Monday, March 14, 2011

Special Report: Can Japan find "New Deal" after triple whammy?

TOKYO (Reuters) – The Daiichi nuclear power plant in Fukushima is built right on the shoreline in northeast Japan. So when an 8.9 magnitude earth quake struck on Friday, the tsunami waves it spawned -- tall as a house and speeding like a jet plane -- crashed over the reactors and put them at risk of a meltdown.

Another hydrogen explosion rocked the plant on Monday while engineers were flooding the three reactors in the complex with sea water in a desperate attempt to prevent what was shaping up as the worst nuclear emergency since the Chernobyl disaster 25 years ago.

U.S. warships and planes helping the relief efforts have moved away from the coast temporarily because of low-level radiation from the stricken nuclear power plant, the U.S. Navy said on Monday. Singapore said it was checking Japanese food imports for radioactive contamination.

The nuclear crisis was a triple whammy for Japan, coming on top of the earthquake -- the fifth strongest ever recorded -- and one of the most powerful tsunami in history, which caused scenes of unimaginable destruction in northeast Japan.

Japan's Prime Minister Naoto Kan said the country was facing its biggest crisis since the end of the Second World War, which was when the United States dropped atomic bombs on Hiroshima and Nagasaki.

"We're under scrutiny on whether we, the Japanese people, can overcome this crisis," Kan told a Sunday night news conference, his voice rising with emotion.

The quake caused Japan's main island to shift 2.5 meters (8 feet) and moved the earth's axis 10 cm (2.5 inches), geologists say. The question now is whether the catastrophe will spur other seismic changes in Japan, which has yet to emerge from its "lost decades" of stagnant growth, aging population, and loss of international prestige following the collapse of the Japanese asset bubble in the early 1990s.

At the very least, the drama at Fukushima is bound to shake the faith of many Japanese in the safety of their nuclear plants. The catastrophe will also sorely test Kan's deeply unpopular government. And the immense reconstruction effort that is coming may bring changes to rural Japan, where many of its older citizens live.

Kan flew over the stricken nuclear plant and quake-hit areas on Saturday morning after ordering an evacuation in the area. He borrowed a military camouflage jacket with the name tag "Miyamoto" for a brief visit to the stricken nuclear plants.

"I came to realize the huge magnitude of damage the tsunami has wrought," he told reporters on his return to Tokyo, this time wearing the blue uniform of the disaster response teams.

Just before the quake hit on Friday, he was sitting slumped in his seat parliament listening to opposition demands for his resignation over yet another Japanese political funding scandal.

But on Sunday night he was urging the public not to be pessimistic because Japan will enjoy "a New Deal-like" economic recovery on the back of the massive reconstruction task ahead.

That must have sounded like cold comfort to millions left homeless and bereft in Japan's late winter countryside.


If any country is prepared to cope with an earthquake, it is Japan.

Earthquakes are a way of life in Japan, occurring on average every five minutes. By law, buildings are erected to withstand violent tremors. As office towers shook violently in Tokyo on Friday, people grabbed helmets and dove under their desks, hoping their quake-resistant buildings could withstand the damage. School children are drilled on what to do when a quake hits. Many households have survival kits.

This quake, however, was on a completely different scale, and left the country of 127 million people dazed and bewildered.

The tsunami, a Japanese word meaning "harbor wave," surged through towns and cities, bulldozing everything in its path. A large freight ship was sitting incongruously in the streets of Kesennuma in hard-hit Miyagi prefecture. A wrecked airplane lay nose-deep in the rubble of homes in the port of Sendai.

"Is it a dream? I just feel like I'm in a movie or something," said Ichiro Sakamoto, 50, in Hitachi city, around 129 kms (80 miles) north of Tokyo, where fishing boats were tossed far inland by the series of three tsunami waves.

A multistorey building stood alone in a vast wasteland after the tsunami waves roared through the small coastal town of Rikuzentakata. Cars were piled atop one another, train carriages tossed carelessly aside.

At least 10,000 people are feared killed by the earthquake. But the number of missing is still in the tens of thousands and the death toll could soar.

A humanitarian relief operation of epic proportions was under way. The government was preparing to double to 100,000 the number of Self Defense forces being mobilized along with police, the Coast Guard, and disaster response teams.

The United States has sent nine warships with humanitarian aid, led by the aircraft carrier USS Ronald Reagan, underlining the close military ties with its Pacific ally.

Millions are spending the cold nights without water, electricity, homes or heat.

Survivors huddled under blankets in Rikuzentakata. Others stood in front of posters with a list of the dead and missing, some weeping. Many of them were middle aged or elderly, reflecting Japan's rapidly aging population.

Kazuaki Sakai, 70, said he watched from a hill as the tsunami waves roared into the town.

"First the sea pulled back so much that I could almost see the bottom. About 10 minutes after the quake the first (wave) hit and pulled back, and then the next wave hit about 10 meters high, completely black, making a whirlpool. Then that one pulled back and I could see the (sea) bottom again. That repeated for about 10 times in about a half-hour."

Michiko Yamada, 75, said she ran to the rooftop of a hospital and stayed there for 12 hours with her husband in complete darkness. "I ran away with what I'm wearing, barefoot. It was truly cold," she said at a middle school shelter in Rikuzentakata. "I don't have anything now. No money, no house. "I'm on way now to borrow socks from my relatives."

Many of the survivors appeared middle aged or elderly, reflecting Japan's aging demographic, particularly in rural areas where the average age of farmers is about 66.

The tsunami swept over a vast area of rural Japan, destroying an untold amount of rice paddy farmland.

This could accelerate changes affecting Japan's politically powerful farmers, whose average age is 66. They are protected by import tariffs in excess of 700 percent for polished rice. The government has been pushing to reform a sector that makes up just 1 percent of the economy by giving them greater scope to lease land to companies.


Any dividend from reconstruction and reform looked distant on Monday. Japanese stocks fell 7.6 percent, on track for the biggest daily loss since October 2008, and bond yields rose as investors expected the disaster to take a huge economic toll and require heavy government borrowing.

