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ANDERSON COOPER 360 DEGREES

New Blast at Nuclear Power Plant; Developing Nuclear Scare; Japanese Death Toll Raised

Aired March 14, 2011 - 23:00   ET

THIS IS A RUSH TRANSCRIPT. THIS COPY MAY NOT BE IN ITS FINAL FORM AND MAY BE UPDATED.


ANDERSON COOPER, CNN ANCHOR: Good evening, everyone. We are live for the next two hours from Japan. Some fast moving developments to tell you about. Not only has the death toll just raised and no doubt it is going to go higher and search-and-rescue operations are underway. And we're coming to you from the port in Sendai where there's just destruction all around.

Well, there's breaking news tonight. A developing nuclear scare, that seems to be getting more serious by the hour. I want to bring you up to date with some satellite imagery, which shows the problem, new explosion, the third at the Fukushima Daiichi Power Station south of here.

This is the power station that we have been watching very closely now for the last several days. This new explosion happened in the number two reactor. It is a very ominous development and may have damaged the reactor's containment vessel. Units One and Three as you may remember had explosions on Saturday as well as yesterday morning local time, 11 people were injured yesterday.

So now there are three overheating reactors to be concerned about. All three now had been rocked by explosions. All three are in danger of melting down completely. The possible outcome, possible outcome is a Three-Mile Island situation. Three-Mile-Island times three. The worst case scenario obviously, the nightmare scenario is Chernobyl times three.

Nuclear disaster now compounding the human disaster, all of this due of course to the -- to -- to the tsunami which struck with such force here; the true force of the -- of the tsunami just now really coming to light, striking new images as the tsunami rolled in. This is Sendai not far from us -- cars, small trucks, even 18-wheelers swept away.

Watch.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

(CLIP OF TSUNAMI IN SENDAI, JAPAN)

(END VIDEO CLIP)

COOPER: There's also video of the wall of water in the fishing port of Miyako (ph), everything, anything washed away. The fishing boats squeezed under the bridges. The new death toll, more than 2,400 and rising, upwards of 3,000 missing, though as we all know by now, those numbers are expected to rise. Nearly half a million homeless at this hour; factories shut down; rolling blackouts due to power shortages.

And we also in this two-hour episode of 360 have a remarkable reunion which has just occurred. We have been searching for a young American teacher, a number of American -- there's actually two American teachers that we've been looking for.

We've been in contact with the parents of a young American teacher named Paul Fales. His -- his -- his parents, Peter and Mary have been very concerned about his whereabouts.

He's in a town -- he was last seen in a town north of Sendai, a town that's been badly hit, called Kensennuma. The pictures out of Kensennuma are just devastating and just block after block completely destroyed.

Our Soledad O'Brien just got to that town and has actually made contact with this young American teacher. He is alive, he is ok. And he's going to be reunited with -- with his parents on this program a little later on in this hour.

So there's a lot of good news to tell about you.

But let's get to the breaking news, the developing situation, the nuclear emergency. I want to bring in our own Dr. Sanjay Gupta who is with me here in Sendai, who's been looking into and knows a lot about the -- effects of radiation. I also want to bring in our CNN contributor, Jim Walsh and also Tom Foreman who's been looking in to the history of these plants.

Let -- let's start off with you, Jim Walsh. What -- what do you make of this latest problem now -- this explosion at Reactor Number Two? For the last couple days you and I have been talking about Reactors One and -- and Three.

Now, Reactor Two an explosion. How serious is this? What does this mean?

JIM WALSH, CNN CONTRIBUTOR: Well, it certainly sounds more serious, Anderson. You know, when I first heard about it, I thought, oh, this is just the same movie being rerun, right. We had a hydrogen explosion at Unit One, we had a hydrogen explosion at Unit Three. They put sea water today into Unit Two; oh, this must be a hydrogen explosion.

But the press conference that the utility gauge seemed to suggest that there might be something more and more serious, that the containment vessel might be ruptured. That's -- that's bad news if that's true.

Now, I have been contacting my Japanese sources since then. They seem to be backing away from that, that perhaps the containment vessel is not ruptured, but if -- the fact is, that we don't know whether it has or it hasn't happened. That's bad news. And the government says that in all three reactors now, there's -- it is likely that the core has melted to some extent. Not a full-blown meltdown, but that it is melting. And particularly this -- this reactor where we had an explosion today, that reactor core was exposed for several hours to the air, without being protected by water.

