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Search And Rescue Continues In Japan Disaster

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Search And Rescue Continues In Japan Disaster

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Search And Rescue Continues In Japan Disaster

Search And Rescue Continues In Japan Disaster

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Guests

Doualy Xaykaothao, reporter in Koriyama City, Japan
Joe Palca, NPR science correspondent
Steve McDonald, running the emergency response in Sendai, Japan for Save the Children
Bill Dorman, news director, Hawaii Public Radio

A second explosion was reported Monday at a nuclear power plant in Fukushima, Japan as officials say that three of the plant's reactors may have experience partial meltdown. And search and rescue operations continue along coastal areas that were hardest hit by Friday's earthquake and tsunami.

NEAL CONAN, host:

This is special coverage, from NPR News. I'm Neal Conan in Washington.

It may be some time yet before the enormity of the disaster in Japan becomes clear. Search and rescue teams find many bodies and a few survivors. Conditions in the hardest-hit parts of the country remain very difficult on a fourth night with no power, little food and clean water. The situation at a nuclear power facility continues at critical after two explosions and the release of some radiation, and all this in the country best prepared to withstand earthquakes and tsunamis.

The number confirmed dead is up to nearly 2,000, but the police chief of Miyagi Prefecture told the Kyoto News Service that 10,000 could be dead in that one area alone.

Obviously, many thousands more were injured, and the search for the missing involves many, many more. In this hour, an update from Japan, what we know and what we don't about the nuclear crisis. And we'll check in on search and rescue.

And if you've been in touch with family or friends in the affected area, we'd like to hear from you. Email is best right now. The address is talk@npr.org. We'll take some calls later in the program at 800-989-8255.

But we begin with Doualy Xaykaothao, who's in Koriyama City in northern Japan.

And it's good of you to be with us. I know it's about 3 o'clock in the morning there.

DOUALY XAYKAOTHAO: Yes, well, we're all very tired, but it's good to be with you.

CONAN: Are people beginning to get exhausted - not just after their efforts since Friday, but with the realization that this is going to go on and on?

XAYKAOTHAO: Well, this is just the beginning. It's been three days, and people were still pretty stunned over the weekend, still just essentially just bracing for what had happened.

But people are obviously tired, visibly weary. They've been standing in long lines for fuel, food, water, even just clean clothes. So this is just the start of a very long, arduous journey.

CONAN: And you must be running into an awful lot of people desperately looking for their relatives.

XAYKAOTHAO: We - actually, in fact, tonight, I spoke to a university student who had come from Sendai, which is the hardest-hit area, just north of here, and he - his university is close to the shore. He was actually trying to get home and trying to get to the train, and it took a couple of days before - but his family was eventually able to get to him, and they are now at the airport, actually trying to get out to go to Osaka.

CONAN: And there are, of course, some miracles, as well.

XAYKAOTHAO: You know, there are some moments of, you know - there's good news, but what I've been able to see here has been mostly people trying not to panic, people still trying to figure out what's going on, a lot of evacuees trying to get to their proper places for food and water and even iodine pills.

CONAN: Iodine pills because of the fears of radiation from those damaged reactors.

XAYKAOTHAO: That's right. Visiting some of the checkpoints where the evacuees have come to, they're - you know, they don't even know what's going on. They don't know what was in the air. They don't know if they've been exposed in any harmful way.

They're bringing their children to these makeshift shelters and literally just getting checked by all these people in uniforms and masks. I mean, it can be a pretty scary sight.

CONAN: And when you talk about evacuees, these are the people who are leaving the area of the nuclear reactors? Or are these people leaving the area hardest hit because there's no power, no food, no water?

XAYKAOTHAO: There's actually several different groups. You have the people who are literally trying to escape from Sendai. They've - at least those who are living who were able to get out of - to get away from the tsunami and the earthquake damage.

And then you have the people who are living near the nuclear plants. They government's asked for the residents in that area, about a 20-kilometer radius, to evacuate. And then, of course, earlier, there was a second hydrogen explosion, and the government then essentially closed off an 11-kilometer radius and asked people to essentially stay inside in case of possible radiation exposure.

CONAN: And we hear terrible stories, one man quoted as saying: My house is gone, and then they tell me to stay inside.

XAYKAOTHAO: It's very frightening for a lot of people, obviously, and the folks that I've been speaking to, they just want accurate answers from the government. They want to know, really, what is going on, especially at these nuclear facilities.

It's just so difficult to know, and scientists and the nuclear specialists who are there now, they can't really know what's happening at the core of these reactors. And that gets into a whole other area.

And for the people here, it's really just about basic needs and, you know, their survival, their home, their, you know, blankets, you know, a place to sleep in.

