Tokyo Notes

Japan Earthquake Toll Latest

Naoto Kan describes the earthquake, tsunami and nuclear threat as the biggest challenge in 65 years.

The official death toll following Friday’s massive earthquake and tsunami has topped 1,200, but one police official has been quoted as saying that it could end up passing 10,000. It is, as Prime Minister Naoto Kan described it, the biggest crisis Japan has faced since World War II.

Speaking to reporters on Sunday, Kan said: ‘The earthquake, tsunami and the nuclear incident have been the biggest crisis Japan has encountered in the 65 years since the end of World War II…We're under scrutiny on whether we, the Japanese people, can overcome this crisis.’

An estimated 2 million homes in Japan’s north are said to be without power as the temperature there plunges. About 1.4 million are currently without running water, according to Reuters. Here in Tokyo, supermarkets started to run low on fresh produce like eggs, bread and fresh fruit and vegetables, but most stores appeared to still be open as normal, as were many cafes and restaurants.

There’s stress and concern, not least over the uncertain situation surrounding the ongoing efforts to prevent a meltdown at power plants in Fukushima, but no panic. Still, the French Embassy has contacted its citizens in Tokyo and recommended that they leave the Kanto region for the time being.

All eyes now, though, are undoubtedly on nuclear power plants crippled by the magnitude 9 earthquake and tsunami. News about what’s going on at the reactors is sketchy and there have been a number of what seem like conflicting reports.

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According to the BBC, the country’s nuclear energy agency ‘has declared a state of emergency at a second nuclear facility, at Onagawa, after excessive radiation levels were recorded there. It said cooling systems at all three reactors at the Onagawa complex, which were automatically shut down after the earthquake and tsunami, were functioning properly and the rise in local radiation levels might have been caused by the Fukushima leak.’

The Daily Yomiuri, meanwhile, reported that almost 200 people might have been exposed to radioactivity from the Fukushima No. 1 nuclear power plant.

‘The Fukushima prefectural government and the nuclear safety agency confirmed that 22 people had been exposed to radioactive material because of substances temporarily released from the No. 1 plant's No. 1 reactor after its hydrogen explosion Saturday afternoon,’ the paper reported this evening.

And, as if all this wasn’t enough, the country’s weather agency reported that a volcano in the south of the country has started spewing ash. AP notes that the Shinmoedake volcano has resumed activity after a couple of quiet weeks, although it’s unclear if the latest activity is related to Friday’s quake.