And so the combination of those two things, a possible containment breach and the exposure of the fuel elements, that -- if, if, if that's true, that's bad news. But we should be able to take air samples soon. We should be able to take ground samples soon and determine whether that's true or not.

COOPER: Well, there's also very real concerns about how honest the government and this company -- this nuclear company is being about the situation. You know, they -- they put a 20 kilometer evacuation zone, about a 12-mile evacuation zone around this reactor several days ago. But you were saying that's pretty arbitrary?

SANJAY GUPTA, CNN CHIEF MEDICAL CORRESPONDENT: It is arbitrary and you almost get the sense that there's -- there's something they know that they're not sharing because they seem to come up with these numbers that are arbitrary to us because it's not rooted in any particular science.

And -- and sort of this -- this idea that you know, they're -- they're walking around with these Geiger counters. You've seen these images; they're testing the air obviously. But you've seen the images where they're -- they're waving them over people. That's really meaningless. I mean, that doesn't tell you anything about an individual's potential exposure.

So a lot of it just doesn't seem to make sense. And I don't know if that's by design or just -- it's -- it's -- they're just not sure what they're doing right now.

COOPER: Tom Foreman, you've been looking kind of -- doing explainers on -- on what the situation is, in -- in terms of -- you know -- there's a lot of terms, frankly, that people don't know much about. What have you been looking into?

TOM FOREMAN, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Well Anderson, you mentioned the three places. It is the three reactors. They're all very close to each other in this area, when we talk about where the concern is. And I can give you a sense of the size of this, because this also helps.

These workers, this is some video that was shot at these reactors sometime in the past. When they go inside here you can get a sense of how big the actual reactor is. Here it is coming up, that's the reactor part. And you see the workers down here next to it. So you get a sense of the scale.

But here's what's interesting, Anderson, this has been a series of failures from the beginning. Now this is from NHK, Japanese television. Essentially what you had was this reactor core started heating up after the accident. The pumps kicked in that are supposed to cool it down. But then they had an electrical failure and the pumps went dead.

So, a bunch of diesel pumps kicked in then. And they were running. And then they went dead. It's not yet clear why. Maybe the tsunami did this.

Then another set of battery pumps kicked in. They worked for a while and then they went dead. It appears maybe the batteries just ran out. It's not entirely clear.

And then they started pumping seawater into this area to try to solve the problem.

But, Anderson, I want to go back to what Jim said at the beginning, because this is important to bear in mind. As these rods become exposed in here, they heat up a lot. This uranium rod in here can go up to about 2,200 degrees in terms of the heat it can produce.

But it melts at about 2,100 degrees. So, the truth is, if you can't keep enough water in there to keep it cooled down, it will start melting on itself.

And what Jim was talking about was the different chambers here. This is the reactor part itself. The concern earlier this evening, all the worry was that not only did they have a problem here, but this, the outer container, which is the last line of defense, when they had that explosion this morning, they had a drop in pressure inside here, which would suggest that there was some kind of venting going on.

And they had a rise outside here in the radiation readings they were getting that Sanjay was talking about. The rise outside here to a level that's about as much as you can stand in an entire year occurred right outside here.

Now, it does not seem clear what happened or if there was actually a breach in here or not. But that's what we're talking about in terms of the --

(CROSS TALK)

COOPER: Right.

FOREMAN: -- the physical structure right now and why there's so much concern.

COOPER: And -- and Tom, I'm just getting new information that there is a new fire in Reactor Number Four.

Jim, obviously, this would be yet another -- I mean, it seems, Jim, that we're getting -- you know that the situation with this plant, it's just one thing after another. And the public statements being made by this -- this nuclear company that runs the plant have been confusing at -- at best.

They just gave a press conference that a lot of our people here at CNN were monitoring. And it sounded incredibly confusing, not really giving any straight answers. How much faith do you have in the public statements that are being made by the Japanese government and by this nuclear company?

WALSH: Anderson, I think this is a critical issue. Sanjay is absolutely right.

There's a history here with this utility and with nuclear accidents in Japan, with companies having in the past falsified their statements, not having been forthcoming, only to find out later that things were worse than they were the case.

Now, you hope that because of those incidents things were improved. But I have been watching these press conferences from the beginning. And they are tight-lipped, they are begrudging. You don't learn stuff. Questions are asked and not answered. You get conflicting statements, positive statements that are then reversed within an hour.

