Video: Tsunami makes heroes and victims of same family

  1. Closed captioning of: Tsunami makes heroes and victims of same family

    >>> now we turn to our ongoing coverage of the disaster in japan. the aftereffects of the quake, the tsunami, the continuing nuclear crisis. it's hard to believe, but air measurement devices here in the u.s. have detected trace amounts of radiation in the air, minuscule amounts to be sure. it came ashore first on the west coast where it was picked up in seattle and the canadian coast. now it's been measured in the eastern u.s. radiation has been found in the sea water near the nuclear plant as well as milk and vegetables from that region. at the fukushima nuclear plant power cables have been attached to six reactors. it could take days or weeks of safety checks before the water cooling systems are back up in operation. the human suffering from the crisis at that plant continues. chief science correspondent robert bazell reports again tonight from tokyo on one family that's been torn apart from this.

    >> reporter: 190 miles south of the reactors is a super arena, usually home to hockey, volleyball and tennis. now just home. a refuge for people. she wears a mask not against radiation but catching a cold. the morning after the quake, they fled their home with nothing.

    >> as i did not expect to be in the situation that i am in now. i did not bring anything with me.

    >> reporter: the bigger worry, she had to leave her husband behind because he works at the fukushima facility. she's worried, but also proud of his bravery. i asked him son to do his best. his father is doing his best to deal with the current crisis.

    >> reporter: about 2300 people are camped out here. some to escape the dangers of radiation, others who lost their homes in the earthquake and tsunami. there are bins with the items for every day living. toothbrushes, linens, diapers. the kinds of things people don't realize they left behind until they need it. so many volunteers are showing up, they can't take any more, they've reached their limit for the day. this woman says she couldn't watch and do nothing.

    >> translator: i felt the urge to want to help. i felt i was going to go mad if i did not do anything.

    >> reporter: while she can't call her husband, he calls her every day.

    >> confirming each other's safety.

    >> reporter: safe for now, uncertain of what the future holds. she hopes some day to go home, but fears she won't be able to stay for good. robert bazell , nbc news, japan.

Image: Junko Ooigawa in the Saitama Sports Arena, Japan
NBC News
Junko Ooigawa and her 5-year-old son, Atsushi (not pictured), are living in the Saitama Sports Arena, which has been turned into an evacuation center for an estimated 2,300 people, most of them from Fukushima. Junko's husband, Tsutomu, works at the Fukushima power plant.
NBC, and news services
updated 3/23/2011 8:02:07 AM ET 2011-03-23T12:02:07

Japan's devastating earthquake and tsunami largely spared Junko Ooigawa's family home, but radiation spewing from the crippled Fukushima nuclear power plant may keep her away from it forever.

The radiation also poses a strong danger for her husband, Tsutomu, a technician working to repair the Fukushima plant.

"We do not know if we can ever go back home to live," Junko Ooigawa said. "I cannot imagine the future at this moment."

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At the moment she and her child, 5-year-old son, Atsushi, are among 2,300 evacuees, mainly from Fukushima, staying at the Saitama Sports Arena, normally home to concerts and sports events and about 160 miles from Fukushima.

"We are in a situation that we need to start thinking ahead and making some serious decisions for our future," Junko Ooigawa said.

The Ooigawa home of the past 13 years is about six miles from the Fukushima nuclear plant, she said.

"A few roof slates were damaged, but the house itself is still there," Ooigawa said.

She'd like to return home if she has a choice, but the radiation leaks are keeping her put.

"If it was just the earthquake, I do not think I would have been worried," Ooigawa said. "However, since then, the crisis at the nuclear plant, I became worried."

That's not how she felt raising her kids in Fukushima Prefecture.

"Although there were earthquakes in different areas of Japan, for some reason I always felt safe where I lived," she said. "Although there is a nuclear plant nearby, I never thought of such risks."

The morning after the March 11 earthquake, radiation danger mounted as reactors at the nuclear plant shut down and cooling systems failed. Explosions and ventings of reactor buildings sent radioactive smoke and vapor into the air.

"We were given a mandatory order to evacuate to Kawauchi," about 10 miles from the Fukushima plant, she said. "Thereafter, we moved to a place called Kawamata, where my relatives live." That's about 30 miles northwest of of Kawauchi.

Soon after, her relatives and others moved to the Saitama stadium.

"I initially thought I was able to return home," she said. "As I did not expect to be in a situation that I am in now, I did not bring anything with me."

She's also worried about her husband. They can only talk when he calls, which usually is daily.

At first she said, "I was able to see him once and I get to hear his voice daily over the phone, so I am fine."

But she acknowledged concerns about his health. He tells her he is safe but does not reveal details about the situation at the plant.

Some workers have been exposed to as much radiation as 600 millisieverts, equal to several years of the daily exposure limit for plant workers, according to statistics released by Tokyo Electric Power Co. That's about 100 times more than than a typical individual sees in a year from natural sources and X-rays.

High exposure rates can cause cancer and birth defects, burns and radiation sickness.

At the evacuation center, Ooigawa and her son got clean bills of health after a recent checkup.

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She wears a mask, though, because a lot of people at the center have caught colds.

She said also they are treated fine by volunteers, there are plenty of supplies and her son is making friends with other evacuees.

"However, I believe a lot of stress remains," said Ooigawa. "I asked my son to do his best, as his father who works at the nuclear plant is doing his best efforts dealing with the current crisis."

Yuka Tachibana, a producer for NBC News, contributed to this report.

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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Map: Japan earthquake

  1. Above: Map Japan earthquake
  2. Interactive Japan before and after the disaster
  3. Image: The wave from a tsunami crashes over a street in Miyako City, Iwate Prefecture in northeastern Japan
    Ho / Reuters
    Timeline Crisis in Japan

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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