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In Quake-Affected Town, Scenes Of Chaos

GUY RAZ, host:

We're back with ALL THINGS CONSIDERED from NPR News. I'm Guy Raz.

Authorities in Japan are reporting that the radiation level in the water at one of the damaged nuclear reactors is four times higher than what is considered safe.

For the time being, they've evacuated workers from the site. Meanwhile, in many coastal communities, survivors are struggling to cope with the aftermath of the earthquake.

NPR's Doualy Xaykaothao spent some time in the city of Sendai and sent this report.

DOUALY XAYKAOTHAO: Arriving by bus to Sendai City is a quiet affair. The bus is half empty. We're on this bus to save gasoline. More than two weeks after the earthquake and tsunami, most of Japan's northeast is still in desperate need for fuel. Some people tell me they've waited as long as 12 hours for gas.

Mr. HIROYUKI AIZAWA: (Foreign language spoken)

XAYKAOTHAO: Taxi driver, 56-year-old Hiroyuki Aizawa, was lucky and only waited three hours. Aizawa suggests we visit his birthplace, Yuriage, near the Natori River. As we approach the fishing village, it becomes clear Aizawa hasn't returned in a while.

It's his first time seeing fields of cars smashed like toys, boats miles inland, one sitting on a road, near a yellow sofa, foundation indicating what used to be spacious sea-side homes.

When we pass what's left of a temple, Aizawa wants to stop to look around.

It's very windy, but the smell of uncollected bodies is still strong. The face masks we wear don't help. Inside the car, Aizawa tells us his parents were entombed at the temple there.

Mr. AIZAWA: (Foreign language spoken)

XAYKAOTHAO: He says it's impossible to know where the tsunami waves took his parents remains. Just down the way, 73-year-old Miki Konno is crying to the winds. She wears boots, standing in knee-deep mud, next to an abandoned car.

Ms. MIKI KONNO: (Foreign language spoken)

XAYKAOTHAO: The tsunami took her husband and daughter, and now her cat is stranded in her house, which is surrounded by muddied water and debris. She brought food for her cat but can't reach him.

We cannot help her or her cat. The area around her house is still too dangerous to navigate.

Ms. KONNO: (Foreign language spoken)

XAYKAOTHAO: With quiet dignity, she says goodbye and thanks us for stopping, bowing repeatedly, turning away toward the horizon.

In the distance, there is a shrine for war veterans called (unintelligible). It's a grassy hill, colored brown by the tsunami, with one big tree on top. A couple, wearing motorcycle helmets climb toward the shrine.

Mr. EIJI SUZUKI: (Through translator) Unbelievable.

XAYKAOTHAO: Eiji Suzuki says this was their playground. He used to ride his bike around these parts. It's where he fell in love, too, with Michiyo, who stands next to him.

Ms. MICHIYO SUZUKI: (Foreign language spoken)

XAYKAOTHAO: She says she is sad and shocked by what she sees. The giant waves didn't discriminate against people or objects. Her friends and family are safe, but she says she and her husband, both local artists, have lost precious childhood memories.

Doualy Xaykaothao, NPR News, Sendai City, in northeast Japan. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

Doualy Xaykaothao is a newscaster and reporter for NPR, based in Culver City. She returned to NPR for this role in 2018, and is responsible for writing, producing, and delivering national newscasts. She also reports on breaking news stories for NPR.