Now, you know, let's cut them a break here. I wouldn't want to be in their shoes. These are fast-moving events and the events themselves changed the reality changes. But they are not helping by not being fully forthcoming, because when they aren't, then people speculate. People offer information because there's none. There's a vacuum there.

And the thing that the Japanese government has to hold on to is credibility, because, you know, this isn't going away tomorrow. It's not going away next week, next month or next year. There's the issue of if there is contamination cleanup and moving people back in and compensating people and determining safety.

At every stage of that, which could last months or years, the government's best insurance policy is to be able to make statements with credibility. And if they -- if they lose it now, they're going to be in a lot of trouble.

(CROSS TALK)

COOPER: Jim, I'm just getting also new word that Japan's prime minister has made a public statement saying that the potential for release of more nuclear material or venting of -- of -- of -- keep me honest, if you can, control room, on the exact wording of this -- that the risk remains very high.

What, the risk of -- of another release?

Further releases of a radioactive material from the damaged nuclear power plant remains very high.

So, what does that tell you, that the --that the risk remains very high of further release, Jim?

WALSH: Well, I would say two things about that, Anderson.

It's not surprising that they're going to have to continue to vent steam, because they're in a situation where they pour the seawater in. The seawater boils off, it creates pressure. They have to release it in order to inject more seawater.

So, we're going to be at this for a while. This isn't going away any time soon, where it's sort of bleeding it out after they inject new -- new seawater. The question, though, is whether -- and we don't have an answer to this and I think we should be cautious about it -- is whether the containment vessel, that last line of defense, has been breached.

Tom I thought made some very interesting observations about what might be circumstantial evidence for that. In addition, the utility was complaining earlier, and it's reported now from the World Nuclear Association that they have put a bunch of water into the vessel, but the water level did not rise.

COOPER: Right.

WALSH: That sort of invites speculation that perhaps there's a leak. So, if you have venting, where the -- where the rods are compromised or where there is a leak, that's a -- a different ball game than what we have seen at Unit One or Unit Three in these last several days.

COOPER: And in terms of radioactive material, I mean the concern about that, obviously, there's both short-term and long-term.

GUPTA: Yes, and we don't know the levels, now, you're going to get some radioactive release with these hydrogen -- these ventings that Jim's talking about.

This seems like a change in tone, though, Anderson, what you were just saying about the prime minister, because we have been following this along. Now they say that it remains very high, this seems a little different than the tone that we have been hearing from some of the ministers over the past several days. So it's a little bit more concerning, Anderson.

COOPER: We're going to be obviously closely monitoring this over the two hours that we are live coming to you from Sendai.

And as you can see, I mean there's devastation all around. I don't know if you can tell what's behind me here, but this is just -- this is the port area. When the tsunami hit, there were a number of people in their vehicles, trapped in their vehicles, unable to get out. They perished in their vehicles. A lot of the bodies have been taken away. The cars are all around.

There are semi-trucks that were actually moving cars -- that had cars on them that have just been tossed around like toys. I will show you some of that coming up.

And, also, the reunion of Peter and Mary Fales, who have been searching for their son Paul Fales, an American teacher in a town north of here. We have just located him. He's alive. He's OK. We will have that reunion coming up tonight on 360.

Stay with us.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

COOPER: Just one of the emotional reunions we have been seeing over the last couple days. We have seen too few of those, frankly, a lot of people still waiting for word on their loved ones. They go to local community centers. They go to the local city hall. There's lists of those who are missing. And there's lists of those who have been found dead and those who have been found alive.

And a lot of people kind of leave messages for each other, but communication is still very difficult.

One of our bookers, Ben Finley, has been in contact with an American family, Peter and Mary Fales. They had been desperately looking for their son. They live in Michigan. They were very concerned.

Their 25-year-old son, Paul, has been teaching English in Japan since January. They had not heard from him since the earthquake. They had been trying to get in touch with him. They were unable to.

Just tonight, Soledad O'Brien crossed paths with the young American in a town called Kensennuma.

Let's go to her now. She is with Paul Fales -- Soledad.

SOLEDAD O'BRIEN, CNN SPECIAL CORRESPONDENT: Yes, absolutely.

And you can see behind me the damage that happened here in Kensennuma. And I can see why Paul's parents would be incredibly worried, because it is really devastating. This is the debris and what they have cleaned up, 90 percent of the damage from the tsunami, 10 percent they say from the earthquake.

