TAGAJO, JAPAN // The death toll in Japan’s earthquake and tsunami will likely exceed 10,000 in one state alone, an official said today, as millions of survivors were left without drinking water, electricity and proper food along the north-eastern coast.
"This is Japan’s most severe crisis since the war ended 65 years ago," Prime Minister Naoto Kan told reporters, adding that Japan’s future would be decided by the response to this crisis.
Although the government doubled the number of soldiers deployed in the aid effort to 100,000, it seemed overwhelmed by what’s turning out to be a triple disaster: Friday’s quake and tsunami damaged two nuclear reactors at a power plant on the coast, and at least one of them appeared to be going through a partial meltdown, raising fears of a radiation leak.
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The police chief of Miyagi prefecture, or state, told a gathering of disaster relief officials that his estimate for deaths was more than 10,000, the police spokesman Go Sugawara said.
Miyagi has a population of 2.3 million and is one of the three prefectures hardest hit in Friday’s disaster. Only 379 people have officially been confirmed dead in Miyagi.The nuclear crisis posed fresh concerns for those who survived the earthquake and tsunami, which hit with breathtaking force and speed, breaking or sweeping away everything in its path.
"First I was worried about the quake, now I’m worried about radiation. I live near the plants, so I came here to find out if I’m OK. I tested negative, but I don’t know what to do next," Kenji Koshiba, a construction worker, said at an emergency centre in Koriyama town near the power plant in Fukushima.
According to officials, more than 1,400 people were killed – including 200 people whose bodies were found today along the coast – and more than 1,000 were missing in the disasters. Another 1,700 were injured.In a rare piece of good news, the defence ministry said a military vessel on Sunday rescued a 60-year-old man floating off the coast of Fukushima on the roof of his house after being swept away in the tsunami. He was in good condition.
The US Geological Survey calculated the initial quake to have a magnitude of 8.9, while Japanese officials raised their estimate on Sunday to 9.0. Either way it was the strongest quake ever recorded in Japan. It has been followed by more than 150 powerful aftershocks.Teams searched for the missing along hundreds of kilometres of Japanese coastline, and hundreds of thousands of hungry survivors huddled in darkened emergency centres that were cut off from rescuers and aid.
At least 1.4 million households had gone without water since the quake struck and some 2.5 million households were without electricity.Temperatures were to dip near freezing overnight, but the prime minister warned that electricity would not be restored for days.
Trade Minister Banri Kaeda said the region was likely to face further blackouts and that power would be rationed to ensure supplies go to essential needs.The government says it has sent 120,000 blankets, 120,000 bottles of water and 110,000 litres of gasoline in addition to bread, rice balls, instant cup noodles and diapers to the affected areas.