CONAN: We're going to be getting an update from NPR's Joe Palca on the situation at those reactors in a few minutes. But Doualy Xaykaothao, I wanted to ask you: This comes, of course, in a country which is the only country ever to suffer nuclear bombardment, where nuclear issues have, of course, special resonance.

XAYKAOTHAO: That's true, but there's also a new generation, people who haven't experienced that before. And so for them, this is very new, and it's alarming. It's something that they've never known.

So you can imagine, you know, this university student, Toshihedi Hosomi(ph). He's 20 years old. He's a medical student. He is just starting his, you know, his life. And suddenly this happens, and his university is shut down. He's struggling to figure out, like, where all his friends are. And then eventually, after a pretty harrowing taxi trip, he's at an airport now, and he's spending the night there, hoping to get on a flight back to his family.

CONAN: Tell us about some of the other people you've met.

XAYKAOTHAO: Well, there's been some good stories, as well. I met a sushi chef, Kimodo Kimiyoshi(ph), and he said the first night, of course, it was very scary. But then the next night, he started feeding all the volunteers and firefighters free sushi from his restaurant and helping everyone, doing his part to try to, you know, ease the situation here, which is - unfortunately appears to be just getting worse.

CONAN: Just getting worse because as the - night after night goes by without power, without food, without water, it's very difficult to get seemingly anything into the hardest-hit areas.

XAYKAOTHAO: That's right. And earlier today on the highway heading to Sendai, the hardest-hit areas, there weren't food trucks. There weren't, you know, caravans of trucks and supplies. It was really just emergency vehicles: police, fire trucks, you know, big moving vehicles. There were no signs of any supplies that were being sent up there, and in a lot of places, actually, there just was nobody there.

We don't know what's - what happened there. We don't know the stories. The people are just gone.

CONAN: Is there a sense that things are returning to a sense of order, or is it simply chaos?

XAYKAOTHAO: Chaos is not how I would describe this place. In fact, the Japanese people are quite - are very stoic. It's a very orderly scene, even at the evacuation centers. You find people are very patiently waiting in line. There's no real panic.

They seem to be following orders. They seem to be listening very carefully and very patiently.

CONAN: As you have gone around and collected stories and gone to see for yourself what happened, is there one place that really struck you as emblematic of what happened?

XAYKAOTHAO: Well, you know, anyone that you talk to here, even just at a simple 7-11 or just outside on a road where people are trying to just, you know, see what has - what damage there is to their home, you get a sense that - you know, you just multiply these stories, and you think this is happening to millions of people.

The one person that I spoke to - and millions of others, are, in fact, without power. They're in - sleeping in near-freezing temperatures. This is a pretty bad state at this point, and teams of rescuers and disaster relief teams, they're even hard to find at this point.

CONAN: And they are struggling to find people in the rubble. And is the water that rushed into so many areas, has that subsided? Has that moved away?

XAYKAOTHAO: I haven't been able to actually witness that myself. But earlier today, one of the local newspapers in Kyoto, in fact, reported that 2,000 more bodies were found today in a prefecture just north of here.

So you can imagine that a lot of places just haven't been visited, haven't been seen by a lot of disaster relief teams. So there's still a lot to find, and the death toll, of course, is going to rise. Some are estimating it's going to be in the tens - at least over 10,000.

CONAN: And we just have a few seconds with you left. Where are you planning to head when the sun comes up today?

XAYKAOTHAO: Well, hopefully, we can get some good news and reach some of the areas where people are actually coordinating disaster relief teams, and maybe there'll be good news there about what we find and people still alive in places that haven't been reached.

CONAN: Doualy Xaykaothao, thank you very much for your time today, and we appreciate your being with us so early in the morning. And good luck to you.

XAYKAOTHAO: Thank you.

CONAN: Reporter Doualy Xaykaothao, with us on the line from Koriyama City in northern Japan.

We're talking about the devastation, of course. Friday's massive earthquake and tsunami also did significant damage, as we've heard, to a number of the country's nuclear plants. NPR science correspondent Joe Palca joins us next to explain the current dangers and longer-term fears.

Stay with us. I'm Neal Conan. You're listening to special coverage, from NPR News.

(Soundbite of music)

CONAN: This is special coverage from NPR News. Im Neal Conan in Washington.

Rescue workers in Japan continue to pick through miles of rubble, looking for survivors, more often than not finding victims. The prime minister called the devastation Japan's worst since World War II.

Adding to the difficulties, more than 150 aftershocks that have hit the region and a major crisis at several nuclear power plants, one of them at Fukushima, suffered a second explosion today as officials worry about full meltdowns.