So, I'm going to ask Paul.

Paul, come on in. Paul, would you do me a favor and pop your earpiece in so that you can hear right here.

PAUL FALES, SURVIVOR: Sure.

O'BRIEN: Right up here. Put this in your ear.

You were telling me that you were on the island of Oshima teaching when the earthquake happened.

PAUL FALES: I was.

O'BRIEN: Had you been in an earthquake or a tsunami before?

Can you pop that in for me a little bit better than I'm doing it?

PAUL FALES: No, I hadn't been in an earthquake before.

O'BRIEN: You had not?

PAUL FALES: No.

O'BRIEN: OK. And so what did it feel like? What did you experience when you were on that island?

PAUL FALES: I just -- it was devastating, really. Pretty much, just kind of there was quakes and like people were kind of panicking really, like what was going on? So, pretty much, I was just kind of like rushing to kind of get outside. They were trying to make sure everybody was safe.

O'BRIEN: Now, you, of course, know that if you're seeing panicking, people who are overseas, your parents namely --

PAUL FALES: Yes. Yes.

O'BRIEN: -- also panicking, because they had no word from you. This is really the first time. And you came off the boat this morning when we saw you from Oshima.

So, I want to bring in your dad, Peter. I know we tried calling him earlier on his cell phone. We weren't able to.

Peter, if you can hear me?

PETER FALES, FATHER OF PAUL: Yes.

O'BRIEN: I have got your son here. Anything you want to tell him?

PETER FALES: Yes, I do.

O'BRIEN: Take a look at the camera.

PAUL FALES: Oh.

O'BRIEN: Can you hear him?

PAUL FALES: Yes, I can hear you dad. Hi.

PETER FALES: How are you? We really miss you.

PAUL FALES: I'm fine, dad. I just -- yes.

(CROSSTALK)

PAUL FALES: I'm alive and everything. So it's been just kind of crazy as far as -- I have been on the island since like Friday. So I just got back this morning.

Just, people have been very nice and very generous. I was just trying to make sure everyone's alive. And I have been helping get water. They transferred the pool, for example, at the school so it gets drinkable. And I have just been kind of rushing here and there helping with whatever I can.

But everybody has lost their homes and everything. And it's just -- it's really bad. They're at the gyms, at the schools, and just like they're just crowded because all the students are there, their parents, and there's so much damage. The inside of the island is fine, a lot of the inside part of Japan. But when you get to the coastline and everything, and it's a mess, it's damaged. It's crazy. But I'm just trying to get through it like one day at a time.

PETER FALES: And how are your students doing?

PAUL FALES: My students are fine. Everyone's alive, really. They're still in good spirits. And just like the other day, some of the students were like, oh, Paul, can you teach us some English?

So I stayed at the gym with them and taught them some English. But they have just been also helping getting water and making sure everybody is a-ok. They're all in good spirits. So everyone is like -- despite all that has happened, they're still kind of kicking and their doing their best.

(CROSSTALK) O'BRIEN: Peter, may I ask you a question?

PETER FALES: Yes.

O'BRIEN: We know -- and I have walked around today -- and your son went to his apartment today. And it's just -- it's so bad. In some ways the pictures I don't even think really capture how much loss there is here. How worried were you when you would see pictures, knowing that this is where your son's small apartment was?

PETER FALES: Very, very, very worried, very anxious.

O'BRIEN: Well, I'm glad that we were able to capture you coming off the boat this morning --

PAUL FALES: Thank you.

O'BRIEN: -- and bring you back to your parents who I know you're trying to call.

Anything you want to tell your mom? She's not on the phone, but I know --

(CROSSTALK)

MARY FALES, MOTHER OF PAUL: No, actually, I'm here.

(CROSSTALK)

PAUL FALES: I just want to say, Mom, that I'm OK. Oh, hey, mom.

I'm alive. I'm OK.

M. FALES: Hi, sweetheart. You sound wonderful.

PAUL FALES: Hi, mom. I am.

M. FALES: And we love you. We're very proud of you. PAUL FALES: I'm -- thank you. I'm just trying to get through this one day at a time, just like everybody else. And I'm just trying to help as much as I can.

PETER FALES: And get hold of us any way you can, so we can get back to you, OK?

PAUL FALES: OK.

PETER FALES: We love you.

O'BRIEN: You should know he has got a core group of friends here that he ran into. And they're all keeping an eye on each other.

PAUL FALES: Love you, too.

