Rescue Operations Continue After Japan Quake

Rescue operations continue in the wake of a massive earthquake and tsunami that struck Japan on Friday. Host Linda Wertheimer talks with reporter Doualy Xaykaothao.

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LINDA WERTHEIMER, host:

This is WEEKEND EDITION from NPR News. I'm Linda Wertheimer. Scott Simon is away.

Japan's government today calmed fears of a nuclear meltdown after an explosion blew the roof off a building at a nuclear power station. The power plant was badly damaged in yesterday's earthquake and tsunami. We're still learning about the incident but smoke could be seen from 20 miles away and there are reports that radiation leaked from the unstable reactor.

The death toll in Japan's twin disasters is expected to keep climbing. Coming up we'll hear whether this should be a wake-up call for Americans on the West Coast.

But first, reporter Doualy Xaykaothao joins us on the line from Fukushima, Japan. It's the site of that failed nuclear plant. Doualy, we know there has been a blast. Is anybody saying anything about what might have caused it?

DOUALY XAYKAOTHAO: We heard earlier from the chief cabinet spokesman. He essentially explained that apparently a reactor housing had collapsed. We don't know what the condition is. We only know that four people were injured. We don't know how serious those injuries are, but certainly there's a lot of worry and concern over this explosion, which happened right after another aftershock and other tremors that were reported earlier today.

WERTHEIMER: So, what about reports of radioactivity being released?

XAYKAOTHAO: The amount of radiation released, according to what the government has been saying, is that a human gets about the same per year or something to that effect. At this point, the government isn't giving specific information about how much leakage has occurred. We do know that it was confirmed that the radiation leak began earlier after officials were trying to reduce the pressure of these nuclear plants.

WERTHEIMER: Doualy, you had quite a trip to get as far as you've gotten, as close as you are now, to the area that is so devastated. Can you tell us what you've seen?

XAYKAOTHAO: Well, I arrived into Osaka earlier in the day and then was immediately able to get on the only connecting flight to Fukushima, which is northeastern Japan. When we got to the airport, there were a number of rescue teams. But essentially it was extremely hard to get taxi drivers, because many of them, their homes had been damaged severely. Our driver, Mr. Ahashi(ph), was telling us that his own home was badly damaged and he was lucky to still have his car.

Now, he's been driving us around just trying to show us what he could. And there were areas where we were just prohibited because the roads were so bad, the infrastructure just wasn't safe. So, we had to drive away from the area, and certainly we weren't going to go towards the nuclear plants.

WERTHEIMER: I gather that they have tried to keep people out and they've evacuated people who live anywhere near those plants now.

XAYKAOTHAO: Correct. Earlier in the day, the evacuations were only within about a three-mile radius of the nuclear plants near the coasts. And then later it was expanded to some 10 kilometers, 20 kilometers. The government continues to say that it is still not harmful; the amount of radiation leakage isn't to a point where people should be alarmed.

But the community here is certainly not taking any chance. A lot of people are staying away. It's almost a ghost town on some of these streets.

WERTHEIMER: Have you seen rescue workers able to get anywhere near the parts of that northeast coast that are so damaged?

XAYKAOTHAO: We are hearing that rescue workers are reaching people that helicopters were able to rescue stranded residents. There were fresh tsunami warnings earlier so there's a lot of fear here about what could happen in the next coming days.

WERTHEIMER: Reporter Doualy Xaykaothao reporting from Fukushima, Japan, where today there was an explosion at a nuclear power plant amid fears of a meltdown. Doualy, thank you very much.

XAYKAOTHAO: You're welcome.

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