At least six Japanese seaports handling international trade have sustained major damage, with most likely to be out of operations for months, said an industry official on Monday. That could pose challenges for global supply chains.

The Bank of Japan pumped record funds into the banking system to shore up confidence on Monday. But the central bank said it was sticking to its view that the world's third largest economy would resume its moderate recovery, though output would fall in at least for the short term.

"Output is likely to fall for some time. We are also worried that corporate and household sentiment will worsen," the BOJ said in a statement after its board voted to double the 5 trillion fund pool put in place last October to support Japan's recovery after the global economic crisis.

The central bank said it was ready to throw 15 trillion yen ($183 billion) into the banking system to ensure markets function properly.

Most analysts agreed with Kan that Japan will eventually enjoy a boost from reconstruction, after suffering a temporary economic hit, with household consumption rising to replace damaged homes and goods.

"It is sufficiently possible to expect demand that should be called a restoration New Deal," Kan told his economic ministers.

But the cost of rebuilding will also worsen Japan's already worryingly high public debt burden, the largest among advanced economies and double the size of its $5 trillion gross domestic product.

Some economists said the scale of the disaster and its consequences remained far from clear, especially with the nuclear plants at risk.

"Not since the Cold War have I been asked to think about the economic consequences of a nuclear explosion in a densely populated area in a modern industrial economy," said Carl Weinberg, chief economist at High Frequency Economics in New York. "I don't relish that task."

As for the world economy, Japan is not a major engine of global growth so the disaster poses less of a risk to other countries than soaring oil prices caused by turmoil in the Middle East and North Africa.

"The global economy will be fine," said Stephen Stanley, chief economist at Pierpont Securities in Stamford, Connecticut.

Hopes surfaced the disaster could end the debilitating political warfare that has prevented the government from crafting policies to cope with a bulging debt and fast-aging society.

But pessimists said chances were slim that rivals to the unpopular prime minister inside and outside his own party would keep off the gloves for long. Opposition parties are pressing the premier to call a snap election they think they could win, while critics in the ruling party want him to resign to improve their own chances.

Kan is already Japan's fifth leader since 2006.

"Kan's government avoided a crisis due to this huge disaster," said independent political analyst Minoru Morita. "As long as media are reporting only about the disaster, Kan's government will be stable," he said. "Once the news returns to normal, criticism will emerge again."


Kan has his hands full dealing with the nuclear emergency.

A hydrogen explosion on Monday at the number 3 reactor raised concern the crisis is escalating, but experts insist a Chernobyl-style nuclear disaster can be averted.

Three units at the Fukushima Daiichi plant suffered loss of coolant to their reactors after the quake triggered automatic shutdown systems, and then the tsunami knocked out the backup generators.

So long as the thick containment walls shielding the reactor cores remain intact, even a meltdown of the nuclear fuel would not lead to a major escape of potentially dangerous radioactive clouds into the air.

"Everything I've seen says that the containment structure is operating as it's designed to operate. It's keeping the radiation in and it's holding everything in, which is the good news," said Murray Jennex, of San Diego State University.

"This is nothing like a Chernobyl... At Chernobyl (in the Ukraine in 1986) you had no containment structure -- when it blew, it blew everything straight out into the atmosphere."

The incident is the latest mishap in Japan's nuclear industry.

The 40-year-old reactor facing a possible meltdown in Fukushima was originally scheduled to go out of commission in February but had its operating license extended another 10 years.

But the Japanese government's Nuclear and Industrial Safety Agency approved Tokyo Electric's application to keep it hot after inspecting the facility, according to a statement on the Ministry of Trade Economy Industry's website (

The company has had a rocky past in an industry plagued by scandal. In 2002, the president of the country's largest power utility was forced to resign along with four other senior executives, taking responsibility for suspected falsification of nuclear plant safety records.

A few years later, it ran into trouble again over accusations of falsifying data.

The fallout from the Fukishima nuclear plant accident could well give fresh momentum to opponents of nuclear energy. The industry in the United States, for instance, has never really recovered from the Three Mile Island mishap in 1979.

Japan is one of the giants of the world nuclear industry, producing almost 30 percent of its electricity from the source. Ambitions to boost this to 50 percent by 2030 may now be called into question.

"The public demands nothing less than perfection from the nuclear industry in terms of safety," Reuters columnist Christopher Swann wrote. "That's particularly true in Japan, the only nation to have endured a nuclear attack. Fear of radiation is deep-seated in the country -- just look at its great cinematic export, Godzilla movies. So a minor lapse could prove a big setback -- one that makes meeting the world's voracious demand for energy look still more intimidating."

  • Raw Video: New images of aftermath in Japan Play Video Earthquakes Video:Raw Video: New images of aftermath in Japan AP
  • Scale of Japan quake-tsunami destruction revealed Play Video Earthquakes Video:Scale of Japan quake-tsunami destruction revealed AFP
  • Tokyo stocks hammered, BoJ unleashes record funds Play Video Earthquakes Video:Tokyo stocks hammered, BoJ unleashes record funds AFP
  • (Additional reporting by Ran Kim, Yoko Kuboto, Chris Meyers, Chisa Fujioka, Tim Kelly, Taiga Uranaka, Ki Joon Kwon, Elaine Lies, Risa Maeda and Leika Kihara; writing by Bill Tarrant);_ylt=AilrI1h1xKMqi0vVscTv1vBvaA8F;_ylu=X3oDMTJ0YmZlbTJjBGFzc2V0A25tLzIwMTEwMzE0L3VzX2phcGFuX3F1YWtlX3NwZWNpYWxyZXBvcnQEY3BvcwMyBHBvcwM1BHNlYwN5bl90b3Bfc3RvcnkEc2xrA3NwZWNpYWxyZXBvcg--

    Blast strikes Japan plant, core safe

    An "SOS" signal is written on the sports field of a high school after the magnitude 8.9 earthquake and tsunami struck the town of Minamisanr Reuters – An "SOS" signal is written on the sports field of a high school after the magnitude 8.9 earthquake …

    FUKUSHIMA, Japan (Reuters) – A second hydrogen explosion rocked a stricken nuclear power plant in Japan where authorities have been scrambling to avert a meltdown after last week's devastating earthquake and tsunami.