PETER FALES: And you have still got my hat there.

PAUL FALES: Yes, I still do. I will get that back to you as soon as I can.

PETER FALES: OK. We love you Paul.

O'BRIEN: What's your mom's name?

PAUL FALES: Love you, dad.

(CROSSTALK)

O'BRIEN: Your mom's name is Carol?

PAUL FALES: Mary.

(CROSSTALK)

O'BRIEN: Mary.

So, Mary and Peter, that's obviously Paul's parents, yes.

COOPER: Yes. It's amazing. I'm glad -- still -- there's another American that we're -- a family that we're in touch with, the Andersons. They're looking for their daughter Taylor Anderson. They're trying to get word on her. She's in another town, where they believe she's OK. They got some tangential word on a message board that maybe she's fine.

But we're trying to find out as much information as we can, as are American officials who are now coming into this area to try to help out as much as possible.

When we come back, we will have the latest on the situation here on the ground in Sendai and all throughout northeastern Japan, where the death toll is rising and the search-and-rescue operations are getting under way in greater force every single day.

We will have details on that ahead. (COMMERCIAL BREAK)

COOPER: And welcome back.

We're coming to you live from Sendai, Japan. We are on live all the way until the midnight hour on the East Coast of the United States and being obviously seen all around the world on CNN International as well.

We are going to give you kind of an overview of what happened over the last day. We continue to follow the breaking news, the explosion now in Reactor Number Two at the Fukushima Daiichi plant. The Japanese government saying anyone -- that radiation levels are elevated around that plant, and that -- and they're saying that levels that can impact human health are being experienced around that, and that people in the immediate area around that plant should stay indoors, people within a certain -- how many kilometer radius?

People within a radius of 30 kilometers in that plant should stay indoors at this time. We continue to monitor that very closely.

I just want to show you some of what we've seen over the last 24 hours.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

COOPER (voice-over): Four days into this terrible tragedy, new video gives insight to the terror that engulfed Japan's coastline. Some only had seconds to run to higher ground as waves swallowed up their cities and towns with stunning speed.

Some people narrowly escaped death by clinging to whatever they could. This 60-year-old man was found Sunday, washed nine miles out to sea, standing on what was left of his roof. But many were not as fortunate. This woman says her daughter was ripped from her hands as the power of the waves swept her away.

The official death toll stands at nearly 2,500. But that number is expected to rise as search-and-rescue teams begin to reach areas hit hardest by the tsunami.

COOPER (on camera): Each day you see more and more search-and-rescue teams. These are from the Japanese defense force, the Japanese military. Tens of thousands of them have been deployed. There are obviously teams coming from all around the world to help in the search-and-rescue.

A team like this basically goes -- walks down the street checking cars, checking behind abandoned buildings, behind things that have been destroyed.

(voice-over): These search-and-rescue teams are racing against the clock. The nights are bitterly cold and those who have survived have been without food and water for days.

Relief centers have opened around the country to aid the roughly 450,000 people who are now homeless. They're also one of the many places where people go to search for loved ones.

(on camera): This is a disaster message board. You see them in city halls and government offices in towns all along the northeast of Japan right now. With cell phone services down or spotty at best, people are separated obviously from their family members, from their cell phones. They can't get in touch with each other. So they come to the local government office and leave messages.

For instance, this is a message left by a woman named Keni (ph) for Mr. Kanida. Basically it says that she's alive, and it gives the address of where she's staying so he can get in touch with her. Right now this is about the best way that people have to communicate.

(voice-over): We have seen a number of families reunited. Many more aren't so lucky. According to the National Police Agency, there are some 3,000 people still missing, but again the real number is thought to be much higher.

The fear of radiation exposure continues to grip the region. The Japanese government has asked the U.S. for help in cooling the nuclear reactors. All the while the country continues to endure aftershocks, many with a magnitude greater than 6.0.

On Sunday, Japan's prime minister called for unity during these difficult times.

Naoto Kan, Prime Minister of Japan (through translator): In the 65 years after the end of World War II, this is the toughest and the most difficult crisis for Japan.

COOPER: But they'll not be able to do it on their own. This could be the most expensive earthquake in history with damages totaling at least $100 billion. The international community has mobilized some 90 countries offering assistance, including the U.S.

BARACK OBAMA, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: The United States will continue to offer any assistance we can as Japan recovers from multiple disasters. And we will stand with the people of Japan in the difficult days ahead.

