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N-plant blast sparks meltdown fears

Power station workers battle to prevent new catastrophe in northern city

The city of Sendai was at the centre of the quake. The city of Sendai was at the centre of the quake.
  • ucanews.com staff in Tokyo, Hong Kong, Bangkok, Manila
  • Japan
  • March 11, 2011
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The threat of a tsunami from a devastating earthquake in northern Japan has been replaced by fears of catastrophe at nuclear power stations damaged in the quake.

A Japanese TV station also reported a new tsunami on Monday, but it turned out to be a false alarm, said authorities.

Reports were coming in of a hydrogen explosion at a crippled nuclear plant where authorities have been working desperately to avert a meltdown. Seven people, six of them soldiers, were missing in the blast, said the reports.

Police have so far confirmed 1,597 deaths and 1,481 people missing across the affected areas in north-eastern and eastern Japan.

About 1,000 bodies were found coming ashore on hardest-hit Miyagi's Ojika peninsula, where 10,000 people were reported mssing from one single town.

The Philippines, Indonesia, Taiwan and Papua New Guinea were among many Pacific territories to escape tsunami damage, although there were reports of a tsunami effect from as far away as Peru and California, where one man was replorted drowned by waves.

Japanese television showed pictures of cars, ships and even buildings being swept away by a huge wall of water. The quake sparked fires in several areas including Tokyo, with at least 44 people dead, media reported. The quake struck at 2:46 p.m. local time Friday, 130 kilometers off the coast of Sendai, north of Tokyo.

“The quake is terrible. The train and underground rails service have been suspended. There are continuous aftershocks. Streets in downtown Tokyo are packed with people who are walking back home from work. Staff members of the general secretariat of Catholic Bishops Conference of Japan cannot go home and will stay overnight in the office,” said Yasufumi Matsukuma, a staff member working at the conference.

“In Tokyo, telephone lines are so busy that I cannot contact diocesan chancellor offices in Japan. Aftershocks have followed. The tsunamis are terrible and we cannot get any information concerning the Church yet,” he said.

Disruption of telecommunications has also made it impossible for the conference’s general secretariat to contact Sendai and neighboring dioceses, he added.

Northeastern Japan has suffered seriously from the resulting tsunami, Matsukuma said and that the chancellor of Osaka archdiocese has called on Catholics through an email at 6:00 pm to pay attention to the local government's information and contact the archdiocesan curia if they need help.

Following the earthquake a number of eastern regions in Indonesia have been put on tsunami watch. Indonesia's Meteorological, Climatological and Geophysical Agency say waves generated by the earthquake could hit North Maluku, North Sulawesi and Papua.

This earthquake is the strongest since a 9.1 magnitude quake struck off North Sumatra in Indonesia in December 2004. The quake left about 220,000 people dead or missing in more than a dozen countries around the Indian Ocean.

A tsunami watch has also been issued for Taiwan, the Philippines and some Pacific islands.

In the Philippines, media reported that the government ordered residents living in coastal areas in 19 provinces to seek higher ground and that the evacuations have begun in the provinces of Surigao and Eastern Samar.

The Philippine Institute of Volcanology and Seismology (Phivolcs) raised Tsunami Alert Level 1, meaning a tsunami caused by the Japan quake may reach the Philippines. “While there is no evacuation order, the communities in those areas should watch out and wait for additional information in case an evacuation is needed,” Phivolcs director Renato Solidum Jr. said in an interview on dzBB radio.

Taiwan’s eastern counties of Taitung, Yilan, Hualien and north eastern Keelung has issued a tsunami alert, the Central Personnel Administration said in statements on its website.

In Hong Kong, Bishop John Tong Hon has made an appeal this evening asking Catholics to pray for victims of an earthquake that struck in Yunnan, southwestern China on March 10 and in Japan as well as one that struck Indonesia last night.

The circular signed by diocesan chancellor Father Lawrence Lee said that all Catholics will be informed in due course if it is necessary to raise funds for the relief of the affected regions.

Some Catholic Facebook users also said they will pray for the victims and donate money as charity during Lent.

Catholics in different parts of China are shocked to hear of the earthquake in Japan today so soon after they suffered one in Yunnan. The 5.8-magnitude quake in Yunnan had killed 25 people and injured 250 people. More than 200,000 people were affected.

“It’s terrible” with one earthquake after another, said Joseph Peng, a layperson in southern China.

Joan Nan, a Catholic in eastern China, said that the series of disasters make one “feel like the end of the world is coming.”

While so many people are speculating on property and in the stock markets, it is a warning that these materialistic things will be gone in any disaster, she said, adding that “as a Christian, we should stay vigilant and repent whenever we can in our life time.”

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