Video: Survivor: 'The next generation will build us back'

  1. Closed captioning of: Survivor: 'The next generation will build us back'

    >>> we have a final story tonight about resilience and strength. through these stories that have come out of this tragedy in japan , americans are learning a lot about the japanese people and their character. and so our final report tonight comes from nbc's ann curry .

    >> reporter: home from the evacuation center for the first time today. tatso and his wife were shocked so much was ruined, first by the earthquake. and then by five feet of water. but they didn't wait for outside help. she says everyone is the same fp fp. he adds, i want to get this work over so i can help others. five days into this disaster, a spirit of self-ref lie answer is evident everywhere. helping augment the short water supply , neighbors boil snow they trucked down from nearby mountains. they make chop sticks by hand using bamboo they gather themselves, making even cups and bowls. for people who have lost everything, at this evacuation center -- what do you not have enough of to take care of these people? they need food, heat and doctors. balls of rice are brought in by local women. and the elderly who run out of medicines are closely watched over and kept warm. rarely has a nation so powerful been this vulnerable. [ sobbing ]

    >> reporter: having lost so much, japan appears as broken as its landscape. but it is not. this couple says we are old, but we expect the next generation will build us back even better. ann curry , nbc news in japan .

NBC, msnbc.com and news services
updated 3/15/2011 7:15:37 PM ET 2011-03-15T23:15:37

Panic swept Tokyo on Tuesday as radiation levels surged there, causing some to leave the capital and others to stock up on food and supplies before levels dropped again by evening.

The spike came after a third explosion in four days rocked the tsunami-damaged Fukushima Dai-ichi plant earlier Tuesday.

Several embassies advised staff and citizens to leave affected areas, tourists cut short vacations and multinational companies either urged staff to leave or said they were considering plans to move outside Tokyo.

Japan told the International Atomic Energy Agency that a spent fuel storage pond caught fire at a reactor and radioactivity had been "released directly into the atmosphere." The blaze was later extinguished and the U.N. nuclear watchdog later said radioactivity levels near the nuclear site fell during a six-hour period on Tuesday.

Clearing up nuclear questions

Officials in Tokyo — 150 miles to the south of the plant — said radiation in the capital was 10 times normal by evening but there was no threat to human health. Around eight hours after the explosion, the U.N. weather agency said winds were dispersing radioactive material over the Pacific Ocean, away from Japan and other Asian countries.

Radiation levels in Saitama, near Tokyo, were 40 times normal levels — not enough to cause human damage but enough to stoke panic in the bustling metropolis of about 12 million people.

Video: At least 15,000 people missing in Japan

Still, the French Embassy in Tokyo advised its citizens to leave the Japanese capital. The U.S. government advised Americans to avoid travel to Japan.

Austria moved its embassy from Tokyo to Osaka.

China became the first government to organize a mass evacuation of its citizens from Japan's northeast. Air China and China Eastern Airlines also canceled flights to Tokyo and two cities in the disaster area.

German airline Lufthansa started scanning aircraft returning from Japan for radioactivity, NBC News reported. "This is a precautionary measure for us," a spokesman said.

Radiation levels also rose slightly in Russia's Far East on Tuesday but stayed within normal levels, local officials said.

Russia's military said it was on alert to evacuate people if required from Russia's Sakhalin island, whose southernmost tip is visible from northern Japan, Interfax news agency reported.

Shopping frenzy
In Tokyo, canned goods, batteries, bread and bottled water vanished from store shelves and long lines of cars circled gas stations as the nuclear crisis set off panic-buying.

Disaster at a glance

Far outside the disaster zone, stores were running out of necessities, raising government fears that hoarding may hurt the delivery of emergency food aid to those who really need it.

The frenzied buying has compounded supply problems from damaged and congested roads, stalled factories, reduced train service and other disruptions caused by Friday's earthquake and tsunami.

Tourists such as Christy Niver, of Egan, Minn., said they had had enough and were leaving. Her 10-year-old daughter, Lucy, was more emphatic. "I'm scared. I'm so scared I would rather be in the eye of a tornado," she said. "I want to leave."

Even in the western city of Hiroshima, which was untouched by the disaster, stores are running out of batteries and the media was warning people not to hoard, a local government official said.

U.S. banking giant Citigroup said it was keeping workers in Tokyo informed but there were no evacuation orders, said a spokesman, adding the bank was closely following guidance by the U.S. Embassy.

Some international journalists covering the disaster from the worst-hit region around the northeastern city of Sendai were pulling out.

One scientist, however, urged people in Tokyo to stay calm.

"Radioactive material will reach Tokyo but it is not harmful to human bodies because it will be dissipated by the time it gets to Tokyo," said Koji Yamazaki, professor at Hokkaido University graduate school of environmental science.

"If the wind gets stronger, it means the material flies faster but it will be even more dispersed in the air."

Hundreds of aftershocks have shaken Japan's northeast and Tokyo since the original offshore quake, including one Tuesday night whose epicenter was hundreds of miles (kilometers) southwest and inland.

Some wanted the government to expand the 18 mile evacuation zone surrounding the nuclear plant. "The evacuation zone may not be enough," said a scientist who treats nuclear radiation victims.

Story: Japan radioactivity could enter food chain, kids at risk

"The main lasting effect will probably be in milk produce and the radiation in milk because the cows go around like vacuum cleaners and absorb the radiation spread over a wide range," said the expert, who declined to be identified. "Those particles are easily transferred into the milk, which is in turn easily absorbed by babies and children."

In a rare bit of good news, rescuers found two survivors Tuesday in the rubble left by the tsunami that hit the northeast, including a 70-year-old woman whose house was tossed off its foundation.

Reuters, The Associated Press, msnbc.com staff and NBC News' Andy Eckardt and Robert Bazell 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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