03/12/2011, 00.00
JAPAN
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Tragic death toll from tsunami, explosion in a nuclear power plant

A reactor damaged by the earthquake overheated and blew up a building. Radioactivity registered at 1000 times the normal value around the power station. The death toll is high: 1,400 dead or missing. Over 1200 homes destroyed. Relief operations begin with Japanese and foreign military teams. The pope's condolences and prayers.

Tokyo (AsiaNews) - A building attached to a nuclear reactor in Fukushima exploded this morning, just as the Japanese government launched a massive relief operation after the "mega" earthquake and subsequent tsunami that struck the north-east of the country.

The information is currently very unclear. The nuclear power plant in Fukushima Daichi (250 km from Tokyo), has been damaged by the earthquake which broke the cooling systems of the two reactors. Because of overheating all feared the possible fusion of at least one of the reactors. The Tokyo Electric Power, which manages the site, said it was trying to control the cooling system and evacuated more than 51thousand people living within 10 km of the facility were evacuated. This morning one of the two reactors blew up and it seems to have involved four workers. The radioactive values near the power station are 1000 times higher than normal.

Meanwhile, the police today updated figures of the victims: 1400 dead or missing. At least 200 bodies were recovered on the beach in Sendai, the area closest to the epicentre, overwhelmed by the tidal wave that penetrated more than 5 km inland. At least 1,200 homes were affected and there are over 700 missing and 1128 wounded.

The violent earthquake a few hundred kilometers off the coast of Miyagi prefecture, has been called "the most important earthquake" for over 100 years. Nearly 6 million households are without electricity and running water.

Rescue operations have begun, but the teams have not yet reached the most affected places. In five provinces tent cities are being prepared to house the displaced. 50 thousand soldiers have joined emergency teams to assist relief efforts.

Moreover rescue teams from neighbouring countries such as South Korea, Australia, Singapore, New Zealand, should arrive later today. The United States is also directing an aircraft carrier to the area. China also said it was ready to give all necessary assistance, if requested.

Yesterday Pope Benedict XVI expressed his sympathy to the affected populations, with a telegram sent to the Bishops' Conference of Japan. In the message, the pontiff said he was "deeply saddened by the tragic and brutal effects of the severe earthquake" and that he prayed for the dead and the grieving families, invoking the strength and consolation of God's blessing. The pope expressed his sympathy to all those who are bringing "aid, comfort and support to victims of disaster."

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