COOPER: There will certainly be more difficult days ahead, as the people of Japan begin to tally all that was lost and figure out how they can move forward.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

COOPER: And I'm joined now by Dr. Sanjay Gupta, as well as Gary Tuchman. I also want to bring in CNN contributor, Jim Walsh.

Jim, I want to just read again this information that we just got. The radiation levels at the damaged Fukushima Daiichi nuclear plant have increased to, quote, "levels that could impact human health and anyone within a radius of 30 kilometers of the plant should remain indoors." This, according to the chief cabinet secretary, made a statement just moments ago. So 30 kilometers -- what does that tell you? Because previously, for the last couple of days, they were talking about a 20-kilometer evacuation zone; they're now telling people within 30 kilometers to stay indoors. We're about 64 kilometers from that plant right now. What do you think is going on?

WALSH: Well, I think this is serious. This is a major ramping up of their statements. This is out of character for their statements, and I want to describe why I think that's important.

But first, after having seen that, Anderson, I really do feel personally compelled to say -- I don't say it all the time but I want to say it now -- that my sympathies go out to the people of Japan. I have friends who live in Japan, who I went to school with, who I've known professionally. I know that people -- I know you have international viewers.

I think Japan has been a stalwart ally to the United States for half a century. And I know the hearts and feelings of the American people go out to the people of Japan. And we see that. And we just -- I just don't know how to describe my feelings in response to those pictures.

But that said, this is serious business, if they are making that announcement, then yes, if you take all the things that Tom said that -- the sort of circumstantial evidence that there may have been a leak; the fact that the utility is pulling back some of its employees; that they're making an announcement like they've never made before; that people within a broader area should that's called shelter-in- place, be inside during a radiological emergency. This would all be circumstantial evidence that would suggest -- not proof -- but would suggest that the things that happened today are of a different character; that they are more serious than we've seen at any point so far.

COOPER: That's depressing.

Sanjay, what do you make of all this?

GUPTA: Well, I mean you know, we've talked about how this has been somewhat arbitrary. I've noticed a little bit of a distinct change in tone, though, you know, talking about the fact that radiation levels have gotten high enough to affect human health.

There's so much redundancy sort of built into these safe levels. So when they say it's gone up eight times normal, really what to make of that, how does that compare to, for example, a normal chest x-ray or just normal radiation exposure? It's hard to say.

But now when they're specifically saying it's gone up to levels that affect human health -- they haven't told us what those levels are. Are these hundreds of times than what they normally would expect or what? I mean there's no getting around this. It's concerning, and the fact that this is a little bit of uncertainty in how these plumes can behave, when you expel these gases, where exactly they're going to go, who is in that area, they're telling people to stay indoors which obviously makes sense. Not to run the ventilation, that makes sense.

But the long run, which you alluded to earlier, there's no specific plan that we're hearing about.

COOPER: Right.

Gary, you've been looking at search-and-rescue operations which have been ramping up really exponentially every single day. I want to show our viewers some video which you got over the last couple of hours, rescue efforts that you witnessed.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

GARY TUCHMAN, CNN CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): For more than three days, residents have lived inside this office building, surrounded by the tsunami waters. This is the pickup point for rescue.

Inside the building, tired and frightened people await their turn for their boat ride out. There is no cell service, so these people don't know how their loved ones elsewhere are doing. And their loved ones don't know about them.

Muko Chiva (ph) doesn't know what happened to her parents.

(on camera): How scary has this been for you?

MUKO CHIVA, TSUNAMI SURVIVOR: Oh, I had no words, so scared. We had panicked.

TUCHMAN: You were panicked?

CHIVA: Panicked.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

COOPER: How does this compare to other places -- I mean you and I have been together?

TUCHMAN: Yes. There are thousands of rescues taking place. This is not like the rescues that we saw in Haiti, where people were trapped and minutes would go by and someone would die if you didn't get them out right away.

Here you have people -- their lives are not in danger, they don't have food or water necessarily, but they're just marooned by the water. So it's great that they're being rescued. But the problem now is a lot of the places you go to, the weather's gotten colder; right now we're getting freezing rain, it's supposed to snow tomorrow. That's a big problem.

But the fact is, people are getting rescued, their lives are not necessarily in danger though, when they're getting rescued.

