A day after Japan was battered and bruised by an earthquake and tsunami that left more than 1,000 dead and more missing, it seemed disaster had struck again — in the form of an explosion and radiation leak at a nuclear power plant.
But after hours of grim silence from officials — while smoke billowed from the Daiichi 1 plant in Fukushima, 240 km north of Tokyo, and the evacuation area was expanded — government spokesman Yukio Edano allayed fears by saying the blast had only destroyed the exterior walls of the building. Edano said the actual metal enveloping the reactor was intact and that the radiation leak was at a low level and decreasing.
But that was the only piece of good news on Saturday as the toll from the quake-tsunami rose. The official count was 574 but local media reports put it at 1,300. Public broadcaster NHK said 10,000 people were unaccounted for in the port town of Minamisanriku alone. Another report said four whole trains were still missing.
As the first wave of military rescuers arrived, Prime Minister Naoto Kan said 50,000 troops, 190 aircraft and 25 ships would be sent to the northeastern coast, which continued to be jolted by magnitude 6 aftershocks.
For the rest of the Pacific nations, the tsunami warnings fizzled out and save for one death, in California when a man was swept to sea while taking photos of the waves, there was little damage.