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Japan's Emperor, Empress, Visit Quake's Hardest-Hit Areas


Japanese Emperor Akihito and Empress Michiko look at the tsunami-hit devastated area from the playground of Isatomae Elementary School in Minamisanriku, Miyagi Prefecture, northern Japan, April 27, 2011

Japanese Emperor Akihito and Empress Michiko look at the tsunami-hit devastated area from the playground of Isatomae Elementary School in Minamisanriku, Miyagi Prefecture, northern Japan, April 27, 2011

Japan's emperor and empress were in devastated Miyagi prefecture Wednesday to view earthquake damage and comfort survivors.

It was the first visit to the hardest-hit areas by Emperor Akihito and Empress Michiko, though they have visited evacuation centers closer to Tokyo. The couple flew early Wednesday to an air base in Miyagi. The prefecture suffered thousands of people killed and about $80 billion in property damage, according to a new estimate by the Development Bank of Japan.

At the crippled Fukushima nuclear plant, which has been leaking radiation since the March 11 earthquake and tsunami, workers continue efforts to remove highly radioactive water from the basements and utility tunnels at the six reactors.

National NHK television said the latest concern is a possible leak of water from a pool where spent fuel rods are stored at the number four reactor. It said workers have been pouring from 140 to 210 tons of water into the tank in each of the last few days, but water levels remain 10 to 40 centimeters lower than expected.

The fuel rods must be kept covered with water to prevent them from becoming overheated and emitting dangerous radiation.

On Tuesday, about 200 farmers from Fukushima prefecture demonstrated outside the Tokyo offices of the plant's operator, the Tokyo Electric Power Company. They were demanding that TEPCO get control of the plant and quickly compensate them for their economic losses.

About 70 of the nation's most successful sumo wrestlers, meanwhile, agreed at a meeting Tuesday that each will donate about $120 every month for the next 10 years to support children in quake-stricken areas.

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