By RFE RL
(RFE/RL) — An explosion struck one of Japan’s two quake-hit nuclear power plants today injuring several workers and causing a rise in the measured level of radioactivity in the area.
The explosion comes amid worries that the plant’s reactor could melt down following the failure of its cooling system in the powerful earthquake and tsunami that hit northeast Japan on March 11.
State Of Emergency
Japan’s Prime Minister Naoto Kan, who visited the area by helicopter, declared a state of emergency at Fukushima region’s two damaged nuclear power plants. Officials are calling on people to evacuate up to a distance of 10 kilometers from the plants.
Japanese media reported tens of thousands of people have already been evacuated from the vicinity of the 40-year-old reactors.
Meanwhile, huge relief and clean-up efforts are under way a day after a devastating earthquake and tsunami claimed at least 1,300 lives.
The 8.9 magnitude tremor, which struck off the coast of Honshu island at a depth of 24 km, was Japan’s biggest earthquake on record.
The tsunami triggered by the earthquake has washed away whole villages and largely destroyed at least one town. Some 215,000 people have reportedly fled their homes.
Some 5.6 million households were left without electricity and more than one million were without water in quake-hit areas a day after the earthquake.
Fukushima resident Yoshikazi Yawatari said people want electricity, water and communications be restored in the area as soon as possible. “For the time being, I just want them to work on restoring things,” he said. “I don’t have any water and it’s horrible not being able to use the toilet.”
Japan’s military has mobilized thousands of troops, 300 planes and 40 ships to help with the relief effort.
Rescue team efforts from South Korea, New Zealand, and Singapore were due to arrive in Japan on March 12.
U.S. President Barack Obama mobilized the U.S. military to provide emergency aid for the disaster-hit country. A U.S. flotilla, including two aircraft carriers and support ships, were ordered to the disaster-hit region to provide aid. The United States has nearly 40,000 military personnel in Japan.
Some 50 countries so far offered help in search and rescue operations.
The earthquake has been followed by at least 50 aftershocks.
Despite the huge disruption, the natural disaster brought to Japan’s key industries, the country’s central bank vows to do utmost to ensure financial markets stability.
The Tokyo Stock Exchange said it will open for trading as normal on March 14.
Written by the RFE/RL’s central newsroom, with agency reports