Area around Japan nuclear plant evacuated
HONSHU, Japan, March 11 (UPI) -- Japanese authorities called for more people living near a nuclear power plant affected by Friday's earthquake to evacuate as employees worked to cool it down.
Officials said at least 217 deaths had been confirmed from the 8.9-magnitude earthquake affecting the country's northeastern and eastern coasts, and said the number likely would be more than 1,000, Kyodo News reported. The quake triggered dozens of fires and a thunderous tsunami that swept away homes, vehicles, ships and people.
Authorities Saturday called for more evacuations near a nuclear plant where radiation levels reached 1,000 times their normal levels. After Friday's quake, the government issued a state of atomic power emergency and said initially there had not been any radiation leaks at any of the nuclear power plants, a mainstay of power supply in the country, and Kyodo quoted the International Atomic Energy Agency as saying Saturday at least four nuclear plants had safely shut down in the quake's aftermath.
The Tokyo Electric Power Co. -- which had initially urged about 3,000 people living within 10 kilometers (6.2 miles) of Fukushima No. 1 nuclear plant to evacuate -- said early Saturday a cooling system had failed and radiation may have escaped at the plant. The Nuclear and Industrial Safety Agency said cooling systems for three reactors at the No. 2 nuclear power plant failed.
Tokyo Electric alerted government officials the No. 2 plant failsafe system was not functioning due to rising temperature of coolant water.
Chief Cabinet Secretary Yukio Edano said the Fukushima Daiichi reactor "remains at a high temperature" because it "cannot cool down."
U.S. President Barack Obama said he spoke with Japanese Prime Minister Naoto Kan, asking specifically about the nuclear plants and potential vulnerability.
"He indicated that they are monitoring the situation very closely," Obama said. "So far they have not seen evidence of radiation leaks, but obviously you've got to take all potential precautions."
He said he asked U.S. Energy Secretary Steve Chu to keep in contact with his Japanese counterparts, offering assistance as necessary and to "make sure that if, in fact, there have been breaches in the safety system on these nuclear plants that they're dealt with right away."
The International Atomic Energy Agency said on its Web site it was "in full response mode" as it works with Japanese authorities and monitors the situation.
U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton said the U.S. government sent coolant for the Fukushima plant, CNN reported.
"We're really deeply involved in trying to do as much as we can on behalf of the Japanese and on behalf of U.S. citizens," she said.
Japan's Defense Ministry said about 1,800 homes in Minamisoma, near the Pacific coast, were destroyed, raising the possibility that the overall quake death toll will top 1,000, Kyodo News reported.
Japanese officials said about 4 million homes were without power in Tokyo and surrounding areas.
The quake caused havoc with rail and air travel schedules. Hundreds of flights were canceled and an estimated 13,000 people marooned at an airport in Narita and another 10,000 stuck at an airport in Haneda, Kyodo reported.
News media also reported a dam broke in Fukushima prefecture, sweeping away scores of homes. CNN reported fires in at least 80 cities.
Kan pledged the government would make every effort to deal with the impact of the earthquake, the Chinese news agency Xinhua reported.
"Our government will make all-out efforts to minimize the damage caused by the earthquake," Kan told a news conference after the government set up a task force to deal with the quake and its extensive damage.
He urged the public to remain calm, saying so far there is no problem with nuclear power plants.
The Japan Meteorological Agency said the earthquake was the strongest in the quake-prone archipelago, with its magnitude topping the 7.9 registered in the 1923 Great Kanto Earthquake that killed more than 100,000 people.
Aftershocks, some stronger than 7-magnitude, struck the area as well.
The epicenter was offshore, about 231 miles from Tokyo, the U.S. Geological Survey said.
Obama, pledging to assist Japan in any way possible, said a U.S. aircraft carrier was in Japan, and another was en route. A ship also was traveling to the Mariana Islands to assist as needed.
He said the Defense Department was working to account for all U.S. military personnel in Japan. U.S. Embassy personnel in Tokyo moved to an off-site location, and the State Department also was working "to account for and assist any and all American citizens who are in the country," Obama said.
