TODAY

TODAY   |  March 14, 2011

Death toll rises amid Japan disaster

Hope is fading as search-and-rescue teams finish a fourth day of desperate efforts in quake- and tsunami-ravaged Northern Japan. Prime Minister Naoto Kan is calling the tragic events the nation’s worst crisis since World War II. Ann Curry reports from Minami Sanriku.

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This content comes from Closed Captioning that was broadcast along with this program.

>> begin with the latest on the unfolding situation in japan . we have several reports starting with ann curry who is in the hard hit region of miyogi. good morning, ann.

>> reporter: good morning. i'm in a city called minamisanriku. it is one of the most devastated towns in the most affected region of this epic disaster in japan . and four days after the quake and tsunami, this area is barely reached by the outside world . [ screaming ]

>> reporter: nbc news obtained this home video of the tsunami as it struck the coastal fishing village of minamisanriku, considered one of the hardest hit. where 10,000 of 17,000 residents are missing. it is a city obliterated. and heartbroken. hiromi hirayuchi can't find six members of her family. another eyewitness video shows the power of the wave as it engulfed the coastal city of miyako. the destruction is so widespread and sudden the prime minister is calling this japan 's gravest crisis since world war ii . [ speaking in a foreign language ]

>> reporter: this is a nation on edge. hit with more than 1,000 aftershocks which sounded the alarms in sendai repeatedly this weekend. they're yelling at us saying a tsunami is coming right now. they are yelling at everybody to get out of the way. we're leaving the area. tsunami alarms are so frequent, even emergency crews lost count. add to that the quake impacted nuclear power plants .

>> the nuclear and safety industrial agency said an explosion occurred in the number 3 building of the reactor around 11:00 a.m . japan time on monday.

>> reporter: now, more than 180,000 people have been evacuated from around the plant which has released some radiation. more than 60 nations have pledged aid, sending in 13 rescue teams including from europe and china on sunday. u.s. teams are already on the ground searching. the u.s. navy has dispatched eight warships.

>> we are here to help protect the japanese people .

>> reporter: the u.s.s. ronald reagan arrived on sunday to bring in supplies by helicopter. in the midst of so much destruction, there is hope. floating for two days, this 60-year-old was found alive, clinging to the roof of his house, nearly ten miles out to sea. survivors on a rooftop saw signs of life in the debris, and three elderly people who were trapped for 20 hours in a car were saved. even here, someone was found alive in rubble today. though this town has been virtually destroyed a woman said to me today, "we will be strong, we will rebuild." meredith?

>> positive thoughts in the midst of such devastation. besides the aftershocks, there are reports of hundreds of thousands without food, water, electricity, heat and now the threat of radiation exposure . how are people coping with this?

>> reporter: it's very difficult. people are standing in long lines for food, fresh water , for gas just to get around. the hotels are closed down. electricity is down. people are coping by leaning on each other. we found that true in this hardest hit region. people have established evacuation centers and schools. in other places, sleeping together in classrooms, sharing food. really it's been a matter of people helping each other. the outside help has not yet arrived. they are relying on each other as long as the meager food rations they have will last, meredith.

>> you talk about people standing in lines. i have noticed they are patiently standing in line. there is almost a sense of order there. often after a natural disaster there are stories of looting. you don't hear about that in japan now. does that surprise you?

>> reporter: you're absolutely right. you usually hear those stories. i'm not surprised because i have lived in japan . my father's in the military. order is a word you can use to describe the character of the japanese people . we have seen no examples of any kind of looting. we have seen however a kind of stillicism. there are people who have been traumatized. yet there is a resilience and even people smiling through tears, trying to move on, look toward the future. that's the impression we have been getting as we meet the people. we have more reporting on that coming up.

>> and the rescue workers who are beginning to pour into the country, how are they dealing with the massive effort in front of them?

>> reporter: you know, largely they are struggling gettinging into place. the roads are often blocked or the traffic is really paralyzed. the trains are down. the planes are not landing in the upper region, largely because there is a lot of concern about tsunamis and also because of aftershocks. there have been so many aftershocks. and other subsequent earthquakes. the difficulty is just to get here. it takes hours and hours. that's one of the reasons why aid has yet to arrive. the good news is we are starting to see signs of the outside world beginning to reach them. i suspect if not today, tomorrow, the next day, we'll see a major arrival of outside aid based on what we are hearing from the agencies we have been dealing with.

>> ann curry , thank you very