Video: U.S. joins Japan in final sweep for the missing

  1. Closed captioning of: U.S. joins Japan in final sweep for the missing

    >>> it was three weeks ago tonight we learned of the devastating earthquake and tsunami in northern japan and then the nuclear disaster that followed that. tonight here are the latest numbers. more than 11,000 are dead, more than 16,000 still officially listed as missing. today the u.s. military was enlisted in what's being called one of the largest recovery missions ever launched on the planet. an urgent three-day effort to find thousands still unaccounted for who may never be found. nbc's lee cowan is in tokyo for us tonight with more.

    >> reporter: it's a grim turning point. the u.s. military marked three weeks since japan's disaster by helping in a final sweep for the missing. it's a massive effort. more than 100 helicopters, 65 ships, some 25,000 personnel, all searching for bodies washed ashore on coastlines previously inaccessible. for people like makiko, she fears it's her last hope. she's been scouring lists of evacuees looking for her parents, but to no avail. to find them, she says, is my only wish. at the troubled nuclear power plant , radioactive water continues to leak into the ocean. and today it was revealed into the groundwater as well. there are even traces found in beef. vegetable farmers whose spinach and other leafy crops were pulled from the market last week were out today trying to prove to customers that not everything grown near the plant is radioactive. this man has been farming this land for 40 years, but this greenhouse is now barren.

    >> so this whole thing was spinach.

    >> reporter: he tilled it under, just as he was told to do. but now he fears for his other crops, like tomatoes and cucumbers, which he insists are fine. so this is safe? [ speaking foreign language ]

    >> reporter: really good. but reality and perception are two different things. he's already lost 70% of his business so far. in three weeks, he'll be planting his rice crop in the soil, and that's a crop he fears that could be even further stigma tiesed. it will eventually turn into a life-or-death situation, he says. for he and others like him, three weeks isn't the beginning of the end , it's just the end of the beginning. lee cowan, nbc news, tokyo.

    >>> and this is an incredible story. hear heart-wrenching as well.

Image: Naoto Kan
Eugene Hoshiko  /  AP
Japanese Prime Minister Naoto Kan, center, walks past the rubble in front of municipal building in Rikuzentakata, Iwate Prefecture, on Saturday.
updated 4/2/2011 12:12:05 AM ET 2011-04-02T04:12:05

Japan's prime minister laid eyes on the extensive damage in the northeast for the first time Saturday as troops trolled the decimated coastline in an all-out search for any remaining bodies swept out to sea by a tsunami three weeks ago.

More than 16,000 people are still missing after the disaster, which officials fear may have killed some 25,000 people. The magnitude-9.0 earthquake and ensuing tsunami also ravaged a nuclear power plant.

Prime Minister Naoto Kan went to the Fukushima Dai-ichi complex immediately after the wave knocked out cooling systems, leaving workers unable to control overheating nuclear reactors and allowing radiation to seep out.

But Saturday marked his first visit to some of the dozens of villages, towns and cities wiped out in the March 11 disaster. Dressed in the blue work clothes that have become almost a uniform for officials, Kan stopped first in Rikuzentakata — a town of about 20,000 people that was flattened by the torrent of water.

The town hall still stands, but all its windows are blown out and a tangle of metal and other debris is piled in front of it. The prime minister paused in front of the building for a minute of silence.

"It is going to be a long haul, but the government is with you. We all should hang in there," Kan told firefighters and officials, according to the Kyodo news agency.

Video: U.S. joins Japan in final sweep for the missing (on this page)

About 90 miles (150 kilometers) down the coast, near the Japanese military's Kasuminome air base, a constant stream of helicopters roared overhead throughout Friday afternoon, shuttling to and from the more remote coastal regions. Planes and boats were dispatched from other bases near the city.

Altogether, 25,000 troops, 120 helicopters and 65 ships from the Japanese and U.S. militaries will continue searching through Sunday. So far, more than 11,700 deaths have been confirmed.

"Unfortunately, we've come across remains over the scope of our mission, so it may be more likely than you think" to find bodies at sea so long after the disaster, said U.S. Navy Lt. Anthony Falvo.

