Aftershocks Rattle Japan; Rescuers Search Coast

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Japan continues to report strong aftershocks following the most powerful earthquake in its modern history. Teams of emergency workers, including soldiers and volunteers, are still looking for survivors along the hardest hit areas of Japan's northeastern coast. In addition, reporter Doualy Xaykaothao says an estimated 170,000 people have been evacuated in the Fukushima prefecture to avoid exposure to radiation from nuclear reactors at a power plant.

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LIANE HANSEN, host:

This is WEEKEND EDITION from NPR News. Im Liane Hansen.

Strong aftershocks continue to rock Japan today as it recovers from a massive earthquake. Rescue workers are searching for survivors along Japans northeastern coast. And an estimated 170,000 people have been evacuated to avoid exposure to radiation from damaged nuclear reactors.

Doualy Xaykaothao reports.

(Soundbite of sirens)

DOUALY XAYKAOTHAO: In Koriyama City, ambulances are chasing one emergency after another. Theres little food in town. No drinking water. Yellow tape surrounds damaged buildings throughout the city. Sidewalks are missing. So are people. Nearby, nuclear reactors have been damaged. One emergency vehicle stops here at an open parking lot, where tents have been set up, soldiers stand guard and men in white suits and masks greet families.

(Soundbite of a conversation)

XAYKAOTHAO: Theyre told to line up, children first, then parents, and then one by one, are examined for possible exposure to radiation from nuclear facilities near their home. Fearing the release of dangerous levels of radioactive particles from the Fukushima power plants, the government evacuated tens of thousands of families starting last night. So far, 1,500 people have been seen here at this examination facility, but its not yet clear whos been exposed and how dangerous the level.

((Soundbite of conversation)

XAYKAOTHAO: This family, with several children at play, are now staying in Miharo, at a cultural center turned evacuation center. The air is stuffy inside, but at least they are warm and fed rice balls each day.

One of the adults, Seiji Inamito, shares his concerns.

Mr. SEIJI INAMITO: (Foreign language spoken)

Unidentified Man (Through Translator): He's not sure that they're getting all the information accurately, coming from the government.

XAYKAOTHAO: Are you angry with the government?

Mr. INAMITO: (Through Translator) A little bit.

XAYKAOTHAO: A little bit doesnt begin to explain the growing frustration and fear residents have. Mr. Masatomo Watanabe is a city official, working at this evacuation center.

Mr. MASATOMO WATANABE (City Official): (Through Translator) They can't handle more than that, so there's 281.

XAYKAOTHAO: There are many more centers like this, with people sleeping on floors with nothing but the clothes theyre wearing. Its urgent everywhere in the northeast. On the streets, you can see lines of people, carrying water bottles, standing at water pumps and fountains.

(Soundbite of machinery)

XAYKAOTHAO: Although the government is discouraging drinking from public water sources, fearing contamination, people are desperate for water.

(Soundbite of an alarm)

XAYKAOTHAO: At one of the few open convenience stores in the area, food is running out fast too. Only special teas, beer and sake are left.

So Im going to get some lemon tea and potato chips and soy sauce, nuts, some squid, and some poke - six to eat with a Snickers bar.

(Soundbite of a conversation)

XAYKAOTHAO: While a translator tries to assess with our Japanese driver, where we can safely travel, where to get Internet access and lodging, we pass men working to fix major damage to roads.

(Soundbite of machinery and digging)

XAYKAOTHAO: Four men are working on this road, where a long stretch was deeply cracked. They are still trying to fill in the large gap.

(Soundbite of machinery and shoveling)

XAYKAOTHAO: The shoveling, clearing, and cleaning will take weeks, if not months. Teams of rescue and recovery teams are still flying in. Some are making their way up north, some 200 kilometers from here; but slowly, since roads are so difficult to travel and some roads are now restricted to just military vehicles.

Japans defense minister says there are still so many people who are still isolated and waiting for assistance.

For NPR News, Im Doualy Xaykaothao in Koriyama City.

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