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World Last Updated: Mar 11th, 2011 - 15:30:48

Japan Nuke Plant Area Evacuated
Caroline Lorraine

Mar 11, 2011, 15:30

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People near a Japan nuclear power plant affected by Friday's monster earthquake in Japan were evacuated as employees worked to cool down the facility, officials said.

Japanese officials said the death toll from the 8.9-magnitude earthquake affecting the country's northeastern and eastern coasts likely would be more than 1,000, Kyodo News reported. The quake triggered dozens of fires and a thunderous tsunami that swept away homes, vehicles, ships and people.

Officials ordered the evacuation as a precaution, even though there were no signs yet of radiation leaks, CNN reported. Japan has already declared a state of atomic emergency.

The earthquake prompted Japanese officials to close four nuclear power facilities in the earthquake zone.

Chief Cabinet Secretary Yukio Edano said the Fukushima Daiichi reactor "remains at a high temperature" because it "cannot cool down."

"This is a precautionary instruction for people to evacuate," Edano said. "There is no radioactive leakage at this moment outside of the facility."

U.S. President Barack Obama said he spoke with Japanese Prime Minister Naoto Kan, asking specifically about the nuclear plants and potential vulnerability.

"He indicated that they are monitoring the situation very closely," Obama said. "So far they have not seen evidence of radiation leaks, but obviously you've got to take all potential precautions."

He said he asked U.S. Energy Secretary Steve Chu to keep in contact with his Japanese counterparts, offering assistance as necessary and to "make sure that if, in fact, there have been breaches in the safety system on these nuclear plants that they're dealt with right away."

The International Atomic Energy Agency said on its Web site it was "in full response mode" as it works with Japanese authorities and monitors the situation.

U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton said the U.S. government sent coolant for the Fukushima plant, CNN reported..

"We're really deeply involved in trying to do as much as we can on behalf of the Japanese and on behalf of U.S. citizens," she said.

Japan's Defense Ministry said about 1,800 homes in Minamisoma, near the Pacific coast, were destroyed, raising the possibility that the overall quake death toll will top 1,000, Kyodo News reported.

Japanese officials said about 4 million homes were without power in Tokyo and surrounding areas.

News media also reported a dam broke in Fukushima prefecture, sweeping away scores of homes. CNN reported fires in at least 80 cities.

Kan pledged the government would make every effort to deal with the impact of the earthquake, the Chinese news agency Xinhua reported.

"Our government will make all-out efforts to minimize the damage caused by the earthquake," Kan told a news conference after the government set up a task force to deal with the quake and its extensive damage.

He urged the public to remain calm, saying so far there is no problem with nuclear power plants.

The Japan Meteorological Agency said the earthquake was the strongest in the quake-prone archipelago, with its magnitude topping the 7.9 registered in the 1923 Great Kanto Earthquake that killed more than 100,000 people.

Aftershocks, some stronger than 7-magnitude, struck the area as well.

The epicenter was offshore, about 231 miles from Tokyo, the U.S. Geological Survey said.

Obama, pledging to assist Japan in any way possible, said a U.S. aircraft carrier was in Japan, and another was en route. A ship also was traveling to the Mariana Islands to assist as needed.

He said the Defense Department was working to account for all U.S. military personnel in Japan. U.S. Embassy personnel in Tokyo moved to an off-site location, and the State Department also was working "to account for and assist any and all American citizens who are in the country," Obama said.

Defense Secretary Robert Gates said in a statement, "As best we can tell, all of our people are OK, our ships and military facilities are all in pretty good shape. We obviously have huge sympathy for the people of Japan and we are prepared to help them."

Obama said, "I think when you see what's happening in Japan, you are reminded that, for all our differences in culture or language or religion, that ultimately humanity is one. And when we face these kinds of natural disasters � then you think about your own family, and you think how would you feel if you lost a loved one or if your entire life savings were gone because of the devastation."

Both major airports in Tokyo were closed.

Tsunami warnings and watches were issued by the Pacific Tsunami Warning Center in Hawaii to several neighboring countries and regions.

Besides Japan, tsunami warnings for the Pacific Ocean stretched from areas along Asian coasts to the West Coast of the Americas.

Source: UPI

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