Sleepless and tense in Sendai

Reports of a possible meltdown at Fukushima N-plant raised panic among people.

Last Updated: Mar 15, 2011, 22:17 PM IST

Sendai: A crumpled dark blue truck hanging out of the window of a local convenience store on Sendai`s ravaged coastline is a powerful symbol of the devastated lives of millions in the north east of Japan`s coast.

Many of Sendai`s million residents tossed and turned through a sleepless and fretful night as the earth rumbled intermittently, peaking at around 4 a.m. with a stronger but still comparatively milder earthquake than Friday`s, which triggered a sequence of destruction that is already being dubbed Japan`s worst catastrophe since World War II.

Late Monday fatigued faces tensed when a woman burst into the makeshift night shelter at Kencho municipal headquarters in central Sendai, sobbing and wailing loudly that she had not eaten for days. She was hastily escorted outside to a medical tent by Red Cross workers who said she is suffering trauma and exhaustion.

With sparse mobile coverage and virtually no Internet, information is scarce although the authorities have tried to instil calm among the forlorn locals.

Amid reports of a possible meltdown at Reactor 2 at the Fukushima 1 nuclear power plant, some 120 km from Sendai, panic is rising.

In Sendai, once a calm sleepy sea port, nervous residents are rushing to join over km-long queues at major food stores to stockpile supplies. Gas is virtually unavailable.

A tsunami alert was raised Monday but the 10 metre wall of water never materialized.

Tales of the resident`s bravery and terror are only just coming out.

"I thought the whole of Japan was coming to an end, it was such a strong earthquake," Haitso, a 60-year-old taxi driver, said of the first quake of magnitude 9.0 which shook his south Sendai apartment, luckily out of the range of the tsunamis which tore through the eastern district of Aharama.

"I thought I was going to die."

For two nights Haitso`s family of five slept outside in his two cars on the sub-zero streets, terrified of returning inside in case of being hit by another powerful quake.