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Mar 13, 2011 10:50 AM by Chris Welty

Japan Quake-Tsunami Death Toll Likely Over 10,000

TAGAJO, Japan (AP) - People across a devastated swath of Japan
suffered for a third day Sunday without water, electricity and
proper food, as the country grappled with the enormity of a massive
earthquake and tsunami that left more than 10,000 people dead in
one area alone.
Japan's prime minister called the crisis the most severe
challenge the nation has faced since World War II, as the grim
situation worsened. Friday's disasters damaged two nuclear
reactors, potentially sending one through a partial meltdown and
adding radiation contamination to the fears of an unsettled public.
Temperatures began sinking toward freezing, compounding the
misery of survivors along hundreds of miles (kilometers) of the
northeastern coast battered by the tsunami that smashed inland with
breathtaking fury. Rescuers pulled bodies from mud-covered jumbles
of wrecked houses, shattered tree trunks, twisted cars and tangled
power lines while survivors examined the ruined remains.
In Rikusentakata, a port city of over 20,000 virtually wiped out
by the tsunami, Etsuko Koyama escaped the water rushing through the
third flood of her home but lost her grip on her daughter's hand
and has not found her.
"I haven't given up hope yet," Koyama told public broadcaster
NHK, wiping tears from her eyes. "I saved myself, but I couldn't
save my daughter."
To the south, in Miyagi prefecture, or state, the police chief
told a gathering of disaster relief officials that his estimate for
deaths was more than 10,000, police spokesman Go Sugawara told The
Associated Press. 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 as dead in Miyagi.
According to officials, at least 1,200 people were killed -
including 200 people whose bodies were found Sunday along the coast
- and 739 were missing in the disasters.
For Japan, one of the leading economies with ultramodern
infrastructure, the disasters made ordinary life unimaginably
difficult.
Hundreds of thousands of hungry survivors huddled in darkened
emergency centers that were cut off from rescuers, aid and
electricity. At least 1.4 million households had gone without water
since the quake struck and some 1.9 million households were without
electricity.
While the government doubled the number of soldiers deployed in
the aid effort to 100,000 and sent 120,000 blankets, 120,000
bottles of water and 110,000 liters of gasoline plus food to the
affected areas, Prime Minister Nato Kan said electricity would take
days to restore. In the meantime, he said, electricity would be
rationed with rolling blackouts to several cities, including Tokyo.
"This is Japan's most severe crisis since the war ended 65
years ago," Kan told reporters, adding that Japan's future would
be decided by the response to this crisis.
In a rare piece of good news, the Defense 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.
Large areas of the countryside remained surrounded by water and
unreachable. Fuel stations were closed and people were running out
of gasoline for their vehicles.
In the town of Minamisanrikucho, 10,000 people - nearly
two-thirds of the population - have not been heard from since the
tsunami wiped it out, a government spokesman said. NHK showed only
a couple concrete structures still standing, and the bottom three
floors of those buildings gutted. One of the few buildings standing
was a hospital, and a worker told NHK hospital staff rescued about
a third of the patients in the facility.
In Iwaki town, residents were leaving due to concerns over
dwindling food and fuel supplies. The town had no electricity and
all stores were closed. Local police took in about 90 people and
gave them blankets and rice balls but there was no sign of
government or military aid trucks.
At a large refinery on the outskirts of the hard-hit port city
of Sendai, 100-foot (30-meter) -high bright orange flames rose in
the air, spitting out dark plumes of smoke. The facility has been
burning since Friday. The fire's road could be heard from afar, and
a gaseous stench burned the eyes and throat.
"My water is cut off," said Kenji Fukuda, who lives in the
rural town of Sukugawa. It "is a little bit rural and there is
natural well water. We take it and put it through the water
purifier and warm it up and use it in various ways," he said.
In the small town of Tagajo, near Sendai, dazed residents roamed
streets cluttered with smashed cars, broken homes and twisted
metal.
Residents said the water surged in and quickly rose higher than
the first floor of buildings. At Sengen General Hospital the staff
worked feverishly to haul bedridden patients up the stairs one at a
time. With the halls now dark, those that can leave have gone to
the local community center.
"There is still no water or power, and we've got some very sick
people in here," said hospital official Ikuro Matsumoto.
One older neighborhood sits on low ground near a canal. The
tsunami came in from the canal side and blasted through the frail
wooden houses, coating the interiors with a thick layer of mud and
spilling their contents out into the street on the other side.
"It's been two days, and all I've been given so far is a piece
of bread and a rice ball," said Masashi Imai, 56.
Police cars drove slowly through the town and warned residents
through loudspeakers to seek higher ground, but most simply stood
by and watched them pass.
Dozens of countries have offered assistance. Two U.S. aircraft
carrier groups were off Japan's coast and ready to provide
assistance. Helicopters were flying from one of the carriers, the
USS Ronald Reagan, delivering food and water in Miyagi.
Two other U.S. rescue teams of 72 personnel each and rescue dogs
were scheduled to arrive later Sunday, as was a five-dog team from
Singapore.
In Sendai, firefighters with wooden picks dug through a
devastated neighborhood. One of them yelled: "A corpse." Inside a
house, he had found the body of a gray-haired woman under a
blanket.
A few minutes later, the firefighters spotted another - that of
a man in black fleece jacket and pants, crumpled in a partial fetal
position at the bottom of a wooden stairwell. From outside, the
house seemed almost untouched, two cracks in the white walls the
only signs of damage.
The man's neighbor, 24-year-old Ayumi Osuga, dug through the
remains of her own house, her white mittens covered by dark mud.
Osuga said she had been playing origami, the Japanese art of
folding paper into figures, with her three children when the quake
stuck. She recalled her husband's shouted warning from outside:
"'GET OUT OF THERE NOW!"'
She gathered her children - aged 2 to 6 - and fled in her car to
higher ground with her husband. They spent the night huddled in a
hilltop home belonging to her husband's family about 12 miles (20
kilometers) away.
"My family, my children. We are lucky to be alive," she said.
"I have come to realize what is important in life," Osuga
said, nervously flicking ashes from a cigarette onto the rubble at
her feet as a giant column of black smoke billowed in the distance.

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