Joining us here in Studio 3A, NPR science correspondent Joe Palca. And Joe, nice of you to be with us.

JOE PALCA: You bet.

CONAN: In the simplest terms possible, Joe, can you tell us what's happening at these - well, as I understand it, there are six nuclear reactors there. Three were offline for maintenance. What's going on with the other three?

PALCA: Right. Well, maybe I can just set the scene for you. So there's an earthquake, right, and the first thing that happens is the control rods go in and quench the nuclear reaction that's actually providing most of the heat.

So you can think of these nuclear reactors - I used to think of them as somehow being magical, but really it's just a heat source that's heating water that's driving a turbine that's making electricity.

CONAN: They're called boiling water reactors.

PALCA: This particular one is called, yes, a boiling water reactor. Water goes past this hot nuclear reactor. It heats up. It turns into steam. The steam powers a turbine. That's how it works. And it's a closed loop. So the water comes back in, and then it goes back through. That's the normal way.

Now, so they've shut off the nuclear reaction, but inside these fuel rods, these are cylinders of zirconium metal that have uranium inside of them and in some cases other radioactive material. But they're contained inside these fuel rods, right.

Even when the nuclear reaction stops, the fission reaction stops, there's still some residual heat being produced by material that's left in these tubes, right. That has to be kept cool, and that's what the problem is.

There are pumps that keep circulating water, even though the reaction has stopped, but those pumps failed. There are backup pumps powered by generators. Unfortunately, the generators stopped working. No power, no way to circulate water, things start to heat up, water boils off - not boils off but turns into steam because it can't be cycled through and collected back as water, and then the core, the rods of zirconium tubes begins to become exposed to the steam or whatever. And they're not covered by water anymore, and the temperature rises.

CONAN: And that steam, that is picking up radioactive material.

PALCA: The steam is picking up radioactive material if the zirconium tubes lose their integrity. And so yes, it does tend to pick up - and the other thing that happens is it makes hydrogen gas. The zirconium - it's called oxidizes. It takes some of the oxygen out of the water and releases a hydrogen atom.

CONAN: Hydrogen, as we know, if it's concentrated enough, is highly explosive.

PALCA: Exactly. Now, what - the thing that exploded - and we're talking about the explosion today. That was not inside the reactor. That was hydrogen that was vented from the reactor to relieve pressure and entered a building that houses the reactor, and that's what - once it left the reactor, that's exploded, and so officials are saying the reactor vessel itself is intact, which is great. It's good news.

But the problem still remains about getting water in there somehow. They've been pumping in seawater. They were using fire trucks to pump water in. Valves were sticking. They were having problems. There's been issues about keeping these fuel rods cool.

And the reason you want to keep them cool is this question of meltdown because once they start to melt - and if it gets hot enough, and they start dribbling their contents onto the floor...

CONAN: So in other words if it gets hot enough those zirconium cladding around the uranium or whatever it is, that melts away, and then you've got the material itself exposed.

PALCA: Right, and it's melting, as well. So everything's melting. And you wind up with a pool or a glob or a - I don't know what form it takes, but it's not an easy place to work with this stuff. So you want to keep it intact and inside the cylinders if you possibly can. That's the issue.

Now, I have - there was a press conference very recently from the International Atomic Energy Agency in Vienna.

CONAN: This is the U.N. agency that oversees nuclear activity all over the world.

PALCA: That's right. And James Lyons is quoted, a senior nuclear safety official at IAEA, is quoted as saying: I think at this time, we don't have any indication of fuel currently melting.

So that's the best information. That's good. That's good news.

CONAN: Why are we getting that from Vienna? Why aren't we hearing that from Tokyo?

(Soundbite of laughter)

PALCA: Well, that's one of the things that's been difficult in terms of covering this story from Washington, from Tokyo, from wherever. Information is being released in the smallest of quanta, to use a scientific term. It's coming out very slowly.

We have no source. We can't obviously get into the plant to look for ourselves, not that we would understand what exactly what was going on even if we were. But it's - there's an information bottleneck, essentially. And so everybody's trying the best they can to get information from whatever source they can.

Now, it's appropriate for the International Atomic Energy Agency to be asking the same questions that you would naturally want to ask of me. And so maybe Japan feels that - the government feels that they would rather funnel the information through that agency. I don't know.

CONAN: And in the meantime, does there remain a potential that this could get worse? I mean, how long is it going to take these rods to cool off on their own?

PALCA: That's another question that we don't really have the answer to. Some of it depends on how much cooling capacity they're able to restore. Some of it depends on how long these particular fuel rods have been in the reactors and how much additional radioactive material has built up inside of them.

