Japan quake: live report

HONG KONG (AFP) – 0609 GMT: Hoax news alerts warning that the Philippines would be hit with radiation from Japan's damaged nuclear power plant have sparked anger and confusion, with panicked schools sending their pupils home, our Manila bureau reports.

AFP - A rescue worker searches for missing residents in Minamisanriku, Miyagi prefecture on March 15, 2011.

- The hoax news alerts started spreading via text messages on the Philippines' hyperactive mobile phone networks on Monday. One alert, purportedly issued by the BBC news network warned people to stay indoors, close doors and windows, and swab their necks with antiseptic to protect their thyroid glands.

0555 GMT: Two Chinese airlines have added flights to and from Japan to accommodate an expected increase in demand as China evacuates its nationals from the quake-hit nation's disaster zone, AFP's Beijing bureau reports.

- The state-run China National Radio also reported that two ships able to transport a total of 4,000 people were on standby in the eastern city of Yantai and planned to sail on Wednesday to bring back Chinese citizens.

0530 GMT: The mayor of Koriyama city, Masao Hara, told AFP that the town desperately needs help for thousands of evacuees sheltered there.

- "We have received many people who were evacuated from the area near the plant." Hara said. "Right now some 9,000 people are at shelters in Koriyama," , including 200 at a baseball stadium which was recently renovated to receive disaster evacuees. "What we urgently need now is fuel, heavy and light oil, water and food. More than anything else, we need fuel because we can't do anything without it. We can't stay warm or work the water pumps.

0523 GMT: Hong Kong bureau reports that the city widened its top-level black travel alert to three more Japanese prefectures after explosions at a nuclear plant in the quake-stricken country deepened concerns of a meltdown.

- The warning, announced late Tuesday, advises Hong Kong citizens to avoid travel to affected areas amid rising concerns about dangerous radiation seeping from the stricken facility about 250 kilometres (155 miles) northeast of Tokyo.

0514 GMT: In its latest update the national police agency has placed the death toll at 3,676 confirmed dead, with the total number of people unaccounted for rising by more than 800 to 7,558, and the number of injured at 1,990.

0442 GMT: The credit quality of Japanese firms may suffer if the country struggles to recover from the impact of last week's massive earthquake and tsunami, according to Standard and Poor's. The ratings agency says it expects a bigger fallout from the disasters than the Kobe earthquake that struck in 1995 because of the unpredictable effects of a nuclear crisis in the disaster-hit region in northeastern Japan.

0440 GMT: Australian tsunami expert Ray Canterford told AFP today that the images of the disastrous tsunami rolling onto Japan last week will provide valuable data to scientists for years to come.

- Canterford said while scientists had made progress on predicting tsunamis since the devastating 2004 Indian Ocean disaster in which some 220,000 people died, there was still work to be done.

0410 GMT: AFP's Sydney bureau reports that two Australian search and rescue personnel showed low levels of radiation contamination after their helicopter was forced to make an emergency landing in Fukushima today. Prime Minister Julia Gillard said contamination was detected on their boots after ice on the helicopter blades forced them to land some 20 kilometres (12 miles) outside the exclusion zone around the Fukushima nuclear plant.

0400 GMT: Strong quake shakes buildings in Tokyo

0359 GMT: Authorities in China say they will step up checks of incoming travellers and goods for possible radiation contamination as Japan's quake-triggered nuclear crisis escalated.

0352 GMT: AFP's Kelly Macnamara reports from Minamisanriku on the search for the missing: - Tomeko Sato has sent days looking for 10 missing relatives in the wasteland once called home. "I haven't been able to get in contact with them. I'm very worried about them," said Sato, 54, who lost her home in the disaster. "I was very surprised by the power of the tsunami... next time, I will live on the hill and hope it never happens again."

Takashi Takashita, commander of a fire and rescue unit working in the area, told Macnamara that about 8,000 people were still unaccounted for, and while hopes of finding survivors are nearly extinguished, he is not ready to give up. "The chances of finding people alive are slim, but we want to try to find missing people, not bodies."

0345 GMT: The Seoul bureau of AFP reports that South Korea plans to send an emergency shipment of cooling material to Japan to help control its quake-damaged nuclear reactors.

0338 GMT: The government has just announced that it is ready to ask for US military help to battle the nuclear emergency.

0335 GMT: A resident of Akita in northwest Japan, Takana Takegawa, told AFP she is stocking up on essentials as the spectre of a nuclear catastrophe looms large. "There will be a supply shortage now. There will not be any more meat or fish, so I bought some," Takegawa said. "At first, I heard that there would not be any health concerns, but how long will this last? I would like to receive clear information."

0325 GMT: The workers battling to contain the crisis at Japan's stricken Fukushima nuclear plant have all temporarily been evacuated because of a rise in radiation levels, a nuclear safety agency official has said.

