life.

But, like in most other towns, rescuers just pulled out body after body, which they wrapped in brightly colored blankets and lined up neatly against the gray, grim landscape.

"The strong smell of bodies and the dirty seawater make search extremely difficult," said Yin Guanghui, a member of a Chinese rescue team working in the battered town of Ofunato.

"Powerful waves in the tsunami would repeatedly hit houses in the area. Anyone trapped under the debris would be drown in no time, without any chance to survive."

Japanese media said at least two people were pulled alive from the rubble, more than 72 hours after the earthquake and tsunami struck.

But rescue officials said the snow weakened what little chance they had of finding any more survivors.

How much radiation is dangerous?

"Snow has just come down in a blanket. Visibility is just 40 meters (131 feet)," said Patrick Fuller of the International Red Cross Federation from what remained of Otsuchi, a fishing hamlet.

"People are still working, the army is out here. But the fire service has taken off because they are worried they won't get back to their base because of the snow."

'A very tough time'
Those who did survive lost everything they owned and now face shortages of food and water, no electricity or heating and frequent aftershocks that have rattled the country.

The meteorology agency said temperatures could drop as low as 28 degrees in Sendai on Wednesday.

Broadcaster NHK offered tips on how to stay warm — such as by wrapping your midsection in newspaper and cling film — and how to boil water using empty food cans and candles.

Story: What you need to know about the twin disasters in Japan

Rescuers said their main concern was for the elderly, who make up the majority of the scores of people packed into shelters.

"They are having a very tough time of it," said Fuller.

"They need regular medication and proper care. A lot of the problems, though, are psychological, people are so stressed out. They are getting three meals a day but probably more food needs to come."

Video: New fire erupts at Fukushima plant

In addition to their physical well-being, many elderly people at shelters were traumatized by what they had been through, and just sat huddled on blankets, waiting, but not sure for what.

"Right after the earthquake, I was told to evacuate as soon as possible. I couldn't bring anything but myself," said silver-haired Kiyoko Abe at a shelter in Ishimomaki, Miyagi prefecture.

Her husband sat smiling beside her, occasionally wiping away tears.

Comforting the public
The Imperial Household Agency, which manages the royal familys' affairs, said in a statement on Monday that the royal couple wanted to visit the quake-hit sites but felt that efforts should focus on rescue for now.

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Akihito and Empress Michiko have long played a role comforting the public in tough times, visiting the survivors of the massive quake that killed 6,400 people in the western port of Kobe in 1995.

Akihito, who ascended the throne after the death of his father Emperor Hirohito in 1989, has striven to draw the imperial family closer to the people in image, if not in fact.

In a sharp break with tradition, he was the first heir to marry a commoner.

He has also spent much of his reign seeking to heal the wounds of a war waged across Asia in his father's name.

The Associated Press and Reuters contributed to this report.

Interactive: Japan before and after the disaster

These aerial photos show locations in Japan before and after the 9.0-magnitude earthquake and tsunami that struck March 11. Use the slider below the images to reveal the changes in the landscape.

Explainer: The 10 deadliest earthquakes in recorded history

  • A look at the worst earthquakes in recorded history, in loss of human life. (The March 11, 2011, earthquake and tsumani that affected eastern Japan is not included because the fatalities caused, about 15,000, are fewer than those resulting from the temblors listed below.) Sources: United States Geological Survey, Encyclopedia Britannica

  • 1: Shensi, China, Jan. 23, 1556

    Magnitude about 8, about 830,000 deaths.

    This earthquake occurred in the Shaanxi province (formerly Shensi), China, about 50 miles east-northeast of Xi'an, the capital of Shaanxi. More than 830,000 people are estimated to have been killed. Damage extended as far away as about 270 miles northeast of the epicenter, with reports as far as Liuyang in Hunan, more than 500 miles away. Geological effects reported with this earthquake included ground fissures, uplift, subsidence, liquefaction and landslides. Most towns in the damage area reported city walls collapsed, most to all houses collapsed and many of the towns reported ground fissures with water gushing out.

  • 2: Tangshan, China, July 27, 1976

    Chinese Earthquake
    Keystone  /  Getty Images
    1976: Workers start rebuilding work following earthquake damage in the Chinese city of Tangshan, 100 miles east of Pekin, with a wrecked train carriage behind them. (Photo by Keystone/Getty Images)
    Magnitude 7.5. Official casualty figure is 255,000 deaths. Estimated death toll as high as 655,000.

    Damage extended as far as Beijing. This is probably the greatest death toll from an earthquake in the last four centuries, and the second greatest in recorded history.

  • 3: Aleppo, Syria, Aug. 9, 1138

    Magnitude not known, about 230,000 deaths.

    Contemporary accounts said the walls of Syria’s second-largest city crumbled and rocks cascaded into the streets. Aleppo’s citadel collapsed, killing hundreds of residents. Although Aleppo was the largest community affected by the earthquake, it likely did not suffer the worst of the damage. European Crusaders had constructed a citadel at nearby Harim, which was leveled by the quake. A Muslim fort at Al-Atarib was destroyed as well, and several smaller towns and manned forts were reduced to rubble. The quake was said to have been felt as far away as Damascus, about 220 miles to the south. The Aleppo earthquake was the first of several occurring between 1138 and 1139 that devastated areas in northern Syria and western Turkey.

