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: Woman walks through debris looking for household belongings
Osamu Kanazawa  /  AP
A woman walks through debris looking for household belongings in Rikuzentakata, northern Japan Wednesday.
updated 3/16/2011 5:58:43 PM ET 2011-03-16T21:58:43

Line after line, a list on the wall of city hall reveals the dead. Some are named. Others are identified only by a short description.

Female. About 50. Peanuts in left chest pocket. Large mole. Seiko watch.

Male. 70-80 years old. Wearing an apron that says "Rentacom."

One set catches the eye of Hideki Kano, a man who appears to be in his 30s.

"I think that's my mom!" he says. He rushes out into the snow, headed for a makeshift morgue.

The list in Natori, and others along Japan's northeast coast, will only get longer.

Five days after the 9.0-magnitude earthquake and tsunami, the official death toll is more than 4,300. More than 8,000 people are still missing, and hundreds of national and international rescue teams are looking for them.

'There is still hope'
In the industrial town of Kamaishi, 70 British firefighters in bright orange uniforms clamber over piles of upturned cars to search a narrow row of pulverized homes. They wear personal radiation detectors amid fears of leaks from damaged nuclear plants far to the south.

One woman's body is found wedged beneath a refrigerator in a two-story home pushed onto its side.

"Today and tomorrow there is still hope that we will find survivors," says Pete Stevenson, head of the British rescue crews. "We'll just keep on carrying out the searches."

Slideshow: Devastation in Japan after quake (on this page)

Those seeking loved ones have posted hopeful notes in temporary shelters and other public places. They cover the front windows of Natori City Hall, blocking the view inside:

"I'm looking for an old man, 75 years old, please call if you find him."

"Kento Shibayama is in the health center in front of the public gym."

"To Miyuki Nakayama: Everyone in your family is OK! We can't use our mobile phones, so you can't call us, but we're all here. If you can come home, please come! We're praying for you."

City officials have posted a list of 5,000 people staying at shelters. Yu Sato, 28, snapped photos of the names.

"I'll post them on the Internet so people living far away can check," he says.

Disabled man couldn't flee
In Otsuchi town, Reiko Miura conducts her own search.

She's looking for a 50-year-old nephew who couldn't flee the tsunami because of a work injury that had physically disabled him. His mother — Miura's sister — asked her to look for her son.

Video: Families search rubble in Japan for loved ones

But for the 68-year-old woman, it is a struggle just to recognize the neighborhood, now a sea of mud punctuated by tossed cars and mounds of debris.

"I'm pretty sure that my family home is here. It was a big house," she says upon reaching a pile of rubble in a location that feels familiar. But there's no sign of her nephew, and she trudges back across the mud, unsure what to tell her sister.

The devastation is of such magnitude that it is hard to imagine some of the communities ever being rebuilt. Town after town has been wiped away.

Each curve in the road opens onto a new scene of destruction — a van balanced precariously on the railing of a Buddhist temple, a handbag inside an overturned washing machine.

Kesen is virtually a ghost town.

Miyuki Kanno, who lives a few miles away, rode his bicycle down a mud- and water-choked section of road looking for information about missing relatives. He guessed it would take 20 years for Kesen to come back.

"Your hometown is your hometown. They'll rebuild. I don't know if the young people will come back, but they'll rebuild," he says.

'I won't live here'
Farther north in Ofunato, 72-year-old Keiichi Nagai is less sure.

He stands on the edge of a huge wasteland that used to be the low-lying part of the city. He shakes his head and repeats, "There's nothing left, there's nothing left."

He points at a washed-up fishing boat that he said destroyed his house. All he managed to salvage was a small brown wallet with a hospital card.

Image: Residents return to a place where their home used to be in Sendai.
Braving falling snow, residents return to a place where their home used to be to search for household goods Wednesday in Sendai.

"There's nothing left of this place," he says. "The population is going to be half what it was. It's scary to live here now. People will think it's dangerous. There's a chance another tsunami will come. I won't live here. Maybe on the hill but not here."

Some 430,000 people are in temporary shelters, too worried about daily survival to think of the future.

Some 350 in the gym and theater of an Ofunato middle school have fashioned beds from cardboard mats and blankets. Elderly residents huddle around gas heaters, and youths kick a soccer ball on a snow-laced baseball field.

Japanese military officers stock vats of water in a parking lot and ferry in bananas, rice balls and miso paste.

In Kesennuma, another coastal city, Kayoko Watabe arrives at a shelter after trudging through mud and thick snow. The 58-year-old woman is wearing the same clothes she had on when the tsunami struck.

She is staying with relatives who lack electricity, heat and water, and she's come to the shelter — a junior high school — to get food and other necessities. There, she finds survivors living in classrooms. Most lie on the floor, wrapped in blankets. The stench of unflushed urinals fills the hallway.

"We've never seen or experienced suffering like this," she says. "All I can think about is where to get food and stay warm."

Klug reported from Kesen, Kesennuma and Ofunato, Japan. Associated Press writer David Stringer in Kamaishi, Japan, and AP videojournalist Koji Ueda in Otsuchi, Japan, contributed to this report.

Copyright 2011 The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.

Photos: After Japan's earthquake and tsunami - week 8

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  1. A radiation measuring instrument is seen next to some residents in Kawauchimura, a village within the 12- to 18-mile zone around the Fukushima Daiichi nuclear plant, on April 28. Most residents of Kawauchimura have evacuated in order to avoid the radiation, but some remain in the area of their own accord. (Koichi Kamoshida / EPA) Back to slideshow navigation
  2. A brazier heats the house of Masahiro Kazami, located within a 12-mile radius of the Fukushima Daiichi nuclear plant, April 28. (Koichi Kamoshida / EPA) Back to slideshow navigation
  3. Volunteers help clean a cemetery at Jionin temple in Ishinomaki, Miyagi prefecture, northeastern Japan, on April 29. Many volunteers poured into the disaster-hit region at the beginning of the annual Golden Week holiday. (Hiro Komae / AP) Back to slideshow navigation
  4. Japanese government adviser Toshiso Kosako is overcome with emotion during a news conference on April 29 in Tokyo announcing his resignation. The expert on radiation exposure said he could not stay on the job and allow the government to set what he called improper radiation limits for elementary schools in areas near the tsunami-damaged Fukushima nuclear plant. (AP) Back to slideshow navigation
  5. Fuel rods are seen inside the spent fuel pool of the Fukushima Daiichi nuclear plant reactor 4 on April 30. (Reuters) Back to slideshow navigation
  6. A volunteer girl from Tokyo works to clean the debris of a house in Higashimatsushima, northern Japan, on April 30. (AP) Back to slideshow navigation
  7. Farmer Tsugio Sato tends to his Japanese pear trees in Fukushima city, May 1. He said he expects to harvest the pears in October. Farmers and businesses face so-called "fuhyo higai," or damages stemming from the battered reputation of the Fukushima brand. (Hiro Komae / AP) Back to slideshow navigation
  8. Members of Japan Ground Self-Defense Force in protective gear receive radiation screening in Minamisoma in Fukushima prefecture, after searching for bodies at an area devastated by the March 11 earthquake and tsunami. (Reuters) Back to slideshow navigation
  9. Ruriko Sakuma, daughter of dairy farmer Shinji Sakuma, rubs a cow at their farm in the village of Katsurao in Fukushima prefecture on May 3. Thousands of farm animals died of hunger in the weeks following the quake. (Yoshikazu Tsuno / AFP - Getty Images) Back to slideshow navigation
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