    Infrastructure -- from roads and rail to power and ports -- was crippled across much of the northeast, estimates of the cost of the disaster leapt to as much as $170 billion and analysts said the economy could be knocked back into a recession.

    Japanese stocks closed down more than 6 percent, and the yen fell against the dollar.

    Rescue workers combed the tsunami-battered region north of Tokyo for survivors and struggled to care for millions of people without power and water in what Prime Minister Naoto Kan has dubbed his country's worst crisis since World War Two.

    Officials say at least 10,000 people were likely killed in the 8.9-magnitude earthquake and tsunami that followed it, and on Monday Kyodo news agency reported that 2,000 bodies had been found in two coastal towns alone.

    Crucially, officials said the thick walls around the radioactive cores of the damaged reactors at the nuclear power plant appeared to be intact after the hydrogen blast, the second there since Saturday.

    The big fear is of a major radiation leak from the complex in Fukushima, 240 km (150 miles) north of Tokyo, where engineers have been battling since the weekend to prevent a meltdown in three reactors.

    The core container of the No. 3 reactor was intact after the explosion, the government said, but it warned those still in the 20-km (13-mile) evacuation zone to stay indoors. The plant operator, Tokyo Electric Power Co (TEPCO), said 11 people had been injured in the blast.

    "Everything I've seen says that the containment structure is operating as it's designed to operate. It's keeping the radiation in and it's holding everything in, which is the good news," said Murray Jennex, of San Diego State University.

    "This is nothing like a Chernobyl... At Chernobyl (in the Ukraine in 1986) you had no containment structure -- when it blew, it blew everything straight out into the atmosphere."

    A Japanese official said before the blast that 22 people were confirmed to have suffered radiation contamination and up to 190 may have been exposed. Workers in protective clothing used hand-held scanners to check people arriving at evacuation centers.

    U.S. warships and planes helping with relief efforts moved away from the coast temporarily because of low-level radiation. The U.S. Seventh Fleet described the move as precautionary.

    The Singapore food authority announced it would begin testing imported Japanese produce for radiation.


    Almost 2 million households were without power in the north, the government said. There were about 1.4 million without running water. Tens of thousands of people are missing.

    In the town of Otsuchi in Iwate prefecture, 12,000 out of a population of 15,000 have disappeared.

    "After my long career in the Red Cross where I have seen many disasters and catastrophes, this is the worst I have ever seen. Otsuchi reminds me of Osaka and Tokyo after the Second World War when everything was destroyed and flattened," Japan Red Cross President Tadateru Konoe told Reuters during a visit to the coastal town.

    The government had warned of a possible explosion at the No. 3 reactor because of the buildup of hydrogen in the building housing the reactor. TV images showed smoke rising from the Fukushima facility.

    TEPCO, which operates the complex, had earlier halted the injection of sea water into the reactor, resulting in a rise in radiation levels and pressure. The government had warned that an explosion was possible because of the buildup of hydrogen in the building housing the reactor.

    A wounded nation has seen whole villages and towns wiped off the map by Friday's wall of water, triggering an international humanitarian effort of epic proportions.

    "When the tsunami struck, I was trying to evacuate people. I looked back, and then it was like the computer graphics scene I've seen from the movie Armageddon. I thought it was a dream . it was really like the end of the world," said Tsutomu Sato, 46, in Rikuzantakata, a town on the northeast coast.

    Prime Minister Naoto Kan said the situation at the 40-year-old Fukushima nuclear plant remained worrisome and that the authorities were doing their utmost to stop damage from spreading.

    "We have rescued over 15,000 people and we are working to support them and others. We will do our utmost in rescue efforts again today," he said.

    Officials said on Sunday that three nuclear reactors in Fukushima were at risk of overheating, raising fears of an uncontrolled radiation leak.

    Engineers worked desperately to cool the fuel rods. If they fail, the containers that house the core could melt, or even explode, releasing radioactive material into the atmosphere.

    Nuclear experts said it was probably the first time in the industry's 57-year history that sea water has been used in this way, a sign of how close Japan may be to a major accident.

    "Injection of sea water into a core is an extreme measure," Mark Hibbs of the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace. "This is not according to the book."

    The nuclear accident, the worst since Chernobyl in Soviet Ukraine in 1986, sparked criticism that authorities were ill-prepared and the threat that could pose to the country's nuclear power industry.

    DEATH TOLL "ABOVE 10,000"

    Broadcaster NHK, quoting a police official, said more than 10,000 people may have been killed as the wall of water triggered by Friday's 8.9-magnitude quake surged across the coastline, reducing whole towns to rubble. It was the biggest to have hit the quake-prone country since it started keeping records 140 years ago.

    Kyodo said 80,000 people had been evacuated from a 20-km (12-mile) radius around the stricken nuclear plant, joining more than 450,000 other evacuees from quake and tsunami-hit areas in the northeast of the main island Honshu.

    Some workers showed up on Monday at a factory in Kuji even though it had been destroyed. Asked why he was there, a young worker smoking a cigarette outside the skeletal remains said: "Because it's a work day."

    Thousands spent another freezing night huddled in blankets over heaters in emergency shelters along the northeastern coast, a scene of devastation after the quake sent a 10-meter (33-foot) wave surging through towns and cities in the Miyagi region, including its main coastal city of Sendai.


    Hiromichi Shirakawa, chief economist for Japan at Credit Suisse said in a note to clients that the economic loss will likely be around 14-15 trillion yen ($171-183 billion) just to the region hit by the quake and tsunami.

    Even that would put it above the commonly accepted cost of the 1995 Kobe quake which killed 6,000 people.

    The earthquake has forced many firms to suspend production and shares in some of Japan's biggest companies tumbled on Monday, with Toyota Corp dropping 9.5 percent. Shares in Australian-listed uranium miners also dived.

    "When we talk about natural disasters, we tend to see an initial sharp drop in production ... then you tend to have a V-shaped rebound. But initially everyone underestimates the damage," said Michala Marcussen, head of global economics at Societe Generale.