So there's a lot of variables that affect that question, which is obviously a key question, and we don't know the answer. And then we're hearing reports still that there could be another large earthquake in Japan. There's been predictions of 70 percent of another significant earthquake. So, you know...

CONAN: More significant than the 6.1 and 6.2 aftershocks.

PALCA: Right, right. We're talking about aftershocks - I mean, aftershocks vary in size. This one was supposed to be, you know, in the larger range, getting into the sevens and possibly eights. It hasn't happened yet, but again, as far as I know, I just walked in here.

But this is the situation. It's very labile, I guess you'd say, and it's changing.

CONAN: And do we know how much radiation has been released thus far?

PALCA: Another no. We know there's been some because there have been radiation - heightened levels of radiation detected. You have to remember that there's always some radiation. I mean, there's radiation everywhere, it's just that it's in very low quantities and doesn't pose a health risk.

Again, the question here is: How much is being released? We don't know. Which way is the wind blowing? That's a key thing because if this is being carried off by vented material, and the wind is blowing it out to sea, then it disperses over the ocean. If it's blowing it toward Tokyo, that's not quite as good.

And then how much radioactivity or how many radioactive particles are in this smoke, steam, wind, what have you? And then are they the kind of radiation that can be inhaled, which is bad, or is this the kind that's just bad in contact or what have you?

CONAN: And then there's the examples of history, and most people think: Oh my gosh, Chernobyl.

PALCA: Right. Chernobyl is a very - most - every expert that we've talked to, and including people from the federal government, I think, have been saying this is not a situation that has a lot of analogs to Chernobyl except in the fact that they're both nuclear power plants.

That one didn't have a containment vessel, and instead of being controlled by water to keep the temperature modulated, they had carbon tubes, graphite tubes - I think they were graphite, anyway.

CONAN: Carbon (unintelligible).

PALCA: And when the reactor began to overheat, because they were testing some cooling thing and it didn't work, these rods were actually capable of catching fire. So they not only had an explosion, they had a fire. They didn't have a containment vessel that would've put the fire out. And so anything that burned or was spewed off or anything from the core of the reactor was going straight up into the air.

CONAN: These are a different design of reactor, inherently safer. Nevertheless, it sounds as if there has been a cascade, one failure after another.

PALCA: Yeah, it does. And, you know, that's why - anything that I say today I'm prepared to take back tomorrow. I'm hoping that the people who have analyzed this situation have analyzed it accurately to say it stops here because we have these containment vessels.

If the containment vessels are breached, we can say, well, it's not going to get very far. If it gets very far, we'll have to change our story again.

I don't know. I think there's good reason - I've talked to a lot of people, people who should know, who have bet a lot of their professional lives on the fact that this won't be that kind of accident, and I'm hoping that will be the case.

CONAN: And there's one set of reactors we're talking about. Could there be problems elsewhere?

PALCA: Again, there were pumping problems at three or four other power stations. None of them were as severe, and it seems that all of them were brought under control fairly rapidly.

This one, it's the - it's a lot of events at once. In fact, the explosion today seems to have made one of the reactors have a new set of problems, one of the remaining functioning - not functioning, but one of the remaining reactors that hasn't exploded.

CONAN: Joe Palca, thanks very much. And I know you wish you had clearer answers and so do we. But we will have to keep monitoring that situation. NPR science correspondent Joe Palca with us here in Studio 3A.

We're asking you if you've been in touch with people in the affected region to get in touch with us. Tell us their story, 800-989-8255. Or you can email us: talk@npr.org.

This is from Nan(ph): My friend, Eric Stoko(ph), has been spending his junior year abroad at Tohoku University in Sendai. He was at the computer lab when the earthquake struck, then spent two nights at a middle school helping to translate for English speakers and serving rice to evacuees. After returning to his dorm, he became very concerned about the nuclear reactor problems. Thankfully, his friends from the lab as a group decided to leave and managed to get a bus to Yamagata. He's en route to Osaka as we speak.

Again, we'd like to hear from you, 800-989-8255. Email: talk@npr.org.

Massive rescue efforts are now under way in Japan. The most stricken towns and neighborhoods have been impossible to reach, but hundreds of search and rescue personnel from many countries have arrived and are on their way to Japan to ramp up operations.

Steve McDonald is there now, heading emergency response in Sendai for Save the Children. And Steve, thank you for joining us so early in the morning.

Mr. STEVE McDONALD (Save the Children): Thank you.

CONAN: And can you tell us exactly where you are, what you're seeing?

Mr. McDONALD: I can't tell you exactly where we are because we're somewhere between Tokyo and Sendai. We've had to take a rather longer route to get there than we'd expect in order to avoid the exclusion zone around Fukushima.