  • 4: Sumatra, Indonesia, Dec. 26, 2004

    Aerial images show the extent of the devastation in Meulaboh
    Getty Images  /  Getty Images
    MEULABOH, INDONESIA - DECEMBER 29: In this handout photo taken from a print via the Indonesian Air Force, the scene of devastation in Meulaboh, the town closest to the Sunday's earthquake epicentre, is pictured from the air on December 29, 2004, Meulaboh, Aceh Province, Sumatra, Indonesia. The western coastal town in Aceh Province, only 60 kilometres north-east of the epicentre, has been the hardest hit by sunday's underwater earthquake in the Indian Ocean. Officials expected to find at least 10,000 killed which would amount to a quarter of Meulaboh's population. Three-quarters of Sumatra's western coast was destroyed and some towns were totally wiped out after the tsunamis that followed the earthquake. (Photo by Indonesian Air Force via Getty Images)

    Magnitude 9.1, 227,898 deaths.

    This was the third largest earthquake in the world since 1900 and the largest since the 1964 Prince William Sound, Alaska temblor. In total, 227,898 people were killed or were missing and presumed dead and about 1.7 million people were displaced by the earthquake and subsequent tsunami in 14 countries in South Asia and East Africa. (In January 2005, the death toll was 286,000. In April 2005, Indonesia reduced its estimate for the number missing by over 50,000.)

  • 5: Haiti, Jan 12, 2010

    Haitians walk through collapsed building
    Jean-philippe Ksiazek  /  AFP/Getty Images
    Haitians walk through collapsed buildings near the iron market in Port-au-Prince on January 31, 2010. Quake-hit Haiti will need at least a decade of painstaking reconstruction, aid chiefs and donor nations warned, as homeless, scarred survivors struggled today to rebuild their lives. AFP PHOTO / JEAN-PHILIPPE KSIAZEK (Photo credit should read JEAN-PHILIPPE KSIAZEK/AFP/Getty Images)

    Magnitude 7.0. According to official estimates, 222,570 people killed.

    According to official estimates, 300,000 were also injured, 1.3 million displaced, 97,294 houses destroyed and 188,383 damaged in the Port-au-Prince area and in much of southern Haiti. This includes at least 4 people killed by a local tsunami in the Petit Paradis area near Leogane. Tsunami waves were also reported at Jacmel, Les Cayes, Petit Goave, Leogane, Luly and Anse a Galets.

  • 6: Damghan, Iran, Dec. 22, 856

    Magnitude not known, about 200,000 deaths.

    This earthquake struck a 200-mile stretch of northeast Iran, with the epicenter directly below the city of Demghan, which was at that point the capital city. Most of the city was destroyed as well as the neighboring areas. Approximately 200,000 people were killed.

  • 7: Haiyuan, Ningxia , China, Dec. 16, 1920

    7.8 magnitude, about 200,000 deaths.

    This earthquake brought total destruction to the Lijunbu-Haiyuan-Ganyanchi area. Over 73,000 people were killed in Haiyuan County. A landslide buried the village of Sujiahe in Xiji County. More than 30,000 people were killed in Guyuan County. Nearly all the houses collapsed in the cities of Longde and Huining. About 125 miles of surface faulting was seen from Lijunbu through Ganyanchi to Jingtai. There were large numbers of landslides and ground cracks throughout the epicentral area. Some rivers were dammed, others changed course.

  • 8: Ardabil, Iran, March. 23, 893

    Magnitude not known, about 150,000 deaths

    The memories of the massive Damghan earthquake (see above) had barely faded when only 37 years later, Iran was again hit by a huge earthquake. This time it cost 150,000 lives and destroyed the largest city in the northwestern section of the country. The area was again hit by a fatal earthquake in 1997.

  • 9: Kanto, Japan, Sept. 1, 1923

    Kanto Damage
    Hulton Archive  /  Getty Images
    1923: High-angle view of earthquake and fire damage on Hongokucho Street and the Kanda District, taken from the Yamaguchi Bank building after the Kanto earthquake, Tokyo, Japan. (Photo by Hulton Archive/Getty Images)
    7.9 magnitude, 142,800 deaths.

    This earthquake brought extreme destruction in the Tokyo-Yokohama area, both from the temblor and subsequent firestorms, which burned about 381,000 of the more than 694,000 houses that were partially or completely destroyed. Although often known as the Great Tokyo Earthquake (or the Great Tokyo Fire), the damage was most severe in Yokohama. Nearly 6 feet of permanent uplift was observed on the north shore of Sagami Bay and horizontal displacements of as much as 15 feet were measured on the Boso Peninsula.

  • 10: Ashgabat, Turkmenistan, Oct. 5, 1948

    7.3 magnitude, 110,000 deaths.

    This quake brought extreme damage in Ashgabat (Ashkhabad) and nearby villages, where almost all the brick buildings collapsed, concrete structures were heavily damaged and freight trains were derailed. Damage and casualties also occurred in the Darreh Gaz area in neighboring Iran. Surface rupture was observed both northwest and southeast of Ashgabat. Many sources list the casualty total at 10,000, but a news release from the newly independent government on Dec. 9, 1988, advised that the correct death toll was 110,000. (Turkmenistan had been part of the Soviet Union, which tended to downplay the death tolls from man-made and natural disasters.)

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