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Aftershock Rattles Japan 1 Month After Earthquake, Tsunami Disaster

April 11, 2011 at 6:17 PM EDT

JEFFREY BROWN: And we turn to an update on Japan, one month on from the catastrophic earthquake and tsunami.

Amid the destruction on Japan’s northeastern coast today, a moment of silence, as workers there and millions of Japanese nationwide stood in quiet contemplation, among them, Prime Minister Naoto Kan.

NAOTO KAN, Japanese prime minister (through translator): It’s been one month since the quake happened. I hereby conduct a silent prayer to express our sincere condolences for the souls killed in the disaster.

JEFFREY BROWN: The day’s reflections were disrupted by another powerful aftershock measured at magnitude 6.6, the second big one in four days. It rocked Tokyo and cut power to more than 200,000 homes. A tsunami warning was issued then canceled when no wave appeared.

But the aftershock again interrupted efforts to cool the crippled reactors at the Fukushima Daiichi nuclear plant. Workers were evacuated, and external power was temporarily cut. In recent days, crews at the plant have managed to plug a major water leak that has sent tons of highly radioactive runoff spewing from a cracked containment area. Less radioactive water was dumped directly into the Pacific Ocean, though that was finally stopped today.

Government officials also added five more communities to the evacuation zone to prevent long-term radiation exposure.

Spokesman Yukio Edano said the zone could be expanded further.

YUKIO EDANO, Japanese chief Cabinet secretary (through translator): At present, we have requested people to stay outside a 20-kilometer radius of the damaged Fukushima nuclear plant. However, if the radiation situation worsens in any way, we will review that limit of 20 kilometers.

JEFFREY BROWN: The U.S. and other nations have told their citizens in Japan to stay 15 miles from the plant.

Meanwhile, the month-long search for bodies continued today. More than 13,000 are confirmed dead; 14,000 more remain missing. And many may never be found.

In Kesennuma, among the hardest-hit coastal areas, soldiers face a dauntingly large task.

COL. TOSHIKI FUJIOKA, Japan Self-Defense Forces (through translator): We are in a very difficult situation, because it is impossible for us to remove the massive rubble by just manpower. So we have to use heavy equipment but must do it very carefully. We’re trying to retrieve bodies as cleanly as possible.

JEFFREY BROWN: For the living, life gets no easier. Hundreds of thousands are homeless, and home for many is now a sparsely appointed shelter.

In one corner of coastal Miyagi Prefecture, 36 families won a lottery for temporary housing. Nearly 2,000 more are waiting, still a small fraction of the overall need. Housing in these units is guaranteed for two years, but doubts abound and fears of what could still happen.

TAKUYA KUMAGAI (through translator): I am sure that another tsunami is coming. I hope that the government rebuilds the tsunami barrier, so that we can go back to the life we used to have, but I doubt that we can do it within two years.

JEFFREY BROWN: At the same time, there is hope. In Tokyo, schoolgirls from the evacuation zone recently sought donations to assist those in need.

And one retiree struck an optimistic note.

KENZO TADOKORO (through translator): We will rise up from the devastation as long as we keep the faith strong and everybody works in cooperation with each other.

JEFFREY BROWN: The cost of that work to rebuild and recover is huge and growing. One recent estimate: $315 billion dollars, making the March 11 disaster the most expensive ever.