Crisis in Japan

Japan struggles to recover after a deadly earthquake and tsunami pound the Asian nation. Now officials race to prevent a nuclear disaster too.

March 25, 2011

More than a week has gone by since a massive earthquake rocked Japan. But residents are still trembling. The magnitude 9.0 quake ripped through the country's northeastern coast at 2:46 p.m. on March 11. Buildings buckled, highways collapsed and fires broke out. It was the strongest earthquake on record to hit Japan, and the fourth most powerful to strike anywhere in the last 100 years.

The quake struck in the Pacific Ocean, 17 miles beneath the sea floor. The epicenter was located 80 miles off Japan's east coast, near the city of Sendai. Tokyo, the capital, is 230 miles away. Even there, people felt the ground shake. Hundreds of aftershocks followed, causing more damage.

The destruction didn't stop there. The quake triggered a tsunami (soo-nah-mee) with waves as high as a three-story building. Entire cities were swept away as the water roared inland. Shizugawa, a small fishing town, was one of them. "You cannot prepare for a tsunami this big," said Katsuko Takahashi, 50, whose home was lost in the waves.

A Disaster Deepens

Thousands of people are missing. An estimated 10,000 have died. More than 440,000 are living in temporary shelters. There are food, water and fuel shortages across the country. "In the 65 years after the end of World War II, this is the toughest and the most difficult crisis for Japan," said Japanese Prime Minister Naoto Kan.

The country also faces a growing nuclear threat. The quake and tsunami caused serious damage at the Fukushima Daiichi power plant. Four of the plant's nuclear reactors are having cooling issues. Helicopters and crews have been dumping seawater into the reactors to prevent overheating. Even so, the plant has suffered several explosions and fires, causing some radiation to escape. High levels of radiation are dangerous. Nearby residents were told to leave. Others, in an area 12 to 19 miles away, were instructed to stay inside.

Hope Amid Tragedy

The international community has rallied around Japan. Many countries, including the United States, have sent teams to aid in relief efforts. Even China, Japan's longtime rival, has pledged to help its neighbor.

About 15,000 people have been rescued. With each passing day, it is harder to find survivors. Severe cold weather has slowed search efforts. Still, miracles have been found in the rubble. On March 14, soldiers saved a 4-month-old baby from the wreckage. The infant, wearing a pink bear suit, was reunited with her father. She has become a symbol of strength for the nation.

Strength is something the country will need in the coming weeks. In a rare address, Japan's Emperor Akihito urged his people to stand united. "I pray we will all take care of each other and overcome this tragedy," he said.

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