Some may have sunk and just now be resurfacing. Others may never be found. After the 2004 Indian Ocean tsunami, 37,000 of the 164,000 people who died in Indonesia simply disappeared, their bodies presumably washed out to sea.

The Japanese military stopped short of saying the search would end for good after Sunday, but public affairs official Yoshiyuki Kotake said activities will be limited. The search includes places that were submerged or remain underwater, along with the mouths of major rivers and the ocean as far as 12 miles (20 kilometers) from shore.

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

Police officers have also been searching for bodies in decimated towns inland, but in some cases their efforts have been complicated or even stymied by dangerous levels of radiation from the nuclear plant, which is 140 miles (220 kilometers) northeast of Tokyo.

People who live within 12 miles (20 kilometers) have been forced to leave, though residents are growing increasingly frustrated and have been sneaking back to check on their homes. Government officials warned Friday that there were no plans to lift the evacuation order anytime soon.

"I don't think the evacuation zones make any sense," said Tadayuki Matsumoto, a 46-year-old construction worker who lives in a zone 15 miles (25 kilometers) away where residents have been advised to stay indoors. "They don't seem to have thought it out and are making things up as they go along."

Radiation concerns have rattled the Japanese public, already struggling to return to normal life after the earthquake-generated tsunami pulverized hundreds of miles (kilometers) of the northeastern coast. Three weeks after the disaster in one of the most connected countries in the world, 260,000 households still do not have running water and 170,000 do not have electricity.

Officials at the International Atomic Energy Agency in Vienna said Friday that the U.N. nuclear watchdog was sending two reactor specialists to Japan to get firsthand information. They will meet experts in Tokyo and may go to the Fukushima site.

"The overall situation is basically unchanged," senior official Denis Flory told reporters. "It is still very serious."

In a positive turn, though, officials said samples from Iitate — about 25 miles (40 kilometers) from the Fukushima complex — show that radiation levels are decreasing. Earlier in the week they were substantially higher than levels at which it would recommend evacuations.

Japan's nuclear safety agency on Friday ordered plant operator Tokyo Electric Power Co. to review its latest measurements of radiation in air, seawater and groundwater samples, saying they seemed suspiciously high.

TEPCO has repeatedly made mistakes in analyzing radiation levels, and the Nuclear and Industrial Safety Agency said it might eventually order a complete review of all radiation data collected since the tsunami.

Though the size of recent leaks is unclear, it appears radiation is still streaming out of the plant, underscoring TEPCO's inability to get it under control.

The company has increasingly asked for international help, most recently ordering giant pumps from the U.S. that will arrive later this month to spray water on the reactors.

The prime minister said in a televised news conference Friday that Japan will do whatever it takes to win the battle at Fukushima Dai-ichi, though he warned that it could be a long process.

"I promise to overcome this problem and regain a society where we can live with peace of mind," said Kan.

Some cities are already helping their own residents. In hard-hit Natori, next to Sendai, dozens lined up to apply for funds as aircraft searching for bodies zoomed overhead.

Many people lost all of their possessions, including IDs, so the city has created software that compares neighborhoods before and after the tsunami. People point out where they lived, and if the house in that location has been destroyed, they are eligible for 100,000 yen ($1,200) in assistance.

"We have records of everyone that lived there, and so we can confirm identities by asking birthdays and other information," said Takeshi Shibuya, an official at city hall.

Some applying for the funds, like 33-year-old Osamu Sato, said it would be hardly be enough. He and his pregnant wife bought their apartment and moved in six months before the tsunami destroyed it, plus all of their new furniture and electronics.

"To be honest, 100,000 yen doesn't help much," Sato said. "I've lost everything."


Alabaster reported from Sendai. Associated Press writers Veronika Oleksyn in Vienna, Eric Talmadge in Fukushima and Ryan Nakashima, Mari Yamaguchi, Mayumi Saito, Noriko Kitano, Shino Yuasa and Cara Rubinsky in Tokyo 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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Map: Japan earthquake

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


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