An explosion erupted at nuclear power plant Saturday in northern Japan, blowing the roof off the building, sending plumes of smoke into the air and causing a radiation leak of unknown consequences.
The explosion came just over 24 hours after the deadly 8.9-magnitude earthquake struck and produced a tsunami that has also proved lethal. Authorities ordered nearby residents to evacuate because of the likely harm posed by the radiation leak, according to news reports.
Government spokesman Yukio Edano said the explosion destroyed the exterior walls of the building where the reactor is placed, but not the actual metal housing enveloping the reactor, according to the Associated Press.
That was welcome news for a country suffering from Friday's double disaster that pulverized the northeastern coast, leaving at least 574 people dead by official count.
The problems at the Fukushima Daiichi nuclear plant, about 150 miles north of Tokyo and not far from the quake's epicenter, were described in media reports as serious but not likely to be as catastrophic as the meltdown that occurred at Three Mile Island in Harrisburg, Pa., in 1979.
Meanwhile, rescuers struggled to reach survivors of the quake and tsusnami, and government officials said that they expect the death toll to reach 1,300. That number seems likely to go up, though, given that 9,500 people in Minamisanriku remain missing, according to media reports. Minamisanriku is a town of only 17,000 people in northeast Japan in Miyagi Prefecture>