CONAN: That's where the nuclear power plant is.

Mr. McDONALD: That's correct.

CONAN: And what are you hoping to get to the area - and you're hoping to get up to Sendai?

Mr. McDONALD: Yes. We will get into Sendai in the next couple of hours. We already have teams up there at the moment who are helping to get a base up and running, securing accommodation, office space and so on. And we've also had teams in Chiba Prefecture yesterday conducting assessments there.

CONAN: And what are you hearing from the assessments?

Mr. McDONALD: I have to say that the feedback I'm getting from my assessment teams is quite grim. They are reporting back widespread devastation, as I'm sure we're all seeing on our television screens and in the newspapers. But what's really concerning for us is that in their visits to the evacuation centers they are finding that children and families are in quite uncomfortable conditions.

They - in many cases there's no power and there's no running water. Children are quite distressed. They're scared. They're anxious. Their parents are obviously quite distressed as well. And what we heard this afternoon was that there is a possibility that some of these families will have to stay in evacuation centers for up to three months.

CONAN: Up to three months. And this is in conditions - well, three months is quite some time, but right now it's pretty cold.

Mr. McDONALD: Yes, it is. I'm somewhere near Sendai and I'm surrounded by snow.

CONAN: We're talking with Steve McDonald, who's heading emergency response with Save the Children. And you're listening to special coverage from NPR News. And Steve McDonald, what do you think the first priorities are going to be once you've set up your base, once you're ready to provide some help?

Mr. McDONALD: Well, the first part for us - and this is what we'll be doing in the morning as soon as it's light - is setting up the first of our child-friendly spaces. These are areas that allow children to do the things that children normally do. They play, read books, take part in activities. You can almost think of it as a temporary kindergarten or childcare facility.

CONAN: And once you've set those up, I'm afraid there's going to be an awful lot of children without parents.

Mr. McDONALD: Sadly, I think that is going to be the reality that we're going to see emerge over the coming days and weeks. We need to remember that a lot of children were in school or at kindergartens and childcare facilities at the time that the earthquake and tsunamis struck and were already, you know, away from their parents, who would have been in their workplaces or at home. And I think unfortunately we're going to see a significant increase of reports of children who have been orphaned.

CONAN: And as you set up these facilities, these might be considered sort of secondary responses after the emergency response to get food and water and power up. Your child-friendly areas are sort of a secondary effort.

Mr. McDONALD: In some ways they are. What we know is that the primary survival needs for the people that have been affected by this are going to be catered for by the government of Japan, the Red Cross and other agencies that are providing shelter, water, food and so on. But what we also know from long experience is that children suffer quite acute short-term and long-term psychological impact from these kinds of disasters. And so the sooner we can get in and start to minimize the impact of that on children, the better the outcome will be for them in the long term.

CONAN: And what has it been like to work with local authorities? Have they been helpful? Have they been easy to reach?

Mr. McDONALD: Yes, they have. We've got a very good relationship through our office in Japan. We've been in Japan for some 25 years now. They have excellent relationships with government at both prefecture level and the national level. And what we're finding is a real willingness and openness to accept help. We are using our staff who are already in Japan to be the face of this response. And we're bringing a small number of international experts who are really here to coach and mentor them, because our Japanese staff are highly capable, but just to coach and mentor them in how to conduct disaster response.

CONAN: And given the grim assessments you've been hearing, this can't be imagined as a short-term effort. This is going to go on for some time.

Mr. McDONALD: It will go on for some time. We are establishing a media operation to look at a three to six month program. But we are also now planning to continue activities for at least two years.

CONAN: Steve McDonald, thanks very much for your time today. It's very early in the morning. We know you're traveling. We appreciate your efforts, and good luck to you.

Mr. McDONALD: Thank you.

CONAN: Steve McDonald is running the emergency response in Sendai for Save the Children and on his way to that hard-hit city even as we speak.

We're talking about the disaster in Japan. When we come back from a short break, we'd like to hear from those of you who've been in touch with your friends and family in the affected region. If you've been able to get through, give us a call, 800-989-8255. Or send us an email: talk@npr.org. Stay with us.

I'm Neal Conan. You're listening to a special coverage from NPR News.

(Soundbite of music)

CONAN: Right now our focus is on the devastation and rescue operations in Japan. In a moment we're going to talk to with a news director at Hawaii Public Radio. Many Japanese residents and tourists are trying to reach their relatives back home.

If you've been in touch with family or friends in the affected area, we'd like to hear from you. Give us a call. Email is talk@npr.org. You can also call us, 800-989-8255.

