Devastation in Japan

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This story is based on a radio interview. Listen to the full interview.

Audio Transcript:

Marco Werman: I'm Marco Werman. This is The World. The earthquake and tsunami that struck Japan on Friday has produced a humanitarian disaster. Now, authorities are trying to prevent a nuclear disaster. They're battling to cool three overheating nuclear reactors at a power station in Fukushima. We'll have on that effort in a moment. We begin our coverage with the human toll of the quake and the tsunami. The BBC's Nick Ravenscroft is in the hard hit city of Sendai. He visited Sendai's harbor today. It was already dark in Japan, but you could still see the destruction.

Nick Ravenscroft: You could see cars weaving through the debris and as their headlights swept across the expanse of broken warehouses and abandoned offices, it would occasionally pick out some quite arresting scenes. There was one truck which was balanced, pivoted on top of another vehicle which it had crushed, it had been lifted onto it by the tsunami. And then elsewhere we had a ship, a cargo ship, a pretty sizable vessel which had been lifted up out of the dock it was in and then slammed down on the concrete dockside. Those are some of the things that we've been seeing today and there's a lot more of that stretching up the coast.

Werman: Sendai is a city of one million people. Who is there now and is there any sense of how many people are believed to have perished?

Ravenscroft: Well, in terms of the people who have perished, that is a fluctuating figure. One of the difficulties for the authorities is that obviously, people have die, but also a lot of people tried to escape and they're still trying to get a sense of exactly who is where. So that's one of the problems they're having at the moment. But there's also a lot of people who are not directly affected by the tsunami who didn't live in that area, so what's life like for them? Well, they are having difficulties getting food. There are still cues of people outside the shops and when they get to the front of that cue they find that there's very little food on the shelves. This is affecting communities for miles around here. I think there are two problems. First of all, some people have been bulk buying. Certainly not panic buying because it's very ordered here, it's very calm, but I think the other thing is the problems with the transport infrastructure -- the roads, the railways, mean that deliveries simply are not getting through. People don't have enough to eat and I've seen people out scouring the streets trying to find a shop which has anything they can buy. And people are living off dried noodles. It's not starvation, but certainly it's uncomfortable for people, even those who are not directly affected by the tsunami.

Werman: The sense of orderliness and calm that you describe in the midst of this chaos and destruction has been pretty striking as I've read numerous reports. Have you found that as well?

Ravenscroft: Yes, I have and yet you have a situation which the Japanese Prime Minister has described as the worst since the second World War. We have seen people down in these affected areas who have pretty much organized themselves, so you see them starting the cleanup operation, distributing water amongst themselves, making sure it's equally distributed. You see them looking out after the elderly. It's been very impressive.

Werman: Now on top of the earthquake, and the tsunami, and the aftershocks, there are also these continuing crises with a number of nuclear reactors. How concerned are the people in Sendai about those reactor crises?

Ravenscroft: The people here in Sendai I have not spoken to at any great length about this, but I did speak to people who lived nearer to the reactors, still well outside the exclusion zone. One night was quite interesting. I was talking to one man who was on the one hand very concerned that the evacuations would be extended, so where would he and his family go to live, but equally, he didn't want to be at risk from radiation. We had a long discussion about this. But also I walked out of the restaurant where we were having dinner at the next table and there was a bar just a street along, and people were spilling out of it, people in their twenties, adult people enjoying a normal night out in Japan on the weekend, and they seemed not to have a care in the world. So I don't think it would be right to suggest that everybody is very, very anxious, but I think people are deeply uncomfortable with the fact that there has been a two-fold natural disaster, the earthquake and the tsunami, and now there is this nuclear issue on top of it. I think they want things back to normal, but I think it's gonna be a long time before that can happen.

Werman: The BBC's Nick Ravenscroft in Sendai. Thanks very much, Nick, and stay safe.

Ravenscroft: That's no problem.