- "Around 10:40 am (0140 GMT) we ordered the evacuation of workers... due to the rise in (radioactivity) data around the gate" of the plant, the official said at a televised press conference.

0254 GMT: AFP correspondent Olivia Hampton adds on the desperate search for petrol: Two hours after leaving the hotel the team was finally able to buy petrol, "we now have enough fuel to reach the hard-hit east coast. On our way out of Akita, we passed more gas stations, this time with queues stretching for some five kilometres and only getting longer. We're now passing through the mountains on our way east."

0252 GMT: A new government statement says a reactor containment vessel at a quake-hit Japanese nuclear power plant may have suffered damage.

0237 GMT: Update on AFP team's struggle to cover the devastation in Japan (Mie Kohiyama, Rosland Abdul Rahman and Olivia Hampton).

- Before heading east to disaster zone, Olivia Hampton reports: "we jumped into a taxi cab and had the driver guide us to different stations in and around the city. The rental car company would only provide half a tank of gas and supplies are running short. Station after station we passed were eerily empty, cordoned off with a panel reading "sold out" in big black and red characters. In the outskirts of the city, a few stations are still open but dozens of cars have formed long queues. We take our chances with one station. Here as in every other station, big yellow signs with blue and red characters warn customers they are limited to 20 litres per car. After waiting for about an hour and with just 10 cars in front of us, staff close their station and redirect traffic elsewhere. Despite all the frustration, there were no signs of road rage."

0231 GMT: Radiation levels rose Wednesday at a quake-hit Japanese nuclear power plant but later fell, the chief government spokesman said.

0222 GMT: The credit quality of Japanese firms may suffer if the country struggles to recover from last week's massive earthquake and tsunami, Standard and Poor's said Wednesday.

0214 GMT: An AFP correspondent reports: "Just found an open supermarket in a suburb of Ichinoseki, one of the first we?ve seen to allow people inside. It was packed and shelves were emptying fast."

0155 GMT: On the ground in Tokyo AFP's David Watkins says: "Commuters still heading to work in Tokyo Wednesday morning but city is certainly quieter than usual. The number of people sporting paper face masks has shot up despite the fact that the maks are absolutely useless in the event of spiking radiation levels. More cyclists on the roads too, after reports of a run on bike shops in the city following the quake Friday."

0147 GMT: 112 countries and regions and 24 international organizations have offered assistance in the rescue and recovery efforts, says Japan's foreign ministry says, our Tokyo correspondent Frank Zeller reports.

0137 GMT: Our correspondent Olivia Hampton reports from the northwestern city of Akita about a run on petrol stations. "On our way out of the city, we saw even bigger queues stretching for five kilometres-plus."

0130 GMT: In Rome AFP?s reporter Gildas Le Roux says Italian officials are battling opposition to the planned re-introduction of atomic power abandoned following the Chernobyl disaster. "Prime Minister Silvio Berlusconi has made nuclear energy a key part of his platform despite widespread public opposition even before Friday's massive earthquake and tsunami in Japan."

- Rome wants to start building nuclear power stations from 2014 and to produce a quarter of its electricity with atomic energy by 2030.

0129 GMT: Live TV footage shows a cloud of white smoke rising above the Japanese nuclear power plant.

0119 GMT: Japan's foreign ministry has told the media that eight experts from the US Nuclear Regulatory Commission will arrive today to help Japan battle its nuclear crisis.

- They will provide technical advice on managing the situation at the Fukushima No 1 atomic power plant 250 kilometres (155 miles) northeast of Tokyo.

0035 GMT: AFP's Washington bureau reports that US right-wing radio host and television presenter Glenn Beck has been blasted by other American celebrities and the media for calling the monster quake that rocked Japan a message from God.

- Actress, author and talk show host Whoopi Goldberg said Beck should "check the mirror" if he thought Friday's 9.0-magnitude quake and tsunami were signs of God's anger with mankind.

0030 GMT: The Bank of Japan has pumped another 3.5 trillion yen ($43.3 bln) into the financial system, adding to the trillions spent Monday and Tuesday to soothe shaken markets.

0015 GMT: AFP Japan bureau reports that Tokyo shares were 6.05 percent higher early on Wednesday, following the biggest two-day sell-off on the Nikkei index for 24 years on fears of the threat of a nuclear meltdown after a huge earthquake.

0010 GMT: Our correspondent in Japan Shingo Ito reports that a fresh fire broke out at the Fukushima Daiichiatomic power plant early Wednesday, compounding Japan's nuclear crisis. The blaze at the number-four reactor reportedly went out of its own accord later, the state atomic safety agency said.

0000 GMT: AFP's Hong Kong office is taking over our Live Report on the developing situation in Japan, with reports from correspondents on the ground and witness accounts.

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