And let's begin with John. And John's on the line with us from Tokyo.

JOHN (Caller): Hello, good afternoon.

CONAN: Good morning.

JOHN: Well, it's late evening for me.

CONAN: Yes.

JOHN: But anyway, I've been listening for a long time. I want to thank everybody for all the concern. The earthquake here, living in Tokyo was quite a serious thing. In my apartment, everything was it felt like it was just going to come down on itself. But everyone seems to be doing quite well here in Tokyo. We're very, very lucky the damage wasn't very serious here at all, really, just food shortages and outages.

CONAN: And what do you do there, John?

JOHN: I'm a translator.

CONAN: And as you've been in touch with various kinds of people, I wonder, are there I know there have been rolling blackouts. Have you been affected by those?

JOHN: Tokyo Electric had planned some rolling blackouts through the city of Tokyo, but they actually postponed them today. The special central wards(ph) of Tokyo were excluded, except for one, I believe.

CONAN: And what about...

JOHN: Oh, there's a tremor right there. Sorry.

(Soundbite of laughter)

CONAN: Okay.

JOHN: They've been going on for the last two days.

CONAN: What about supplies of food and that sort of thing?

JOHN: Bread, milk, perishables have been in low supply here in Tokyo. There have been quite a bit of long lines in supermarkets. Eggs and other foods have been quite well-stocked. Bottled water a bit of panic buying, you know. It's - Tokyo really wasn't affected that much, but people really are a kind of there's everybody was very happy, very cheerful the night after the earthquake. I spoke to a guy who walked two hours home to get from his office to his house because the train had stopped running, as you might know, and he was in very high spirits. Many people I had spoke to the night after the earthquake were in very, very high spirits.

CONAN: High spirits...

JOHN: I think the people still are yeah.

CONAN: I think some people might begin to worry if people were beginning to get weary, as we heard earlier in this hour from Doualy Xaykaothao.

JOHN: Obviously I have only spoken to a few people up north and they are safe and friends of mine, of course. But down here, they're in people are a little bit more on edge the last day or so. I spent the day out bicycling, enjoying some nice weather, and it was a lovely day. But you could get that feeling, people were getting a bit tired of it, I suppose, the situation.

CONAN: John, thanks very much, and please take care.

JOHN: Thank you, sir.

CONAN: Joining us now is Bill Dorman, news director at Hawaii Public Radio. And Bill, thanks very much for being with us.

Mr. BILL DORMAN (News Director, Hawaii Public Radio): Thank you, Neal.

CONAN: And obviously there's a large Japanese community there in Honolulu. Have been people have been able to reach their family and friends back home?

Mr. DORMAN: Well, it's sort of a mix record. I just spoke with someone at the Japanese consulate this morning. He says that people are, by and large, able to get in touch via email and Facebook and things like that. Phone lines much less certain, and of course this depends on geography and which part of the country you're trying to get through to. And it's obviously much more difficult in some of those areas in the north.

Also, a number of Japanese visitors here - Hawaii a very popular tourist destination. He mentioned that on any given day there are usually 4,000 Japanese visitors that arrive in Hawaii from Japan.

CONAN: Are those flights continuing? It's hard to imagine.

Mr. DORMAN: Well, they are now. They're back now. There was a disruption over the first couple of days. There were a number of flights canceled, and so there were a number of people that were stranded. Actually, more than a thousand that were trying to get out and that were not able to. But over the weekend, that's been able to clear up a bit. He said at the consulate that a couple of flights were added last night. And now today flights are back to normal going back to Japan.

CONAN: And are there efforts to gather relief supplies or support for people in Japan there in Hawaii?

Mr. DORMAN: There are, you know. Japan has a - or Hawaii, rather, has a very large Japanese community and very large Japanese-American community and tradition here. And the relief efforts are really across a number of fronts. Just this, as an example, last night, there is a concert in Waikiki after a Honolulu festival, which, in and of itself, involves a lot of Japanese. Usually, there are more than 3,000 Japanese visitors for that festival alone. But there is a concert by a ukulele virtuoso, Jake Shimabukuro, and a local music group. Proceeds went to a fund. Local clothing designers have come out with at least two t-shirts and proceeds are going to the victims.

And actually, we've just got an email in at the station this morning from a woman whose son and daughter, ages nine and six, set up a lemonade stand in Kailua, which is in a tsunami inundation zone and they raised $112 selling lemonade for 25 cents a cup.

(Soundbite of laughter)

CONAN: You mentioned the tsunami inundation zone. You, obviously, got some of that in Hawaii. You had hours to prepare for it. It was broadly in order of magnitude less than what happened in Japan. But I wonder if people there are beginning to wonder about their preparations and what they would do if that kind of timing and magnitude where to happen there in Hawaii.