COOPER: And you're saying that you're seeing fewer injured people; that people either survived or died? GUPTA: Yes and it's very different in some ways, you know. When you talk about Haiti, you had so many people who were trapped, and you did have some of that here as well. People who had crush injuries, they had head injuries, they needed to be rescued quickly.

But it was different; either you lived and you were sort of the walking wounded, of which they had hundreds of people coming to hospitals around here. There are obviously a lot of people who died. There weren't as many people sort of caught in between. It was that sort of in between sort of stage of people, who were alive but dying and they need to be rescued quickly.

The hospitals here are very good as well, Anderson. You remember General Hospital, we were all there --

COOPER: Right.

GUPTA: -- compared to Saka Hospital, a big trauma center. They take care of hundreds of patients in a single day, very, very quickly, and do a good job of it.

COOPER: It's also remarkable the attitude that people here. I mean I was at a place where they were distributing water, and they had run out of water. People had been waiting for hours. But an announcement -- you know, the government official there, the city official announced it. He apologized, said they were trying to do their best.

No one was yelling. No one was arguing. People sort of accepted this. And there was sort of a sense that everybody's kind of in this together.

TUCHMAN: Japan is known to have a very polite culture. And that's what we've seen. We've seen these lines at gas stations with more than 200 cars and one pump open. You do the math. It takes two minutes a car. That's 400 minutes. That's 7 hours you're going to be in line. No one's yelling. No one's complaining.

What's interesting with this nuclear situation now, you talk to Japanese people about it, they're saying, right now we've got to worry about all the property and all the cars. And maybe there's going to be another tsunami. Maybe there's going to be another earthquake.

Most people aren't even thinking about that right now. They're just worried about their immediate concerns. But there's some big problems.

I'm calling it, this traumatic trifecta: the tsunami, the earthquake, and now the nuclear situation.

COOPER: Yes.

GUPTA: I think it's starting to change. We were at this evacuation center last night and people are definitely starting to pay attention to this nuclear thing, asking lots of questions.

Anderson, you may know. I mean, this is a -- this is an area where a lot of retired people live, as well. So you know, a lot of the people are in the hospitals, a lot of people waiting in lines, and people who are retired. They're at a different stage in their life. I mean their attitude as to all that's happened. It's interesting.

I think you were alluding to this, but they seem to have a different, almost more -- more accepting attitude of what's happening here.

COOPER: The funny thing on the nuclear issue is that there's just not a lot of information. I mean, yes, there are helpful statements being made by the Japanese government, but a lot of them have been contradictory. Sometimes it seems like they're trying to calm people down. Other times it's, you know, a very worrying statement.

So there's -- even for us, there's just not a lot of actual facts on the ground to know what is safe, what's not safe. And that's obviously one of the big concerning things.

We're going to have more with Gary and Sanjay throughout this special two-hour edition of 360.

And when we come back, I'm going to take you to an area that used to be rice fields. It is no longer -- you couldn't even tell it's farmland. It is now a debris field; debris 10, 15 feet thick. I'll show you what I saw there a few hours ago.

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(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

GUPTA: They are still saying that the tsunami is coming. That's what they're saying, the translator from the Japanese, Anderson. So we are going to move at this point. It seems like official warnings now coming in, as opposed to just citizens just frightened. So we're going to make a move.

COOPER: All right. Go to higher ground, Sanjay. We'll -- we'll check in with you.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

COOPER: Hours ago, Dr. Sanjay Gupta when he and I were on the air together. Obviously, he -- he was fine. It turned out to be a false warning. But we're hearing those a lot. You hear tsunami advisory or tsunami warnings. Government officials going around saying everyone get to higher ground, run. And then it turns out to be nothing. There's obviously an abundance of caution right now.

We've been traveling, trying to get to as many kind of towns and villages all throughout northeastern Japan that we've been able to. We have obviously teams scattered all throughout the region.

We were in one small village yesterday. And I want to show you what we saw in an area that used to be rice fields. Take a look.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE) COOPER (voice-over): There're still so many places that need to be searched. In Shichigahama (ph), there's no telling what lies beneath the acres of debris. When we arrived late Monday, the military had not yet searched here.

(on camera): When you see a debris field like this, you kind of have to almost refocus your eyes. None of it makes sense. It takes a while to kind of adjust to what you're actually seeing.

This is -- was the top of a house. This is the roof of the house right here. That's completely crushed and collapsed. There's a car over here. There's another car over there. There's the contents of multiple houses here. There's a mattress over there. There's another house over there that's collapsed. And just almost as far as the eye can see, it's just debris.

