Video: 'With radiation, it's like you cannot escape'

  1. Closed captioning of: 'With radiation, it's like you cannot escape'

    >>> this nuclear crisis just one prong of what japan is dealing with. this is just day five since the 9.0 earthquake, the fifth largest in recorded history. and the tsunami that followed. japan is about 10% smaller than california. this graphic shows the area of the country affected by moderate to severe shaking in the quake. here's the surface area we believe that was covered by water in the tsunami. the recovery hasn't even started in some places, where it's just rubble. the suffering goes on daily, and then the earth shook again violently today. lester holt is in yamagata, good evening.

    >> reporter: we've chosen to give a wider birth around the plant, which is why we are now in the mountains west of sendai. with each bit of troubling news from the nuclear plant , the anxiety and fear ratchets up across this region. many fear they are not getting the straight truth about the danger they face. in a region still reeling from the horror people can see. it's the one they can't see, radiation that now has some foreigners racing to leave japan .

    >> the tsunami in the middle of japan or tokyo -- it's bad. the radiation, you cannot escape, you cannot see.

    >> reporter: in the streets of tokyo, where face masks are warn to prevent the spread of germs. patience is wearing thin.

    >> nobody knows the truth of what's happening and what's the effect.

    >> reporter: tens of thousands have been evacuated from the exclusion zone , which now includes a no fly zone for commercial flights. close to the quake epicenter in sendai, i met japanese families too afraid of after shocks to return to their homes and at times too afraid to stand outside.

    >> why are you going to your car right now? straunz because i heard that the rain is radio active and if it touches your skin, i will get some kind of skin disease .

    >> reporter: all of this compounding the terror of quake and tsunami survivors already pushed to the brink. at a shelter, people work the phones still trying to connect with loved ones feared lost. there were more bodies pulled from the debris along the coast today. families still crying out, desperately searching for missing loved ones .

    >> hello.

    >> reporter: it's not just the survivors who are overwhelmed by what has happened here.

    >> you wonder how the local people live here are to recover from it.

    >> reporter: there are still occasional voices from the rubble. people don't die easily this rescuer says, that's why we are still here. for all they have lost, the people of japan have not lost hope. we can tell you that china has become the first country to organize mass evacuations of their citizens from northeast japan . the u.s. and many other countries continue to advise their citizens against nonessential travel to this country.

    >> lester holt , thanks.

msnbc.com news services
updated 3/15/2011 1:57:28 PM ET 2011-03-15T17:57:28

Rescuers pulled a 70-year-old woman from her toppled home Tuesday, four days after Japan's massive tsunami struck.

The rescues of Sai Abe and a younger man pulled from rubble elsewhere were rare good news following Friday's disaster that killed at least 2,700 people and left thousands missing.

Abe's son said he had tried to save his mother but could not get her to flee her home in the port town of Otsuchi. His relief at her rescue, he said, was tempered by the fact that his father is still missing.

"I couldn't lift her up, and she couldn't escape because her legs are bad," Hiromi Abe said on national television. "My feelings are complicated, because I haven't found my father."

Video: At least 15,000 people missing in Japan

The elderly woman was suffering from hypothermia and was sent to a hospital, but appeared to have no life-threatening injuries, said Yuko Kotani, a spokesman for Osaka fire department.

Emergency workers have so far rescued 15,000 people and about 550,000 had been evacuated by Monday to about 2,600 shelters in six prefectures, Kyodo news service said.

Snow likely overnight
Another survivor, described as being in his 20s, was shown on television being pulled from a building further down the coast in the city of Ishimaki after rescue workers heard him calling for help.

Conditions for those still alive in the rubble worsened as a cold front arrived Tuesday, further pushing down temperatures. Snow is forecast over the next few days.

With homes leveled, towns washed away and jobs gone, many were wondering if they stay and rebuild.

"We survived, but what are we supposed to do from here?" said Sachiko Sugawara, 63, now living at one of the shelters.

Bodies were stacking up at morgues and the chronically ill were running out of medicine.

Google collecting victim lists via mobile photos

"People are exhausted both physically and mentally," said Yasunobu Sasaki, the principal of a school converted into a shelter in Rikuzentakata, a nearly flattened village of 24,500 people in far-northern Iwate prefecture.

Local officials have lost contact with about 30,000 people, according to a survey by Kyodo, raising concerns of a dramatic increase in the number of dead as authorities grapple with Japan's biggest emergency since World War Two.

Roads and rail, power and ports have been crippled across much of the northeast of Japan's main island Honshu, hampering relief efforts. The government has mobilized 100,000 soldiers and more than 100 countries have offered assistance.

Story: Millions in Japanese cold struggle without electricity, heat

Hundreds of foreign rescue workers are assisting quake and tsunami victims but the United Nations does not plan to mount a bigger relief operation unless requested, U.N. aid officials said on Monday.

Friday's 9.0-magnitude earthquake and the ensuing tsunami killed more than 10,000 people, plunged millions into misery and pummeled the world's third-largest economy.

Some 70 countries have offered assistance in an outpouring of solidarity with Japan, with help coming not only from allies like the United States but also countries with more strained relations like China, and even from the Afghan city of Kandahar.

Video: Japan humanitarian efforts mount

"We have offered our Japanese friends whatever assistance is needed, as America will stand with Japan as they recover and rebuild," White House spokesman Jay Carney said.

He said two U.S. urban search-and-rescue teams, with 144 staff and 12 dogs, had begun work at first light on Monday looking for people trapped in the rubble.

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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