Mr. DORMAN: Well, certainly, pictures like we've seen from Japan, I think, are focusing a lot of people who, perhaps in the past, may not have taken tsunami warnings or tsunami watches quite as seriously, although this area is used to rough weather and flooding in coastal zones. So people who live in the low-lying areas are well-aware of their vulnerability. But, certainly, after this, I think that there's going to be a new level of awareness.

The civil defense folks are still going out on a number of the neighbor islands today and still making assessments. But so far, they say that property damages are likely to top three million dollars and counting around the state.

CONAN: And given the scale of thing on the other side of the Pacific, that's -well, it has to be a relief that it was just that.

Mr. DORMAN: And no loss of life, absolutely.

CONAN: Bill Dorman, thanks very much for your time today.

Mr. DORMAN: Thank you.

CONAN: Bill Dorman, news director at Hawaii Public Radio. He spoke with us from member station KHPR in Honolulu. We're asking those of you who've been in touch with relatives in affected areas to give us a call, 800-989-8255. Or email us: talk@npr.org.

This is an email we have from Shawn: I taught in Sendai City back in the early '90s. I've been able to track down two old friends of mine through both Google people locator and two Facebook groups. It's amazing to see what a small group of interconnected people are able to do during this horrible disaster. Also, something you might want to explain to folks is that the port of Sendai did get hit very hard but the main city of Sendai is about 10 miles inland.

Well, we thank you for that. Let's see if we get another caller on the line. This is George, and George is with us from Littleton in Colorado. George, are you with us

GEORGE (Caller): Yes, I am.

CONAN: And have you been able to get in touch with friends or families in Japan?

GEORGE: We have. They incurred roof damage. But that's about all.

CONAN: Just about...

GEORGE: They're living several miles inland.

CONAN: And whereabouts?

GEORGE: Fukushima.

CONAN: Fukushima. So are they now worried about the nuclear power plant?

GEORGE: Yes.

CONAN: And when they talked to you about their concerns, what are they saying?

GEORGE: Well, we had only a brief interchange, that they were okay and had access to electricity and other provisions. But my comment I wanted to make was how stoic and disciplined the Japanese people were. You know, they're standing in line outside a 7-Eleven. There's no looting at all. If this tragedy had occurred in the mainland, that 7-Eleven would have been looted by now. It's amazing how disciplined and stoic the Japanese people are.

CONAN: George, thanks very much for the phone call. Appreciate it.

GEORGE: You're welcome.

CONAN: And we wish your friends the best of luck. Let's go next to - this is Christine(ph), Christine with us from Birmingham.

CHRISTINE (Caller): Hi.

CONAN: Hi, Christine.

CHRISTINE: I talked to - we had a Japanese exchange student for a year. His name is Teriyoshi(ph), and we stay as very close friends with him. And I talked to him less than 24 hours after the earthquake occurred. He was in Tokyo and he told me he came - I said, what happened? What did you see? He said, I came out of the building and I thought to myself, what is wrong with me? My legs - I can't stand up, he said. And then I looked around and saw that no one else could stand up. And he said, I - well, until that moment that I realized it was an earthquake. But he said, that where he was, you know, there's minor, minor damages to buildings and things, cracks and stuff. But he says it took him nine hours to make a trip that normally takes 30 minutes to get home that night.

And they're planning a wedding at the end of April, and we were planning to go. And I asked him, you know, do you think you'll still have the wedding? He said, oh, sure. Tokyo - you know, well, there's no problem. But I honestly believe that he had been in Tokyo, he had no idea of the scope of this disaster. And so I'm going to - we Skyped that night and I'm going to Skype him again tonight and see if his attitude has changed. I imagine it - I imagine that it will.

CONAN: Oh, Christine, we hope that ceremony gets underway sooner or later.

CHRISTINE: Yeah. Thank you.

CONAN: Thanks very much for the call. This email from John M. in Tokyo: As an American in living in Japan for a few years now, currently in Tokyo, the size of this disaster can sometimes be difficult to comprehend. But I have to at least be thankful the earthquake did occur closer to Tokyo where the death toll would have almost certainly be incredible by comparison, given that life loss is tragic no matter the number. As it is, Tokyo is relatively unaffected. People are reaching out to friends in the north. I, myself, will be departing soon to assists victims of this crisis. And thanks to everybody who's shown concern for us here. And we will work through this as all humans do.

Let's go next to - this is Dan, Dan with us from Merritt Island in Florida.