Defense Secretary Robert Gates said in a statement, "As best we can tell, all of our people are OK, our ships and military facilities are all in pretty good shape. We obviously have huge sympathy for the people of Japan and we are prepared to help them."
Obama said, "I think when you see what's happening in Japan, you are reminded that, for all our differences in culture or language or religion, that ultimately humanity is one. And when we face these kinds of natural disasters … then you think about your own family, and you think how would you feel if you lost a loved one or if your entire life savings were gone because of the devastation."
Both major airports in Tokyo were closed.
Tsunami warnings and watches were issued by the Pacific Tsunami Warning Center in Hawaii to several neighboring countries and regions.
Besides Japan, tsunami warnings for the Pacific Ocean stretched from areas along Asian coasts to the West Coast of the Americas.
Bahrain used tear gas on protesters
MANAMA, Bahrain, March 11 (UPI) -- Bahrain's Ministry of Interior said Friday it used tear gas to disperse clashing demonstrators, refuting rumors authorities used live ammunition.
The ministry issued a statement saying claims the government used live bullets were "baseless," saying security authorities used, specifically, eight tear gas bullets to "prevent" any clashes between Sunni and Shiite protestors, the Kuwait News Agency, KUNA, reported.
Noting two ostensibly opposing groups were heading to the same roundabout, the ministry said it installed barbed wire to prevent any skirmishes between the two sides that could possibly escalate the sectarian tension in Bahrain.
Bahrain is ruled by the U.S.-backed Sunni Crown Prince Salman bin Hamad al-Khalifa, whose family has been jolted by weeks of protest by Shiites who are in the majority but who seek to replace the puritanical kingdom with a republican democracy that would give them more of a voice, The New York Times said.
Washington is in an ongoing support position regarding the Sunni royal family -- to the growing dismay of the mostly Shiite demonstrators.
A senior U.S. military official said Friday the administration remained optimistic and patient.
"We're still a little bit in the talks-before-the-talks period, but we're hoping the dialogue will start soon," said the official, who spoke on condition of anonymity under ground rules imposed by the Pentagon. "I don't think anybody expects you're going to have democracy overnight."
Approval of GOP-led Congress plummets
WASHINGTON, March 11 (UPI) -- Public approval of the U.S. Congress has plummeted to less than 20 percent for the first time since the Tea Party and GOP-led House took control this year.
A Gallup poll released Friday indicates only 18 percent of adults say they approve of the way Congress is doing its job, down from 23 percent in February, The Hill reported.
The disapproval spanned the political gamut with 15 percent of independents saying they approved of Congress, down from 23 percent in February, and 20 percent of Democrats approving, down from 25 percent, and 20 percent of Republicans saying they approve of the way Congress is doing its job, down from 23 percent last month, the poll showed.
Gallup said the opinions Americans have of Congress traditionally tend not to be positive, showing an average 34 percent approval rating since the organization began tracking this viewpoint in 1974.
Gallup says the March ratings for Congress are among the lowest in the 37-year history of the polling organization.
The Gallup poll was conducted March 2-6 and has a margin of error of 4 percentage points.
5 charged with plotting to kill troopers
FAIRBANKS, Alaska, March 11 (UPI) -- Investigators in Alaska say five reputed members of the Sovereign Citizen Movement watched the homes of two state troopers and planned to kill them.
The five were arrested Thursday in a joint federal-state operation, the (Fairbanks) Daily News-Miner reported. One of the suspects, Lonnie Vernon, 56, of Salcha, also faces federal charges of threatening to kill the judge presiding over a tax case, federal prosecutors said.
All five are charged with conspiracy to commit murder, kidnapping and arson. Investigators say the suspects had a weapons cache and conducted surveillance on the troopers' houses.
The other defendants include Vernon's wife, Karen; Schaeffer Cox, 26, of Fairbanks; Coleman Barney of North Pole; and Michael Anderson, whose address was not given. Salcha is a hamlet and North Pole a small city in the Fairbanks area.
The Sovereign Citizen Movement is considered by the federal government to be a terrorist group. Members claim English common law is the only applicable legal code and reject federal, state and local laws.
The Vernons have been fighting the Internal Revenue Service's effort to seize their house for non-payment of taxes.