Radiation scare sparks run on bottled water in Tokyo

Japan earthquake, tsunami is world's costliest natural disaster at $300 b. in damages; 9,523 found dead and 16,094 still missing.

March 24, 2011 10:15
3 minute read.
A Japanese man looks at a photo album in the rubbl

japan rubble sad 311. (photo credit: REUTERS)


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TOKYO - Many shops in Tokyo ran out of bottled water on Thursday after radiation from a damaged nuclear plant made tap water unsafe for babies, while more countries imposed curbs on imports of Japanese food.

Engineers are trying to stabilize the Fukushima nuclear facility nearly two weeks after an earthquake and tsunami battered the complex and devastated northeast Japan.

Japan Fact-box: 9,079 confirmed dead, 12,645 missing
Japan battles crippled nuclear plant, radiation fears grow

Tokyo's 13 million people have been told not to give infants tap water because of contamination twice the safety level.

The government urged residents not to panic and hoard bottled water -- but many shops quickly sold out.

"If this is long term, I think we have a lot to worry about," said Riku Kato, father of a one-year-old baby.

Radiation above safety levels has also been found in milk and vegetables from the area around Fukushima, 250 km (150 miles) north of Tokyo, and in Saitama prefecture next to the capital, according to Kyodo news agency.

Singapore and Australia joined the United States and Hong Kong in restricting food and milk imports from the zone, while Canada became the latest among many nations to tighten screening as a result of the world's worst atomic crisis since Chernobyl.

Foreign help has poured in to Japan, the latest from cash-short North Korea, whose leader Kim Jong-il sent $500,000 for Koreans living in Japan, the official KCNA news agency said.

Radiation particles have been found as far away as Iceland, although Japan insists levels are not dangerous to adults.

The contamination scare is adding to Japan's most testing moment since World War Two after the catastrophe of March 11.

The estimated $300 billion damage makes it the world's costliest natural disaster, dwarfing Japan's 1995 Kobe quake and Hurricane Katrina that swept through New Orleans in 2005.

Some 25,600 people are dead or missing from the 9.0 magnitude earthquake and ensuing tsunami waves that swept away whole towns on the Pacific coast.

In Japan's devastated north, more than a quarter of a million people are in shelters. Some elderly refugees, among an ageing population, have died from cold and lack of medicines.

Exhausted and traumatised rescuers are still sifting through the mud and wreckage where towns and villages once stood.

The official death toll from the disaster has risen to 9,523, but is bound to rise as 16,094 people are still missing.

Aftershocks are still coming, and several shook Tokyo on Thursday.

Lightening the mood, a baby dolphin was rescued in a rice field after the tsunami dumped it there two weeks ago. Locals wrapped it in wet towels before taking it back to the sea.

At the Fukushima plant, where the worst nuclear drama since Chernobyl in 1986 is playing out, technicians have successfully attached power cables to all six reactors and started a pump at one to cool overheating fuel rods.

Nearly 300 engineers, fast becoming national heroes for braving danger inside an evacuation zone, are fighting to cool fuel rods at the plant's six reactors.

They resumed work on Thursday at the No. 3 reactor, considered the most critical, after a one-day suspension when black smoke was seen rising, Kyodo said.

Operator Tokyo Electric Power Co (TEPCO) is trying to re-start systems to keep the fuel cool and prevent further radiation leaks or a complete meltdown, the nightmare scenario.

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