DAN (Caller): Hi. Our friend is an American who's living north of Tokyo, about 75 miles from this area that was most affected. And he was impressed by how well the Japanese preparations for earthquakes have worked. He live on the fourth floor of an apartment building and the ground motion was so violent that his refrigerator was turned upside down, his gas stove ripped off the wall, but the gas supplies turned off immediately, automatically. He had a lot of broken glass, but he still - he hasn't lost power, still able to communicate on the Internet. And so it's certainly, you know, a serious, you know, major disaster even there.

But anywhere else in the world - many areas that were almost unaffected in Japan are - have been, you know, damaged but really there was very little loss of life. He - many other parts of the world, there would have been fires everywhere, collapsed buildings and so on. And his building apparently is still livable and safe despite the damage and the extraordinary amount of earthquake movement.

CONAN: And if people the Loma Prieta quake near San Francisco several years ago, fires caused by natural gas were a big problem there. And it's interesting to hear that they have valves there in Japan that shut that off immediately.

DAN: Right. And, of course, even just living there as an American - he's been there a few years and has been through a lot of their emergency, you know, preparation classes and training, so everyone there is prepared to respond. And, you know, I think what's most impressive to me as an engineer is just the way that the buildings have been constructed in a way that avoids collapse in most cases. Well, probably, you know, a lot of them did survive intact.

CONAN: It sounds like you're going to have a lot to learn from study of what did happen, in fact, to the buildings that were closer to the epicenter. But thanks very much for your time today, Dan. Glad things are going well.

DAN: Sure. Thank you.

CONAN: We're talking to people who've been in touched with relatives and friends in the affected regions in Japan after the devastating quake there on Friday and the even more devastating tsunami that followed.

You're listening to the special coverage from NPR News.

Let's go next to Emily, Emily with us from Chico, California.

EMILY (Caller): Oh, hi. My college roommate at Brandeis, her name is Yuki Akimoto(ph). She is the director of Burma Now, which is a humanitarian organization that helps Burmese people and so she has spent most of her time helping them. But she is in the Chiba Prefecture and she and her family are spread out over Chiba and Tokyo, which just had some damage, I guess, from the earthquake itself. But she is now unable to get some basic groceries. She said the stores are pretty much empty and that people are hoarding iodine, which is irritating, she says.

(Soundbite of laughter)

CONAN: For fear of they may need it if radiation is released.

EMILY: Yes. She's been trying to get iodine for the last couple of days and trying to go about life as normal. She even forced herself to go to a ballet class, which she was, you know, not sure if it was going to be there. But she said, of course, it was. And there's a big crack in the wall, but they did it anyway. And she's still trying to get iodine and so - in fact, I said, well, I'll just FedEx you some. I'm calling FedEx, they won't deliver to Japan right now. But, you know, we keep hearing that they're spending iodine tablets out, but she's - she really is just desperate for iodine. And she was also in Washington, D.C., on 9/11 and so she said that she's been having some of the same feelings that she describes it as the sun shining, the sky is clear, we're all here, but.... And she describes it as being in shock.

CONAN: Yeah. And those of us who remember 9/11, one of the most beautiful days in memory and one of those that's etched in memory, in part, because of that. Emily, we wish your friend the best of luck.

EMILY: Thank you.

CONAN: Thanks very much for the call. Email from David: I work for DLD, a small Japanese company with an office in Sendai. Miraculously, none of our employees or family members where hurt or are missing. Our office is still standing, though, there was a landslide nearby. Our business is selling woodstoves. So the first nights without power, we were able to provide some heated shelter to neighbors. Our company president, Yoichiro Mitsui(ph), was just returning to Japan when the quake struck. He's flight was diverted to Anchorage for several days. He managed to get home on Sunday. Now, our company has loaded a large truck with food, water and gas, and he is driving four hours to Sendai to help out. I'm in New Hampshire, where our U.S. office is located.

And this we have from Linda in Somers, Connecticut: In 1983, we were the host family for a Japanese daughter. Throughout the years, we've kept in touch via snail mail and email. Our Japanese daughter is the mother of four children and her husband works in Tokyo. I emailed her on Friday and by Saturday I received a note from her stating: My kids are all at home safely. I was in Shibuya, the center of Tokyo. All trains and subways stopped so I walked to the institute where my husband works. It was a one-hour walk and he was there. We slept over at his workroom and we're all home now. Needless to say, I felt such a relief that all are safe and sound. I shall continue to email and to get updates on their situation.

Stay tuned to NPR news for the latest on the situation in Japan, including updates on the crisis with the nuclear reactors. And, of course, that will be more stories today - later on ALL THINGS CONSIDERED.

You've been listening to the special coverage. I'm Neal Conan, NPR News in Washington.

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