Race against time to prevent radiation leak
DEVASTATED: Australian rescuers help search for bodies as earthquake-battered Japan faces a new threat from a deepening nuclear crisis JAPAN battled a nuclear and humanitarian crisis y e s t e r d a y a s e n g i n e e r s worked to restore power to a stricken atomic plant while the toll of dead and missing from the quake and tsunami reached 16,900.
Half a million people made homeless when the monster waves razed Japan’s northeast coast were suffering in appalling conditions, struggling to stay warm in freezing temperatures and with scant food and fuel.
Thick snow covered the wreckage littering obliter- ated towns and villages, all but extinguishing hopes of finding anyone alive in the d e b r i s a n d d e e p e n i n g danger for survivors.
‘ ‘ We’re al r eady s eeing families huddling around gas fires for warmth. In these sorts of temperatures, young children are vulnerable to chest infections and flu,’’ Save the Children’s Steve McDonald said, estimating the disaster had left 100,000 children homeless.
But global concerns remained f o c us e d o n t he crippled Fukushima No 1 plant, 250km from Tokyo, and the fear that the massive earthquake and tsunami could be f ollowed by a dangerous radiation leak.
Those fears have triggered an exodus of foreign nationa l s , p a r t i c u l a r l y a f t e r Britain, France, Germany, Australia and New Zealand advised their citizens to leave Tokyo as well as the northeast region.
Russia and Germany were among countries that have moved their embassies out of the Japanese capital.
The military and fire de- partments resumed water cooling operations using a fleet of fire trucks in a race a g a i n s t t i m e t o b r i n g overheating at the plant’s reactors and fuel storage tanks, known as containment pools, under control.
If the fuel is exposed to air, it could degrade further and emit dangerous levels of radioactivity.
Authorit i e s have s a i d radiation levels from the plant pose no immediate health t hreat outside a 20km exclusion zone, despite slightly elevated levels detected in Tokyo this week.
The capital’s usually teeming streets were quiet yesterday, although some residents headed to work as usual. The city’s neon glare was dimmed overnight, in line with a power-saving drive forced by shutdowns at other atomic plants.
‘‘ This town has become so lonesome at night, as many stores keep the lights off and close early,’’ said Shin Fujii, who runs a Spanish restaurant where custom has slowed to a few diners a day.