Tokyo Nearly two weeks of rolling blackouts, distribution problems and contamination fears prompted by a leaking, tsunami-damaged nuclear plant have left shelves stripped bare of some basic necessities in stores across Tokyo. Some people are even turning to the city’s ubiquitous vending machines to find increasingly scarce bottles of water.
At the source of the anxiety — the overheated, radiation-leaking nuclear plant — there was yet another setback Thursday as two workers were injured when they stepped into radiation-contaminated water. The two were treated at a hospital.
Supplies of bottled water grew scarce in Tokyo, one day after city officials warned that the level of radioactive iodine in the tap water was more than twice what is considered safe for babies to drink. Tests conducted Thursday showed the levels in the city’s water fell to acceptable limits for infants, but they were up in neighboring regions.
Frightened Tokyo residents hoping to stock up on bottled water and other goods flocked to shops across the city, some of which tried to prevent hoarding by imposing buying limits.
“The first thought was that I need to buy bottles of water,” said Reiko Matsumoto, a real estate agent and mother of a 5-year-old, who rushed to a nearby store to stock up on supplies. “I also don’t know whether I can let her take a bath.”
The shortages were mainly limited to basic staples, such as rice, instant noodles and milk. Vegetables, meat and tofu, meanwhile, were readily available in most places.
Japan has been grappling with an avalanche of miseries that began with a massive, 9.0-magnitude earthquake on March 11. That triggered a violent tsunami, which ravaged the northeast coast, killed an estimated 18,000 people and left hundreds of thousands homeless. The quake and tsunami also damaged the critical cooling system at the Fukushima Dai-ichi plant, which overheated and began spewing radiation into the environment.
Workers have been struggling to get the cooling system operating again, but their efforts have been hampered by explosions, fires and radiation scares. Lighting was restored Thursday to the central control room at Unit 1 for the first time since the quake and tsunami.
The death toll from the earthquake and tsunami continued to rise, meanwhile, with more than 10,000 bodies counted and more than 17,500 people listed as missing. Those tallies may overlap, but police from one of the hardest-hit prefectures, Miyagi, estimate that the deaths will top 15,000 in that region alone.