Snow muffles rescue work in Japan’s devastated northeast

Firefighters search for survivors in the snow in Minamisanriku, northern Japan on Wednesday, March 16 after Friday’s earthquake and tsunami. (AP Photo)
SENDAI, Japan, March 16 (Reuters): Heavy snow blanketed Japan's devastated northeast on Wednesday, hindering rescue workers and adding to the woes of the few, mainly elderly, residents who remained in the area worst hit by last week's massive earthquake and tsunami. In Sendai, once a city but now a water-logged wasteland, firefighters and relief teams sifted through mounds of rubble, hoping to find any sign of life.
But, like in most other towns, rescuers just pulled out body after body, which they wrapped in brightly colored blankets and lined up neatly against the grey, grim landscape. "The strong smell of bodies and the dirty seawater make search extremely difficult," said Yin Guanghui, a member of a Chinese rescue team working in the battered town of Ofunato.
"Powerful waves in the tsunami would repeatedly hit houses in the area. Anyone trapped under the debris would be drown in no time, without any chance to survive." Japanese media said at least two people were pulled alive from the rubble, more than 72 hours after the earthquake and tsunami struck. But rescue officials said the snow weakened what little chance they had of finding any more survivors.
"Snow has just come down in a blanket. Visibility is just 40 meters," said Patrick Fuller of the International Red Cross Federation from what remained of Otsuchi, a fishing hamlet. "People are still working, the army is out here. But the fire service has taken off because they are worried they won't get back to their base because of the snow."
Officials estimate Friday's earthquake and tsunami have killed at least 10,000 people, with thousands missing. Those who did survive lost everything they owned and now face shortages of food and water, no electricity or heating and frequent aftershocks -- some as strong as a magnitude -- that have rattled the country.
The meteorology agency said temperatures could drop as low as -2 Celsius (28 Fahrenheit) in Sendai on Wednesday.
Radiation from quake-hit Japanese nuke plant won't reach US: Obama

US President Barack Obama has said that he was not worried about radiation from the quake hit Japanese nuclear power plant reaching Hawaii. Asked about whether he is worried about the radiation from Japan reaching the US shores, Obama said, "No. I've been assured that it...any nuclear release dissipates by the time it gets even to Hawaii, much less to the mainland of the US."
"I do think it's important for us to think through constantly how we can improve nuclear technologies to deal with additional safety concerns," Obama said when asked about the safety of nuclear plants in the US during an interview with a Pittsburgh television station. "We constantly monitor - I asked this question of our nuclear regulatory commission. We constantly monitor seismic activity," he said. Obama said all energy sources have downsides and none are foolproof, adding that the US learned that last summer during the massive oil spill in the Gulf of Mexico.
Earlier in the day, Energy Secretary Steven Chu announced that the Department of Energy has offered Japan an aerial measuring system capability, including detectors and analytical equipment used to provide assessments of contamination on the ground. In total, the DOE team includes 34 people. "We have offered our Japanese friends disaster response experts, search and rescue teams, technical advisors with nuclear expertise, and logistical support from the United States military," White House Press Secretary Jay Carney said.