Japan Tsunami Survivors Set Up Camp In Sendai

Recovery efforts are underway in the regional capital of Sendai, where thousands of tsunami survivors are in makeshift camps.

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RENEE MONTAGNE, host:

This is MORNING EDITION from NPR News. Steve Inskeep is on assignment in Cairo. I'm Renee Montagne.

LINDA WERTHEIMER, host:

And I'm Linda Wertheimer.

The nuclear crisis in Japan has taken a turn for the worse overnight. We'll have reports throughout our program this morning. Dangerous levels of radiation are leaking from that crippled plant in northern Japan.

MONTAGNE: The country's prime minister admitted that the radiation levels could affect human health and he told thousands of nearby residents to seal themselves indoors. The announcement came after the third explosion in two days at the nuclear power plant.

WERTHEIMER: In a moment, we're going to hear from our science correspondent, Jon Hamilton.

We begin with NPR's Rob Gifford, who reports from the city of Sendai, just 50 miles north of the reactor.

ROB GIFFORD: The operators of the Fukushima nuclear plant said today that radiation levels for one hour's exposure rose to eight times the legal limit for exposure in one year. A fire that briefly broke out at the plant's number four reactor is also believed to have led to radioactive leaks.

Radioactive levels in Tokyo were higher than normal, but officials said there was no health dangers yet there. The concerns have sparked some panic buying in cities, even in Tokyo. The French and German embassies have advised their citizens to leave Japan altogether.

In a televised address, Prime Minister Naoto Kan admitted there is still a very high risk of more radiation coming out.

Prime Minister NAOTO KAN: (Japan) (Through translator) We need now for everybody to move out of the 20 kilometer radius from the number one plant. And in areas from 20 to 30 kilometers from the power plant, depending on what happens at the power plant, we would like to ask you to remain indoors, at home or in your offices.

GIFFORD: The challenge for any leader to deal with such a potential disaster would be huge. But Prime Minister Kan and his government are also struggling to manage the disaster relief for victims of Friday's earthquake and tsunami that caused the problems at the nuclear plant in the first place. Thousands of people are still unaccounted for, including hundreds of tourists, while many remote towns and villages have not been reached. More than 500,000 people have been made homeless.

(Soundbite of breaking wood)

GIFFORD: At one of the main evacuation centers along the coast, two men are breaking up wood for the fire, where food is made for the hundreds of evacuees. All the workers here are volunteers, led by 60-year-old Masatamo Kato(ph).

Mr. MASATAMO KATO: (Foreign language spoken)

GIFFORD: We have some food and water to boil, he says, but we don't have much.

MR. KATO: (Foreign language spoken)

GIFFORD: Asked about government assistance, Kato is dismissive. They're useless, he says. They haven't even brought us anything yet. And this is near Sendai, the biggest city of the region.

Some help has now started to arrive, from Japanese and foreign relief teams and NGOs. A group of South Koreans in bright yellow vests stand in the lobby of one of the only hotels still open in Sendai. Their spokesman is Yi Woo Jong.

Mr. YI WOO JONG: We are Korea church relief team. So, in Japan right now, we are finding the way to help the Japanese people. Today we want to buy some food. We will try to get that food to their people.

GIFFORD: Many local residents who can are voting with their feet, getting in their cars or heading for the airport for flights south towards Tokyo or other parts of Japan.

Rob Gifford, NPR News, Sendai, northeastern Japan.

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