(CNN Student News) -- March 14, 2011
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CARL AZUZ, CNN STUDENT NEWS ANCHOR: We're dedicating this edition of CNN Student News to our audience in Japan. The world is watching in support, and you are not alone.
AZUZ: The nation of Japan is reeling today, trying to recover from a devastating natural disaster. The earthquake hit the island nation on Friday. It registered a magnitude of 8.9. That makes it the most powerful quake to hit Japan in at least 100 years. There were reports over the weekend that the quake moved the main of island of Japan -- the entire island -- by 8 feet!
And this is what it left behind: scenes of destruction. On Sunday, officials estimated that more than 1,500 people had been killed; more than 1,900 injured; more than 1,500 more missing. Those estimates all expected to go up. And the worst may not be over. Witnesses have reported feeling aftershocks. And scientists in Japan say that there's a strong chance of another quake, one with a magnitude of 7.0 or higher, hitting in the next few days.
Just to get a sense of what this was like, take a listen to this iReport. This was shot by someone outside his house. You can hear the crashes as the area is rattled by the quake. Something just as devastating as the quake was the tsunami -- this giant ocean wave -- that the quake caused. It slammed into the Japanese coast, washing over cities and leaving death and destruction behind it.
AZUZ: The northeastern part of the country took the worst of it. This is what the water looked like rushing into one city. Some areas were completely flattened, with foundations the only sign of the buildings that once stood on them. You might think of a tsunami as this towering tidal wave that crashes down on shore. That's not what this was. Tsunamis are more accurately described as these "walls of water" that push onto shore and plow through anything they hit. Scientists believe that when there's friction between two plates below the ocean's surface, like in an earthquake, energy is released. That energy shoots up to the surface, spreads out in a wave. And it travels very fast, as fast as 500 miles per hour! You can see it spreading right here.
Now, if you're in a boat out at sea, you might not even feel it. It's incredibly powerful, but not necessarily very high. But look at what happens when that wave gets closer to shore: it slows down and builds up. And that wall of water just bulldozes inland. Look at how this tsunami wave spread. This animation shows you just how far these things can travel. It stretched out in all directions, spanning the Pacific Ocean. It hit Hawaii, causing millions of dollars in damage there. And it even reached the California coast, 5,000 miles from the area near Japan where the quake hit. And when the wave did reach Santa Cruz, California, it was still strong enough to do this: boats tossed like toys in the tub. It's not nearly as destructive as what happened in Japan, but a clear illustration of ocean energy radiated across the world.
AZUZ: Trying to put the impact of this earthquake in perspective. Japan's prime minister, Naoto Kan, called it "the toughest and most difficult crisis" for his country since the end of World War II, more than 65 years ago. He said he's confident that the Japanese people can work together to overcome the crisis. That could include making sacrifices, like dealing with electrical blackouts for one thing. The government is planning to run these rolling blackouts in order to save electricity while workers repair power plants. But Prime Minister Kan says right now, Japan has one main goal.
NAOTO KAN, JAPANESE PRIME MINISTER: Saving people's lives must be our first priority. We must do all that we are able to do to save as many lives as we can now.
Just the Facts
STAN CASE, CNN STUDENT NEWS: Just the facts! Nuclear power plants generate power through a process called nuclear fission. This is when atoms of uranium, a radioactive element, are split apart. Fission produces a lot of heat energy, and that energy produces steam. The steam turns a turbine, and that's how the plants generate electricity.
AZUZ: Officials in Japan are worried about what's happening at one of the country's nuclear power plants. It has six reactors, six facilities where that fission happens. And three of those reactors were running when the quake hit. The plant has safeguards in place for this kind of a situation. The reactors are supposed to shut down, and emergency generators are supposed to pump water into the reactors to cool them down. Remember, fission generates heat, so if you want it to stop heat quickly, you need to cool it down.
But in one of those three reactors, the back-up generators failed. Experts are blaming that on flooding from the tsunami. Another element -- hydrogen -- started building up inside the facility until it caused an explosion that blew the roof off. The reactor was not damaged in the explosion. But that's the big concern here: a problem with the reactor. Like we said, the uranium inside of it is radioactive. And if too much of that radiation gets out, it could contaminate air or water and lead to very serious health problems.
AZUZ: You heard Japan's prime minister say that the number one priority is saving lives. Rescue crews have been working furiously to try to find and help the victims of this earthquake. And the world is coming to Japan's aid as well. The United States, United Kingdom, China, South Korea: just a handful of the nearly 70 countries that have offered to help. Some search-and-rescue teams have already arrived in Japan. More are on the way. International aid groups, like the Red Cross, Save the Children and Doctors Without Borders are getting involved, too. The USS Ronald Reagan -- the warship that you see here -- is also on the scene. Crew members are working with Japanese forces to fly supplies and equipment into the areas that were hit hard by the quake. They're hoping to deliver 30,000 portions of emergency food supplies in the first run.
Impact Your World
AZUZ: Sometimes, you hear about a crisis somewhere in the world and wonder "What can I do?" We have a way for you. CNN's "Impact Your World" program has information on some of the groups that are helping the victims of this quake, and it has ways for you to get involved. You'll find a link to "Impact Your World" in the Spotlight section of our home page, CNNStudentNews.com.
AZUZ: This is a huge story, and one that we'll certainly be covering more on our show. But there's also a lot of information up on our web site. We have In Depth Coverage on the quake itself and explainers on things like earthquake magnitudes and how nuclear reactors work. Finally today, we have a video that demonstrates the power of this natural disaster and its impact on Japan. We're going to let that close out the show, and we'll see you again tomorrow.
RYAN MCDONALD, WITNESS, CNN IREPORTER: My wife and I stood outside and basically held on to the outside of our house. You couldn't even stand up. We have never, ever felt anything on the magnitude, the literal magnitude, of what we experienced today.
HARRIS PAYTON, WITNESS, CNN IREPORTER: The whole ground was shaking so much. It was unreal. I can't describe it.
MCDONALD: Oh, my god. That is the biggest earthquake to date. Oh, my god, the building's going to fall!
AUGUST AMBRISTER, WITNESS, CNN IREPORTER: It just blew up. Woo! Woo! Do you all see this?
BRENT KOOI, WITNESS, CNN IREPORTER: The crack is just moving. There's water. I don't know if water lines are broken, but this water was not there a minute ago.