(voice-over): Last week this was farmland. Now, soaked in sea water, it's a sickening sight.

(on camera): This feels like it's the ground but this isn't actually the ground. We're probably -- this is probably about 10 feet up off what the actual ground is. There's just so much debris piled on. There's actually an entire van beneath me.

(voice-over): Last week there were some 20 homes in this area. Now there are none.

"The house you're seeing here," he says, "wasn't here before. It was swept here by the wave. The houses that were here were completely washed away."

Osumo Takada (ph) says only one of his neighbor's bodies has been found. He's not sure how many more may have died.

"There is no contact," he says. There are no phones, no internet. The people in the neighborhood, they haven't been back. Those that died might be right over here under the water, under the wreckage.

Other than the sound of choppers, there's mostly silence. Sometimes you hear a bird or something rustling in the wind, but the silence always returns.

In the wreckage you find all manner of things. Children's dolls, empty shoes, wedding photos covered in mud.

As we left, a squad of Japanese soldiers arrived to begin a cursory search. They go by smell, moving fast. There's just too much ground to cover, too many more neighborhoods to search.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

COOPER: Two search-and-rescue teams from the United States, from Fairfax County -- an excellent search-and-rescue team, and from Los Angeles, as well -- another remarkable group of men and women. They've arrived in northern Japan. We'll be following their efforts over the next several days. When we come back, we'll have the latest on the breaking news about the nuclear emergency, the ongoing nuclear emergency, an explosion now at Reactor No. 2, at the -- the -- at this plant that we've been, Daiichi plant that we've been watching.

We're also going to show you this area that we're in, the port here; all these vehicles behind me. I'll give you a tour of what exactly that is. It's an incredible sight. We'll show you up close. We'll be right back.

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COOPER: We continue to follow breaking news out of here, northeastern Japan. Radiation levels, and I'm reading this -- we're just getting this information in a couple of minutes ago -- radiation levels at the damaged nuclear Fukushima Daiichi Nuclear Plant, which is the plant where the reactor, there's been an explosion at Reactor No. 2, so that's now three reactors there that have had explosions over the last several days.

Because of that explosion the plant has increased, and I quote, according to a government official, "increased levels that can impact human health". They are now saying that anyone within a 30-kilometer radius of that plant should now remain indoors, should shelter in place.

The location here in Sendai where we are is about 64 kilometers from that -- from that plant. But this is certainly an issue of great concern for the people in this region, 30 kilometers now. Previously they were giving an evacuation radius of 20 kilometers. So this statement now from the chief cabinet secretary does seem to indicate a shift in tone and perhaps a worsening of the situation.

We're trying to get as much information as we can. But to be honest, information here is somewhat unreliable. And we've heard conflicting statements from government officials, as well. And more importantly from the officials who run that plant. It is a very fluid situation, obviously a very -- a situation of great concern to a lot of people on the ground here. We continue to follow it.

I want to just show you kind of the location where we're in right now, which is the port here in Sendai. And when the water came in, a number of people, a lot of people we're told, were trapped in their vehicles, and actually were killed in their vehicles, unable to get out in time. The bodies in this area have been taken away. They've been collected. But there are just dozens and dozens of cars scattered all throughout here. A lot of them were cars that people were in, smashed up. But a lot of them are also new cars that were being brought into the port.

I want to just show you some of what's behind me. I walked around there with the camera a short time ago, just to give you a look. Take a look.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP) COOPER: Here in the port in Sendai, there's dozens of cars that have just been tossed all around this entire area. This is actually a brand-new vehicle. You can tell the plastic is still on the front seat. There's still keys in the ignition.

And in fact, there's a number of tractor-trailer trucks -- I count, I think, about four or five of them, which were actually loaded with brand-new vehicles which have just been tossed all around like kids' toys by the power of the water.

This vehicle is still attached to the tractor-trailer, and tractor- trailer has been flipped over on its side. You can see the tractor- trailer is over on its side like that.

And then over here is one of the strangest things I've seen today. This is actually another tractor-trailer filled with vehicles, about a half-dozen vehicles that's actually wrapped itself around a utility pole; just picked up by the tsunami waters, just hitting that pole and literally just wrapping itself around it. It really gives you a sense of just how strong this water was when it came ashore here in Sendai.

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COOPER: We'll be right back.

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COOPER: That's it for 360. "PIERS MORGAN TONIGHT" starts now.