    Risk modeling company AIR Worldwide said insured losses from the earthquake could reach nearly $35 billion.

    The Bank of Japan offered a combined 15 trillion yen ($183 billion) to the banking system earlier in the day to soothe market jitters.

    Finance Minister Yoshihiko Noda said authorities were closely watching the yen after the currency initially rallied on expectations of repatriations by insurers and others. The currency later reversed course in volatile trading.

    The earthquake was the fifth most powerful to hit the world in the past century. It surpassed the Great Kanto quake of September 1, 1923, which had a magnitude of 7.9 and killed more than 140,000 people in the Tokyo area.

  • Japan hit by huge earthquake, tsunami Slideshow:Japan hit by huge earthquake, tsunami
  • Raw Video: New images of aftermath in Japan Play Video Earthquakes Video:Raw Video: New images of aftermath in Japan AP
  • Scale of Japan quake-tsunami destruction revealed Play Video Earthquakes Video:Scale of Japan quake-tsunami destruction revealed AFP
  • (Additional reporting by Nathan Layne, Risa Maeda and Leika Kihara in Tokyo, Chris Meyers and Kim Kyung-hoon in Sendai, Waltre Brandimarte and Scott DiSavino in New York, Natsuko Waki in London and Fredrik Dahl in Vienna; Writing by Nick Macfie and Jonathan thatcher, editing by John Chalmers);_ylt=AnNKlhth0elAYfhBm5VjaJtvaA8F;_ylu=X3oDMTJmdjdjcTFxBGFzc2V0A25tLzIwMTEwMzE0L3VzX2phcGFuX3F1YWtlBGNwb3MDMQRwb3MDMgRzZWMDeW5fdG9wX3N0b3J5BHNsawNibGFzdHN0cmlrZXM-

    Jepun semakin bahaya

    ANGGOTA penyelamat memakai pakaian perlindungan radiasi ketika melakukan kerja-kerja menyelamat di bandar Nihonmatsu, Fukushima, Jepun semalam.

    KUALA LUMPUR – Masyarakat antarabangsa termasuk rakyat Malaysia di Jepun kini bimbang satu lagi letupan dalam bangunan yang menempatkan reaktor No.3 di loji nuklear Fukushima Daiichi-I mungkin berlaku.

    Perkara tersebut disahkan oleh Ketua Setiausaha Kabinet, Yukio Edano yang berkata, reaktor ketiga itu mempunyai gas hidrogen yang berpotensi menyebabkan letupan.

    Kelmarin penduduk Jepun dikejutkan oleh letupan unit reaktor No. 1 di loji yang sama, sehari selepas bencana gempa bumi dan tsunami melanda Jepun.

    Ia sekali gus mencetuskan kebimbangan meluas masyarakat antarabangsa bahawa tragedi letupan loji nuklear di Chernobyl, Ukraine pada tahun 1986 yang mengorbankan lebih 9,000 nyawa manusia bakal berulang.

    160 disyaki terkena radiasi

    BEBERAPA anggota perubatan mengangkat seorang lelaki dipercayai terkena radiasi di bandar Nihonmatsu, Fukushima semalam.

    TOKYO - Pihak berkuasa Jepun melaporkan, kadar radiasi didapati telah melepasi had yang dibenarkan di loji Fukushima Daiichi 1, 240 kilometer dari utara Tokyo kesan daripada gempa bumi yang berlaku pada Jumaat lalu.

    Menurut beberapa pegawai, penemuan tersebut sekali gus meningkatkan kebimbangan akan berlaku kebocoran radiasi dan kemungkinan berlaku kecairan teras loji nuklear.

    Loji itu sebelum ini meletup menyebabkan asap menjulang tinggi ke udara sehingga mengakibatkan 45,000 penduduk dipindahkan kerana takut terkena ancaman radiasi.

    Agensi Nuklear Jepun melaporkan bahawa bilangan orang yang terdedah akibat radiasi itu mungkin meningkat kepada 160 orang.

    Sejumlah kakitangan perubatan melakukan ujian imbasan terhadap penduduk yang tinggal berhampiran dengan loji berkenaan bagi mengesan jika mereka terkena radiasi.

    Para pekerja itu melakukan pakaian kalis radiasi semasa melakukan pemeriksaan ke atas penduduk.

    Loji tersebut terletak berdekatan dengan pusat gempa yang berlaku kira-kira 130 kilometer dari Sendai pada kedalaman 24 kilometer dalam laut.

    Arah tiupan angin kini menjadi tumpuan ahli-ahli meteorologi dan pihak berkuasa nuklear Jepun.

    Menurut para pegawai meteorologi Jepun, arah angin itu kini bergerak ke laut selepas ia didapati bergerak ke arah kawasan penduduk pada Sabtu lalu.

    Penentuan arah angin itu penting bagi mengetahui kemungkinan berlakunya kerosakan terhadap alam sekitar akibat radiasi yang bocor dari loji berkenaan.

    Sementara itu, kekuatan gempa bumi itu dinaikkan menjadi 9.0 pada skala Richter berbanding 8.9 pada skala Richter yang diumumkan oleh Kajian Geologi Amerika Syarikat pada Jumaat lalu.

    Agensi Meteorologi Jepun mengumumkan peningkatan kekuatan itu selepas ia menyatakan bahawa kekuatan gempa tersebut ialah 8.9 pada skala Richter. Gempa bumi itu mencetuskan tsunami setinggi 10 meter.

    Gempa bumi itu telah menyebabkan lebih 10,000 dikhuatiri orang terbunuh yang merupakan krisis kemanusiaan yang paling besar pernah berlaku di Jepun sejak Perang Dunia Kedua yang berlaku pada 1945. - Agensi

    Mangsa tsunami hanyut tiga hari diselamatkan

    HIROMITSU SHINKAWA yang duduk di atas serpihan atap di laut dihampiri dengan bot tentera laut Jepun dekat bandar Fukushima, timur laut Jepun semalam.

    TOKYO – Seorang lelaki tua, Hiromitsu Shinkawa hanyut di laut sejak tsunami melanda Fukushima di timur laut Jepun akibat gempa bumi kuat yang berlaku pada Jumaat lalu.

