Heading to Japan's Ground Zero - slowly

The main road leading toward Tokyo is jammed with cars as people try to head home after the massive 8.9-magnitude earthquake in Ichihara city, Chiba prefecture on March 11, 2011. Getty Images

This report was filed by CBS News correspondent Megan Towey

Before Harry Smith, myself and our photographer, Randy Schmidt, got on the road to head north from Tokyo we swung by a 24-hour grocery store to buy provisions. Whereas on the streets life seemed to be back to normal since Friday's earthquake, the grocery store showed signs that it was not an average day in Tokyo.

As we walked in we noticed that row upon row of products were missing, already scooped up by anxious Tokyo residents preparing for the worst. Staples like milk, eggs, rice, bread and bottled water were simply not available. We loaded up on whatever we could and hit the road.

With gasoline becoming scarce in the more affected areas, we stocked our van full of canisters filled with gas. It would mean we wouldn't get stuck somewhere when we ran out of fuel, but it also meant we'd all have headaches from the fumes by the time we reached our destination - supposedly a 5 hour drive away.

It's been more than 5 hours now but every time I ask how much farther, I'm told 5 hours. This is taking much longer than expected - partially because the main highway north was closed to all non-emergency personnel and partially because our Japanese driver, Neki, chose a route that took us as far from the Fukushima nuclear power plant as possible. He's afraid of radiation leaks and, really, I can't blame him.

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As we're driving we hear on the radio that a state of emergency has been declared around the nuclear power plant - as higher levels of radiation are detected in the environment. Workers at the plant are having trouble cooling off the nuclear fuel rods and not keeping them cool could lead to possible explosions or a nuclear meltdown.

So our crew of five people sits in a cramped van, outnumbered by gas cans, and drive...slowly. I've stopped asking our driver how much longer. It's clear we'll get there when we get there. But I can't help thinking, had the bullet train not been shut down after the quake, we could have made the trip in about two hours.


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