For Some Japanese Nuclear Crisis Scarier Than Quake or Tsunami

Nuclear fears ripple as far south as Tokyo.

March 15, 2011 — -- 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.

For Some, Nuclear Crisis Scarier Than Quake or Tsunami

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.

Uncertainty fuels their fear of being in danger as weather reports forecast snow and wind for Fukushima where the damaged nuclear plants are located, blowing southwest toward Tokyo and possibly carrying a nuclear cloud there before blowing east out to sea.

"My friends are evacuating to the south. Some of the foreign exchange students are going back to their home countries. My news feed on Facebook is nothing but updates on where they are escaping to. It's making me worried. My boss sent me a message to stay indoors," said Oka.

Others, however, are still dealing with the nightmare of the quake and tsunami.

At a high school gymnasium in the ravaged coastal town of Minamisanriku, some 400 people were sleeping on torn up cardboard boxes on the floor. Volunteers provided what food they could -- a rice ball with some soup and water.

As his wife slept beside him, huddled in blankets, her bandaged face etched with exhaustion, 81-year-old Kaneo Karino described their extraordinary story of survival.

"My wife and I were at home downstairs when the quake struck," he said. "The furniture fell on top of us and then we heard the emergency services ordering us to evacuate. I started to get up but I walk with a cane and it took me a while. And that's when the tsunami hit, whoosh, bursting into the house.

"I was thrown up against a floating log which I grabbed onto. I couldn't see my wife anywhere and then she came to the surface, so I grabbed her hair and pulled her onto the log. A few times I had to swallow some dirty water."

They swam to the top of the stairs and then climbed to their roof.

"We waited 15 hours before being rescued by helicopter," he said.

As he told his story he frequently reached over and gently touched his sleeping wife.

"I am worried about her health because this whole ordeal has been so exhausting. When we finally came to the shelter she fell in the bathroom and hit her head," he said.

He spoke of his fears for his small village of 300 families who have lived there for generations.

"As we flew away I looked down and saw that the entire village was gone. I have no idea if anyone else is alive," he said.

Japan's Three Evils: Earthquake, Tsunami and Nuclear Crisis

A message board outside the shelter entrance was covered with notices from people looking for family and friends. With almost no means of communication or transport, so many have no clue where their loved ones are or if they are even alive.

One man approached an ABC News crew and asked if they could look out for his daughter and newborn baby granddaughter. He thought they were at another shelter.

Another woman broke down as she said that both of her husband's parents are missing. "We have hope," she said in broken English, but her eyes were filled with fear.

"My daughter couldn't sleep last night because a young boy was crying through the night, 'Where is my daddy? Where is my daddy?'" she said.

ABC News' Bill Weir and Russell Goldman contributed to this report.