    Dia hanya diselamatkan semalam selepas sebuah bot tentera laut Jepun dapat mengesan lelaki yang berumur 60 tahun itu yang sedang melambai-lambai menggunakan kain berwarna merah.

    Jurucakap Kementerian Pertahanan Jepun, Yoshiyuki Kotake berkata, ketika itu, Shinkawa hanya 15 kilometer dari persisiran pantai, Minamisoma.

    Kotake berkata, Shinkawa memberitahu kepada anggota penyelamat, tsunami menghanyutkan dia dan isterinya yang pulang ke rumah untuk mengambil barang-barang keperluan selepas gempa bumi Jumaat lalu.

    Menurutnya, isterinya hanyut dibawa arus.

    Sebelum ini, dia melambai-lambaikan tangannya ke arah beberapa buah helikopter dan kapal bagi mendapatkan perhatian supaya dia diselamatkan.

    “Beberapa buah helikopter dan kapal telah melalui dekat dengannya tetapi kelibatnya tidak dapat dikesan, kata seorang lagi jurucakap Kementerian Pertahanan.

    Tentera Jepun telah menggunakan sebuah bot yang kecil bagi membantu menyelamatkan Shinkawa yang dihanyutkan di laut.

    Agensi berita Kyodo melaporkan, pihak tentera menyifatkan Shinkawa bernasib baik kerana cuaca yang baik dan tenang membantu dia terapung di laut.

    “Saya menyangka hari ini (semalam) akan menjadi hari terakhir dalam hidup saya,” kata Shinkawa. – Agensi

    Pemberontak semakin lemah lawan Gaddafi

    BEBERAPA pemberontak melarikan diri selepas satu serangan udara tentera yang setia kepada pemimpin Libya Muammar Gaddafi dilancarkan dekat bandar Brega kelmarin.

    BENGHAZI, Libya - Para pemberontak dilihat meninggalkan bandar minyak Brega semalam selepas tentera pemimpin Libya, Muammar Gaddafi melancarkan serangan.

    "Para pemberontak sudah meninggalkan Brega," kata seorang saksi, Osama Jazwi menerusi telefon kepada wartawan agensi berita Reuters.

    Seorang lagi penduduk, Abdul Hakim memberitahu bahawa para pemberontak sudah meninggalkan bandar berkenaan.

    Sebelum ini laporan berita Libyan TV menyatakan tentera Gaddafi sudah merampas semula bandar Brega daripada penguasaan para pemberontak.

    Pergolakan di negara itu bermula pada 15 Februari lalu apabila para penunjuk perasaan bertempur dengan askar-askar Gaddafi.

    Pertempuran itu berlaku bagi menuntut peletakan jawatan Gaddafi yang sudah berkuasa selama hampir 41 tahun di Libya.

    Pergolakan itu tercetus ekoran kebangkitan rakyat di Tunisia dan Mesir yang menyebabkan kedua-dua pemimpin di negara tersebut terpaksa meletakkan jawatan.

    Kumpulan para penentang dilihat semakin lemah terutama apabila berlaku pengunduran terbesar pada minggu lalu di kawasan timur negara tersebut yang dikuasai mereka.

    Kelmarin, Liga Arab meminta Majlis Keselamatan Pertubuhan Bangsa-Bangsa Bersatu (PBB) melaksanakan larangan terbang di Libya, meningkatkan tekanan terhadap Amerika Syarikat (AS) dan kuasa-kuasa besar Barat lain untuk mengambil tindakan terhadap Gaddafi ekoran pergolakan tersebut yang dipercayai mengorbakan lebih 1,000 orang.

    Kesemua 22 anggota Liga Arab mengakui Libya telah kehilangan kedaulatan dan meminta PBB memikul tanggunjawab dengan melaksanakan zon larangan terbang di negara berkenaan. - Agensi

    Telur direbus guna air kencing

    RATUSAN telur direbus dengan menggunakan air kencing di wilayah Zhejiang, China dengan menggunakan resipi berusia ribuan tahun lalu.

    BEIJING - Sebuah kedai di wilayah Zhejiang, timur China menjual telur yang direbus dengan air kencing budak sekolah dan ia merupakan resipi tradisonal berusia ribuan tahun, lapor sebuah akhbar semalam.

    Chef makanan tradisonal, Lu Ming berkata, dia mahu mempromosikan semula makanan tradisional itu sehingga ke peringkat antarabangsa.

    "Air kencing tersebut dikumpul daripada pelajar sekolah lelaki yang berumur 10 tahun, mereka kencing di dalam sebuah tong dan kami mengambil air itu pada setiap hari.

    "Telur-telur itu akan direbus dalam air kencing tersebut dengan kulitnya," katanya.

    Menurutnya, telur tersebut berasa sedap dan berkhasiat untuk menyembuhkan demam selain meningkatkan konsentrasi serta menghilang rasa mengantuk. - Agensi

    Nikah datuk ‘kacak’

    Nikah datuk ‘kacak’

    Oleh Fuad Hadinata Yaacob

    KULIM: Menggunakan umpan tersalah mendail nombor telefon, seorang remaja perempuan berusia 18 tahun melalui detik mencemaskan apabila mendakwa dinikahkan dengan pemilik nombor telefon berkenaan dalam tempoh perkenalan hanya kira-kira lima bulan.

    Lebih mengejutkan, ‘suami’ yang mendakwa lelaki kacak berusia 30 tahun dan bekerja sebagai pegawai bank itu seorang datuk berusia 63 tahun yang juga penoreh getah.

    Bagaimanapun, remaja itu yang bekerja di sebuah pasar raya, dekat sini, ‘bernasib baik’ kerana ketika dinikahkan kononnya di sebuah pejabat agama di Thailand, dia dalam keadaan ‘uzur’ menyebabkan suaminya terpaksa menyimpan hajat menjamah tubuh gadis itu untuk sementara waktu.

    Begitupun, selepas empat hari bernikah, remaja terbabit menyatakan hasrat berpisah dengan suaminya sebelum membuat laporan polis dan jabatan agama.

