POLICE OFFICERS wearing gas masks patrols in a vehicle in the area of the Fukushima power plant's Unit 1 in Okumamachi towards Minamisoma in Fukushima Prefecture (state), northern Japan, Saturday, March 12, amid fears that a part of the plant could melt down after being hit by a powerful earthquake and tsunami Friday. AP Photo/The Yomiuri Shimbun, Kaname Yoneyama
Explosion at Japan nuke plant, disaster toll rises
IWAKI, Japan — An explosion at a nuclear power station Saturday destroyed a building housing the reactor, but a radiation leak was decreasing despite fears of a meltdown from damage caused by a powerful earthquake and tsunami, officials said.
Government spokesman Yukio Edano said the explosion destroyed the exterior walls of the building where the reactor is placed, but not the actual metal housing enveloping the reactor.
That was welcome news for a country suffering from Friday’s double disaster that pulverized the northeastern coast, leaving at least 574 people dead by official count.
One report said four whole trains had disappeared Friday and still not been located. Local media reports said at least 1,300 people may have been killed.
Edano said the radiation around the Fukushima Dai-ichi plant had not risen after the blast, but had in fact decreased. He did not say why that was so.
Officials have not given specific radiation readings for the area, though they said they were elevated before the blast: At one point, the plant was releasing each hour the amount of radiation a person normally absorbs from the environment each year.
Virtually any increase in ambient radiation can raise long-term cancer rates, and authorities were planning to distribute iodine to residents in the area, according to the International Atomic Energy Agency. Iodine counteracts the effects of radiation.
The pressure in the reactor was also decreasing after the blast, according to Edano.
“We have confirmed that the walls of this building were what exploded, and it was not the reactor’s container that exploded,” said Edano.
The trouble began at the plant’s Unit 1 after the massive 8.9-magnitude earthquake and the tsunami it spawned knocked out power there, depriving it of its cooling system.
Damage reported at S. Ore. harbor
SEASIDE — A tsunami on Friday sank several boats in Brookings harbor, swept half a dozen other boats out to sea and washed into the ocean four people who were later rescued, authorities in Southern Oregon said.
Much of the commercial part of the harbor was destroyed, said Curry County Sheriff John Bishop. The damage was the worst reported in Oregon following the tsunami, which charged across the Pacific after being generated by an earthquake off Japan.
One man with a history of heart problems was found dead aboard a commercial vessel. It was unclear exactly how he died but it was likely from natural causes, Bishop said.
Four other people who went to a beach north of Brookings to watch the waves were swept into the sea, but all survived, Bishop said. Two got out on their own, and the other two were rescued.
Along most of the Oregon coast, people headed for high ground in the early morning and began returning home around noon.
The damage reports from Brookings emerged late in the morning, after state officials said it appeared Oregon had escaped major harm.
In the harbor at Brookings, Bishop said, damages will be in the millions of dollars.
“The port is in total disarray,” he told The Associated Press at midday Friday as the surges continued. “Most of the front part of the commercial basin is gone.”
The man who was found dead was described as a “live-aboard” on the vessel, Bishop said. He added that none of the vessels that were swept out to sea had people aboard.
Gov. John Kitzhaber held a press conference, at which he and other state leaders said preparations for the waves had gone well.
State geologist Vicki McConnell warned that Oregon faces the risk of a similar quake much closer to home, with much less notice, in an unstable area just off the Oregon coast called a subduction zone.
The waves were larger the farther south they hit the Oregon coast.
North of Brookings in the Coos County town Port Orford, waves measured at 3.7 feet higher than the normal sea level but caused no damage as the water surged back and forth between the levels for high and low tide.
Gadhafi pushes ahead as Arab League debates help
BIN JAWAAD, Libya — Moammar Gadhafi tightened his grip Saturday on the coastal road linking his territory to the rebel-controlled east, pushing forward the front line in Libya’s grueling internal conflict and showing off control of a devastated town just seized from the opposition.
Arab nations debated whether to call for a Western no-fly zone to protect the rebels — deciding at a closed emergency Arab League meeting in Cairo whether to issue the endorsement that the U.S. and European nations say they need before acting.
“The League cannot remain idle, not taking responsibility for these events,” said Oman’s Foreign Minister Yousef Ben Alwi, who headed the meeting. He called on Arab League members to take a decision “now, before events race ahead of us.”
The Libyan government took reporters by plane and bus to the town of Bin Jawwad, the scene of brutal battles six days ago between insurgents and Gadhafi loyalists using artillery, rockets and helicopter gunships.
A police station was completely destroyed, its windows shattered, walls blackened and burned and broken furniture inside. A nearby school had gaping holes in the roof and a wall. Homes nearby were empty and cars were overturned or left as charred hulks in the road.
Rubble filled the streets and a sulphurous smell hung in the air.
Gen. Abdel-Fattah Younis, the country’s interior minister before defecting, told The Associated Press that Gadhafi’s forces had driven deeper into rebel territory than at any time since the opposition seized control of the east.
He said they were about 50 miles (77 kilometers) past the key oil port city of Ras Lanouf and about 25 miles (40 kilometers) outside Brega, the site of a major oil terminal.