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With earthquake, Japan faces toughest crisis since WWII, prime minister says

Kan's call for unity comes as rescue teams struggle to reach the battered northeast and new fears emerge over a meltdown at the Fukushima nuclear complex.

March 13, 2011|By Barbara Demick and David Pierson | Los Angeles Times
  • Storm debris surrounds wrecked buildings in Fukushima, Japan.
Storm debris surrounds wrecked buildings in Fukushima, Japan. (Koichi Kamoshida, Bloomberg )

Reporting from Sendai, Japan, and Beijing — — Japanese Prime Minister Naoto Kan told reporters on Sunday that his country was facing its most difficult challenge since World War II and called on his people to unite in the face of a devastating earthquake and tsunami and potential nuclear crisis.

''This is the toughest crisis in Japan's 65 years of postwar history,'' Kan said during a televised news conference. ''I'm convinced that we can overcome the crisis.''

The prime minister's remarks came on a day when search-and-rescue teams struggled to reach battered parts of the northeast obstructed by mud and debris and new fears emerged over a meltdown at the Fukushima nuclear complex.

Photos: Scenes from the earthquake

The country's chief Cabinet secretary, Yukio Edano, said workers were racing to relieve pressure in one of the six reactors at the complex. Edano said that, although there was a chance the reactor's outer wall could explode, it would not pose a major health risk as long as the internal container of the reactor remained intact.

Kan said 12,000 people had been rescued, including about 5,800 people from Kesennuma, a city in Miyagi prefecture hit especially hard by the tsunami. Kan said 100,000 soldiers would be deployed to help victims of Friday's magnitude 9.0 quake.

Earlier in the day, the head of police at Miyagi prefecture estimated the death toll at more than 10,000 in his prefecture alone, the Kyodo News Agency reported.

With millions already without power, Kan said Japan would undergo planned outages in the coming days to preserve what electricity remained.

Videos of the earthquake

In Sendai, the city closest to the epicenter, Saeko Abe said power was restored in her clinic, giving her an opportunity to watch television. When the 38-year-old nurse saw footage of the tsunami washing over the beachfront, she gasped.

"It is all washed away. Devastated," said Abe, who was heading home in the pitch darkness on a bicycle. "My first cousin, she just had a baby, and we don't know what happened to her. She lived by the beach. Her parents can't get down there to look. She hasn't shown up at the refugee center."

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