    Ketika mendedahkan pengalamannya, remaja yang mahu dikenali sebagai Lis berkata, dia berkenalan dengan warga emas terbabit Oktober lalu apabila lelaki itu mendakwa tersilap mendial nombor telefonnya.

    Bermula saat itu, katanya, lelaki terbabit kerap menghantar SMS serta berbual dengannya walaupun mereka tidak pernah berjumpa.

    Menurutnya, sejak berkenalan, lelaki itu kerap menambah nilai kredit telefon bimbitnya selain memasukkan wang ke akaun adiknya untuk kegunaan termasuk membeli-belah.

    “Dia kerap tambah nilai telefon saya selain memasukkan wang ke dalam akaun adik untuk kegunaan saya dan memberitahu dia berusia 30-an, masih bujang dan bekerja sebagai pegawai bank.

    Beberapa minggu lalu, kami membuat keputusan untuk berjumpa di stesen bas dekat sini. Sebaik saya tiba, lelaki itu bersama rakannya membawa saya ke Thailand untuk bernikah,” katanya.

    Lis berkata, selepas empat hari bernikah dia berasa tidak sedap hati sebelum meluahkan hasrat tidak puas hati terhadap perkahwinannya dan minta berpisah.

    “Saya bingung bagaimana proses pernikahan itu berlaku dan kerana tidak puas hati saya membuat laporan di Balai Polis Kulim kerana rasa tertipu dan mungkin dipukau,” katanya ketika ditemui di Balai Polis Kulim pada 7 Mac lalu.

    Sementara itu, lelaki terbabit yang enggan dikenali berkata, dia tertarik dengan remaja itu yang pandai mengambil hati selain suka mendengar suaranya.

    Menurutnya, sepanjang proses pernikahan dengan remaja itu, tidak berlaku sebarang paksaan, malah semua dokumen berkaitan ada dalam simpanannya.

    “Saya menikahinya di Thailand dan memiliki semua dokumen yang diperlukan, malah ketika bernikah tidak berlaku sebarang paksaan. “Sejak menikahinya kami tidak pernah bersama kerana dia datang bulan,” katanya.

    Warga emas itu berkata, dia mempunyai anak berusia tujuh bulan hingga 30 tahun dan remaja itu isteri keduanya.

    Menurutnya, dia sudah bernikah empat kali, tetapi tidak kekal lama dan bercerai.

    Ketua Polis Daerah Kulim, Superintendan Ghuzlan Salleh, berkata pihaknya menyerahkan kepada Pejabat Agama Daerah Kulim (PADK) untuk memastikan kesahihan status perkahwinan pasangan itu.

    Sementara itu, jurucakap PADK berkata, pihaknya akan menjalankan siasatan lanjut sebelum mengambil tindakan susulan.

    Japan begins to dig for dead amid nuclear crisis

    REUTERS/Asahi Shimbun

    A man watches a coastal area from a building where he took shelter in Tamura, Iwate, northern Japan as tsunami warning was issued Monday, March 14, 20 AP – A man watches a coastal area from a building where he took shelter in Tamura, Iwate, northern Japan as …

    TAKAJO, Japan – Rescue workers used chain saws and hand picks Monday to dig out bodies in Japan's devastated coastal towns, as Asia's richest nation faced a mounting humanitarian, nuclear and economic crisis in the aftermath of a massive earthquake and tsunami that likely killed thousands.

    Millions of people spent a third night without water, food or heating in near-freezing temperatures along the devastated northeastern coast; the containment building of a second nuclear reactor exploded because of hydrogen buildup while the stock market plunged over the likelihood of huge losses by Japanese industries including big names such as Toyota and Honda.

    More than 10,000 people are estimated to have died in Friday's double-headed tragedy, which caused unimaginable deprivation for people of this industrialized country that has not seen such hardships since World War II. In many areas there is no running water, no power and four- to five-hour waits for gasoline. People are suppressing hunger with instant noodles or rice balls while dealing with the loss of loved ones and homes.

    "People are surviving on little food and water. Things are simply not coming," said Hajime Sato, a government official in Iwate prefecture, one of the three hardest hit.

    "We have repeatedly asked the government to help us, but the government is overwhelmed by the scale of damage and enormous demand for food and water," he told The Associated Press.

    "We are only getting around just 10 percent of what we have requested. But we are patient because everyone in the quake-hit areas is suffering."

    He said local authorities were also running out of body bags and coffins.

    "We have requested funeral homes across the nation to send us many body bags and coffins. But we simply don't have enough. We just did not expect such a thing to happen. It's just overwhelming."

    Sato said local authorities may ask foreign funeral homes to send supplies.

    The pulverized coast has been hit by more than 150 aftershocks since Friday, the latest one a 6.2 magnitude quake that was followed by a new tsunami scare Monday. Abandoning their search operations, soldiers told residents of the devastated shoreline in Soma, the worst hit town in Fukushima prefecture, to run to higher ground.

    Sirens wailed and soldiers shouted "find high ground! Get out of here!" Several uniformed soldiers were seen leading an old woman up a muddy hillside. The warning turned out to be a false alarm.

    "This is Japan's most severe crisis since the war ended 65 years ago," Prime Minister Naoto Kan told reporters Sunday, adding that Japan's future would be decided by its response.

    Search parties arrived in Soma for the first time since Friday to dig out bodies. Ambulances stood by and body bags were laid out in an area cleared of debris, as firefighters used hand picks and chain saws to clear an indescribable jumble of broken timber, plastic sheets, roofs, sludge, twisted cars, tangled powerlines and household goods.

    Helicopters buzzed overhead, surveying the destruction that spanned the horizon. Ships were flipped over near roads, a half mile (a kilometer) inland. Officials said one-third of the city of 38,000 people was flooded and thousands were missing.

    According to officials, more than 1,800 people have been confirmed dead — including 200 people whose bodies were found Sunday along the coast — and more than 1,400 were missing in Friday's disasters. Another 1,900 were injured.

    But police in Miyagi prefecture say 10,000 people are likely dead in their area alone. Miyagi, with a population of 2.3 million, was one of the hardest hit areas.

