Another sad morning in Japan

TV stations interrupted coverage to carry the emperor's first public appearance since last week's massive earthquake and tsunami that killed thousands of people. In his extraordinarily rare appearance yesterday, Japan's Emperor Akihito, the 77-year-old ceremonial but deeply revered head of the country, told citizens to not give up hope as the country grapples with an epic earthquake, a devastating tsunami and growing fears of a nuclear catastrophe.

A televised address by a sitting emperor is usually reserved for times of extreme crisis or war. Emperor Akihito underlined Prime Minister Naoto Kan's earlier assertion that Japan was going through its worst crisis since World War II.

Looking very somber and stoic, Emperor Akihito said the problems at Japan's nuclear-power reactors, where authorities have been battling to prevent a catastrophe, were unpredictable and that he was "deeply worried" following an earthquake he described as "unprecedented in scale."

The emperor said the hearts of the international community was with Japan and that he was moved by his people's calm and order.  "I am deeply hurt by the grievous situation in the affected areas. The number of deceased and missing increases by the day we cannot know how many victims there will be. My hope is that as many people possible are found safe," Akihito said.

He added, "I hope from the bottom of my heart that the people will, hand in hand, treat each other with compassion and overcome these difficult times,"  urging survivors not to "abandon hope."

Hundreds of thousands have been left homeless by the quake and tsunami that followed and has been further worsened after a cold snap that has brought snow to some of the worst-stricken areas. 

The Daiichi nuclear plant in Fukushima, is 150 miles north of Tokyo, where workers were trying to contain the world's worst nuclear crisis since the Chernobyl disaster in Ukraine in 1986.

Akihito's speech came on the same day that white smoke and a new blaze at the damaged Fukushima Daiichi's nuclear plant added to radiation concerns. The fire was discovered Wednesday morning in the No. 4 reactor building at the plant, a Tokyo Electric Power Company official told reporters. It renewed concern over spent fuel rods sitting in an uncovered pool inside, which would release dangerous radiation if they caught fire.

Even workers who remained at the plant evacuated temporarily as radiation levels there fluctuated "hour by hour," Chief Cabinet Secretary Yukio Edano said Wednesday.

By Wednesday afternoon, the National Police Agency reported 3,771 deaths. Another 8,181 people are missing and 2,218 were injured, the agency said. The number of dead is expected to go up as rescuers reach more hard-hit areas.

An estimated 450,000 survivors huddled in cramped make shift shelters, grieved over lost loved ones and worried about relatives who are missing across villages and towns inundated by the tsunami waves off the east coast of Honshu.

Temperatures continue to stay in the upper 20's to low 30's F, including sleet over the decimated city of Sendai in northeastern Japan (1M according to 2005 census).

The latest concerns at the Fukushima plant comes a day after another fire there and an explosion at the plant's No. 2 reactor.  Japanese authorities could not rule out the possibility of a meltdown at the troubled reactors. Workers continued to pump sea water into reactors in an effort to prevent further damage.

A meltdown will occur when nuclear fuel rods cannot be cooled, they end up heating up and thus melting the reactor core which causes a release of the radioactivity.

In the worst-case scenario, like in Chernobyl for example the fuel can spill out of the containment unit and spread toxic radioactivity through the air and water.

That can cause immediate and long-term health problems, including radiation poisoning and cancer.

Late Wednesday officials were also monitoring reactors No. 5 and 6 at the plant, where cooling systems have raised concerns. The temperatures have continued to rise, and they were doing their best to cool them down using sea water which was being continuously pumped in by gas powered generators.

Across the country, emergency workers from Japan, foreign governments and international aid groups continue to search for survivors in the piles of debris. 91 countries and regions and six international organizations have already offered assistance, according to the Japanese foreign affairs ministry.

The massive quake was the strongest in recorded history to hit Japan, according to USGS records that date to 1900.

Please keep them in your prayers and donate what you can to the Red Cross.

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