For some Japanese who have been battered by a monster earthquake and powerful tsunami, the prospect of a nuclear crisis is the scariest threat yet.
"Nuclear power is the most frightening thing, even more than a tsunami," said Isao Araki, a 63-year-old from the coast village of Minami-soma, which was swept away from Friday's tsunami. "The government, the ruling party, the administrators... nobody tells us, the citizens, what is really happening."
While many who were in the path of the tsunami are still shellshocked, others are struggling to cope with a life that is completely altered and now has a looming nuclear threat as well. And the trouble is rippling out like a wave and reaching as far as Tokyo.
More than 70,000 people have been evacuated from a 12-mile area around the four nuclear plants that engineers are struggling to keep from failing and have begun to leak radiation. Another 140,000 who live within 19 miles of the plants have been told to stay indoors and make their homes airtight.
A Namiemachi resident who lived miles from the reactor and wishes to remain anonymous was evacuated before the tsunami hit. She came to an evacuation center this week with her young son, both wearing masks, to get tested for radiation.
"We can't go back. The radiation levels are too high. And we probably can't go back for years. We don't have a home to go back to, it's frightening," she said. "We have no idea what's really going on."
Others take comfort with the company of others at the 90 evacuation centers set up in Koriyama, a city located 40 miles south of the nuclear complex.
Yasuko Watanabe, a 70-year-old evacuee who lives in Koriyama, said her home is intact but she's worried it is unstable. "I'm just traumatized. I can't sleep at night. We get constant aftershocks. At least at this center, I know there are other people with me. I feel better knowing others are with me," she said.
Once part of one of the richest countries in the world, people in the quake-tsunami zone are reduced to riding bicycles because of a lack of gasoline and standing in almost day-long lines for essential supplies, despite temperatures that hover just above freezing.
Overnight and into this morning, lines formed outside small convenience stores and supermarkets throughout the city of Sendai. Most of the bottled drinks in the city's ubiquitous corner vending machines are sold out.
One man at the front of a supermarket line that stretched for several blocks said he'd been waiting 12 hours and only had two days worth of food at home. It began to drizzle, raising fears that they would be doused with radiation as well as rain. But only a few abandoned the line.
In Tokyo, about 180 miles from Sendai, slightly elevated radiation levels were detected, but officials there said there is no immediate danger to public.
Natsumi Oka, a 21-year-old living in Tokyo, told ABC News that she is worried about the growing threat of radiation, and like many other Japanese, doesn't know what information to believe.
"Right now, though it's only 1:30 p.m. my grandma has been preparing dinner because the rolling blackout is going to start at 3:20 and last until 7. We won't have electricity, heat or running water during that time," she said.