    "I'm giving up hope," said Hajime Watanabe, 38, a construction industry worker, who was the first in line at a closed gas station in Sendai, about 60 miles (100 kilometers) north of Soma. Just then, an emergency worker came over and told him that if the station opens at all, it would pump gasoline only to emergency teams and essential government workers.

    "I never imagined we would be in such a situation" Watanabe said. "I had a good life before. Now we have nothing. No gas, no electricity, no water."

    He said he was surviving with his family on 60 half-liter bottles of water his wife had stored in case of emergencies like this. He walked two hours to find a convenience store that was open and waited in line to buy dried ramen noodles.

    The government has sent 100,000 troops to spearhead the aid effort. It has sent 120,000 blankets, 120,000 bottles of water and 29,000 gallons (110,000 liters) of gasoline plus food to the affected areas. However electricity would take days to restore.

    At least 1.4 million households had gone without water since the quake struck and some 1.9 million households were without electricity.

    One reason for the loss of power is the damage to at least three nuclear reactors, two of them at the Fukushima Dai-ichi power plant.

    Operators dumped seawater into the two reactors in a last-ditch attempt to cool their super-heated containers that faced possible meltdown. If that happens, they could release radioactive material in the air. On Monday, the containment building of the second reactor exploded, just as the first one had on Saturday.

    But Japan's Chief Cabinet Secretary Yukio Edano said the reactor's inner containment vessel holding the nuclear fuel rods was intact, allaying some fears of the risk to the environment. The containment vessel of the first reactor is also safe, according to officials.

    Still, people within a 12-mile (20-kilometer) radius were ordered to stay inside homes following the blast. AP journalists felt the explosion 25 miles (40 kilometers) away.

    More than 180,000 people have evacuated the area in recent days, and up to 160 may have been exposed to radiation after the first blast.

    Also, Tokyo Electric Power held off on imposing rolling blackouts planned for Monday, but called for people try to limit electricity use.

    Edano said the utility was still prepared to go ahead with power rationing if necessary. The decision reflected an understanding of the profound inconveniences many would experience.

    Many regional train lines were suspended or operating on a limited schedule to help reduce the power load.

    The planned blackouts of about three hours each were meant to help make up for a severe shortfall after key nuclear plants were left inoperable due to the earthquake and tsunami.

    Japan's central bank has injected 7 trillion yen (US$85.5 billion) into money markets Monday to stem worries about the world's third-largest economy.

    Stocks fell in early trading Monday on the first business day after the disasters. The benchmark Nikkei 225 stock average shed 494 points, or 4.8 percent, to 9,760.45 just after the market opened.

    Preliminary estimates put repair costs from the earthquake and tsunami that struck Friday in the tens of billions of dollars — a huge blow for an already fragile economy that lost its place as the world's No. 2 to China last year.

    In the town of Minamisanrikucho, 10,000 people — nearly two-thirds of the population — have not been heard from since the tsunami wiped it out, a government spokesman said.

    About a third of the town of Soma was wiped out, with several hundred homes washed away. Three districts of town on the shoreline are now covered in rubble, overturned cars and trucks and waist-high, dirty green water. A tiny pink girl's bicycle, all twisted up, sits near a child's backpack — just some of the personal belongings littering the landscape.

    Atsushi Shishito sat in a daze on the concrete foundation of his home, now completely washed away. He sleeps at an evacuation center. The 30-year-old carried his grandmother to higher ground to escape the tsunami.

    "All my other relatives are all dead," he added. "Washed away."

  • Japan hit by huge earthquake, tsunami Slideshow:Japan hit by huge earthquake, tsunami
  • Dramatic tsunami video Play Video Video:Dramatic tsunami video Reuters
  • ___

    Pitman reported from Sendai. Associated Press writers Kelly Olsen in Koriyama and Malcolm J. Foster, Mari Yamaguchi, Tomoko A. Hosaka and Shino Yuasa in Tokyo contributed to this report.

    2nd explosion at stricken Japan nuke plant

    REUTERS/Yuriko Nakao

    A technician in protective gear scans a child for signs of radiation at a makeshift facility to screen, cleanse and isolate people with high radiation Reuters – A technician in protective gear scans a child for signs of radiation at a makeshift facility to screen, …

    SOMA, Japan – The second hydrogen explosion in three days rocked Japan's stricken Fukushima Dai-ichi nuclear plant Monday, sending a massive column of smoke into the air and wounding six workers. The blast was felt 25 miles (40 kilometers) away, but the plant's operator said radiation levels at the reactor were still within legal limits.

    The explosion at the plant's Unit 3, which authorities have been frantically trying to cool after a system failure in the wake of Friday's massive earthquake and tsunami, triggered an order for hundreds of people to stay indoors, said Chief Cabinet Secretary Yukio Edano. The two disasters left at least 10,000 people dead.

    Operators knew an explosion was a possibility as they struggled to reduce pressure inside the reactor containment vessel, but apparently felt they had no choice if they wanted to avoid a complete meltdown. In the end, the hydrogen in the released steam mixed with oxygen in the atmosphere and set off the blast.

    Tokyo Electric Power Co. said radiation levels at Unit 3 were well under the levels where a nuclear operator must file a report to the government.

    On Saturday, a similar explosion took place at the plant's Unit 1, injuring four workers and causing mass evacuations.

    It was not immediately clear how the workers were injured Monday, or if they were exposed to radiation. All were conscious, said Ryohei Shomi of Japan's nuclear safety agency.

    The reactor's inner containment vessel holding nuclear rods was intact, Edano said, allaying some fears of the risk to the environment and public. TV footage of the building housing the reactor appeared to show damage similar to Monday's blast, with outer walls shorn off, leaving only a skeletal frame.

    More than 180,000 people have evacuated the area in recent days, and up to 160 may have been exposed to radiation — pouring misery onto those already devastated by the twin disasters.

    While Japan has aggressively prepared for years for major earthquakes, reinforcing buildings and running drills, the impact of the tsunami — which came so quickly that not many people managed to flee to higher ground — was severe.

    By Monday, officials were clearly overwhelmed by the scale of the crisis, with millions of people having spent three nights without water, food or heat in near-freezing temperatures. At least 1.4 million households had gone without water since the quake struck and some 1.9 million households were without electricity.

    Officials in one devastated town said they were running out of body bags.

    Earlier Monday, pressure had jumped inside Fukushima Dai-ichi's Unit 3, forcing the evacuation of 21 workers. But they returned to work after levels appeared to ease.

    Associated Press journalists felt the explosion in the tsunami-devastated port town of Soma, some 25 miles (40 kilometers) north of the reactor.

    Officials have declared states of emergency at six Fukushima reactors, where Friday's twin disasters knocked out the main cooling systems and backup generators. Three are at Dai-ichi and three at the nearby Fukushima Daini complex.

    Most attention, though, has been focused on Dai-ichi units 1 and 3, where operators have been funneling in seawater in a last-ditch measure to cool the reactors.

    A complete meltdown — the melting of the radioactive core — could release radioactive contaminants into the environment and pose major, widespread health risks.

    Edano said none of the Fukushima reactors was near that point, and he was confident of escaping the worst scenarios.

    And while international scientists say there are serious dangers, there is little risk of a Chernobyl-style catastrophe. Chernobyl, they note, had no outer containment shell.

    "The likelihood there will be a huge fire like at Chernobyl or a major environmental release like at Chernobyl, I think that's basically impossible," said James F. Stubbins, a nuclear energy professor at the University of Illinois.

    But despite official assurances, many residents expressed fear over the situation.

    "First I was worried about the quake," said Kenji Koshiba, a construction worker who lives near the plant. "Now I'm worried about radiation." He spoke at an emergency center in Koriyama, about 40 miles (60 kilometers) from the most troubled reactors and 125 miles (190 kilometers) north of Tokyo.

    Overall, more than 1,500 people had been scanned for radiation exposure in the area, officials said.

    The U.N. nuclear agency said a state of emergency was also declared Sunday at another complex, the Onagawa power plant, after higher-than-permitted levels of radiation were measured there. It said Japan informed it that all three of those reactors there were under control.

    Four nuclear complexes in northeastern Japan have reported some damage from the quake or the tsunami.

  • Japan hit by huge earthquake, tsunami Slideshow:Japan hit by huge earthquake, tsunami
  • Japan's nuclear crisis deepens Play Video Video:Japan's nuclear crisis deepens Reuters
  • ___

    Yuasa reported from Tokyo.

    Bahrain protests throw island kingdom into chaos

    Bahrain protesters block roads, royals push for talks Reuters – Anti-government protesters confront riot police on a flyover near the Pearl Square in Manama, March 13, …

    MANAMA, Bahrain – Thousands of anti-government demonstrators cut off Bahrain's financial center and drove back police trying to push them from the capital's central square — shaking the tiny island kingdom Sunday with the most disruptive protests since calls for more freedom erupted a month ago.

    Demonstrators also clashed with security forces and government supporters on the campus of the main university in the Gulf country, the home of the U.S. Navy's Fifth Fleet.

    The clashes fueled fears that Bahrain's political crisis could be stumbling toward open sectarian conflict between the ruling minority Sunnis and Shiites, who account for 70 percent of the nation's 525,000 people.

    In some neighborhoods, vigilantes set up checkpoints to try to keep outsiders from entering. Bahrain's interior ministry warned Saturday that the "social fabric" of the nation was in peril.

    Bahrain's Crown Prince Salman bin Hamad Al Khalifa said the nation has "witnessed tragic events" during a month of unprecedented political unrest. But he warned, "the right to security and safety is above all else."

    "Any legitimate claims must not be made at the expense of security and stability," Salman said in a televised speech late Sunday.

    A day after visiting U.S. Defense Secretary Robert Gates urged quick progress toward reform, thousands of protesters gathered before dawn to block King Faisal Highway, a four-lane expressway leading to Bahrain's main financial district in downtown Manama, causing huge traffic chaos during morning rush hour and preventing many from reaching their offices on the first day of the work week.

    "No one was able to go to work today. Thugs and protesters were blocking the highway," complained Sawsan Mohammed, 30, who works in the financial district. "I am upset that Bahrain is no longer a stable place."

    Security forces dispersed about 350 protesters "by using tear gas," the government said. But traffic was clogged until late morning, and many drivers sent messages of rage and frustration to social media sites.

    "I blame the protesters for what's happened in Bahrain today," said Dana Nasser, 25, who was caught in the traffic chaos and never made it to her office.

    About two miles (three kilometers) away, police at the same time moved in on Pearl Square, site of a monthlong occupation by members of Bahrain's Shiite majority calling for an elected government and equality with Bahrain's Sunnis.

    Many protesters in recent days have pressed their demands further to call for the ouster of the Sunni dynasty that has held power for more than two centuries.

    Witnesses said security forces surrounded the protesters' tent compound, shooting tear gas and rubber bullets at the activists in the largest effort to clear the square since a deadly crackdown last month that left four dead.

    Activists tried to stand their ground and chanted "Peaceful! peaceful!"

    The crowd swelled into thousands, with protesters streaming to the square to reinforce the activists' lines as police continued firing tear gas. By early afternoon, police pulled back from the square, witnesses said.

    At Bahrain University, Shiite demonstrators and government supporters held competing protests that descended into violence when plainclothes pro-government backers and security forces forced students blocking the campus main gate to seek refuge in classrooms and lecture halls, said Layla al-Arab, an employee at the College of Arts.

    Two protesters sustained serious head injures and hundreds sought medical help, mostly with breathing problems from tear gas, hospital officials said on condition of anonymity because they were not authorized to speak to reporters.

    The Gulf kingdom holds particular importance to Washington as the host of the Fifth Fleet, the main American military counterweight to Iran's efforts to expand its armed forces and reach into the Gulf.

    Bahrain has also tried hard to position itself as an attractive investment destination and Middle East banking center. Even the passport stamps issued to incoming visitors declare the kingdom as "Business-friendly Bahrain."


    Associated Press Writers Barbara Surk and Adam Schreck contributed to this report from Dubai, United Arab Emirates.

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