Death Toll Surges In Japan Quake Aftermath - Spokane, North Idaho News & Weather KHQ.com

Death Toll Surges In Japan Quake Aftermath

SENDAI, Japan — The death toll from Friday's massive earthquake and tsunami surged Monday when some 2,000 bodies were found on two shores in Miyagi Prefecture, the Kyodo News Agency reported.

About 1,000 bodies were found coming onshore on the Ojika Penninsula, and other 1,000 were spotted in the town of Minamisanriku, where the local government had been unable to locate about 10,000 people, or over half the population, Kyodo said.

Japan struggled Monday to prevent a nuclear catastrophe and to deliver food and water to hundreds of thousands of people, three days after a massive earthquake and tsunami crippled the nation with what the prime minister described as its worst crisis since World War II.

Nuclear plant operators worked frantically to try to keep temperatures down in several troubled reactors, wrecking at least two by dumping sea water into them in last-ditch efforts to avoid meltdowns.

The NHK reported sounds of an explosion at the Fukushima Daiichi reactor . Nuclear officials said it was believed to be a hydrogen explosion and a massive column of smoke was seen belching from the plant's No. 3 unit on Monday.

Rolling blackouts of about three hours each began Monday in Tokyo and other cities, meant to help make up for the loss of power from the nuclear plants. Trade Minister Banri Kaieda said Sunday that the power utility expects a 25 percent shortfall.

Near-freezing temperatures compounded the misery of survivors along hundreds of miles 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.

Before Monday's discovery, police had confirmed 1,597 deaths — including 200 people whose bodies were found Sunday along the coast — and more than 1,400 missing in Friday's disasters. Another 1,900 were injured.

A police chief told disaster relief officials more than 10,000 people were killed, police spokesman Go Sugawara told The Associated Press. That was an estimate — until Monday, only 400 people have been confirmed dead in Miyagi, which has a population of 2.3 million.

Millions without water, food
Some 1.9 million households were without electricity, but many people were without even more basic necessities. At least 1.4 million households had gone without water since the quake struck, and food aid was slow in reaching many areas.

For Japan, one of the world's leading economies with ultramodern infrastructure, the disasters plunged ordinary life into nearly unimaginable deprivation.

Hajime Watanabe, a 38-year-old construction worker, said he walked two hours Sunday to find a convenience store that was open and waited in line to buy dried ramen noodles. He also got in line in Sendai for gas, along with hundreds of other motorists. By Monday morning the station still was not open.

"I'm giving up hope," he said. An emergency worker in white helmet came over and told him if the station opens at all, the gas may be allocated for emergency teams and essential government workers.

He and his family are living in a shelter, fearful that one of the aftershocks that continue to strike will destroy their apartment building.

"I never imagined we would be in such a situation," Watanabe said. "I had a good life before. Now we have nothing."

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 29,000 gallons of gasoline plus food to the affected areas, Prime Minister Naoto Kan said electricity would take days to restore. In the meantime, he said, electricity would be rationed.

In the town of Iwaki, there was no electricity, stores were closed and residents left as food and fuel supplies dwindled. 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.

"This is Japan's most severe crisis since the war ended 65 years ago," Kan told reporters, "The earthquake, tsunami and the nuclear incident have been the biggest crisis Japan has encountered in the 65 years since the end of World War Two," a grim-faced Prime Minister Naoto Kan told a news conference on Sunday.

"We're under scrutiny on whether we, the Japanese people, can overcome this crisis."

Economic impact
Friday's quake and tsunami, which swallowed towns and tossed large ships like game-board pieces, caused tens of billions of dollars in losses, according to preliminary estimates. And the first day of stock trading since the disasters opening underlined the challenges Japan's already fragile economy will have in bouncing back.

The benchmark Nikkei 225 stock average shed 494 points, or 4.8 percent, to 9,760.45 just after the market opened Monday. Japan's central bank quickly responded by initially injecting 7 trillion yen (US$85.5 billion) into money markets and later increased the figure to 15 trillion (US$183.8 billion).

Boston-based catastrophe modeling firm AIR Worldwide estimated that insured property losses from the quake will range between 1.2 trillion to 2.8 trillion yen — about $15 billion to $35 billion in U.S. dollars.

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 he and his wife were swept away in the tsunami. He was in good condition. His wife did not survive.

A young man described what ran through his mind before he escaped in a separate rescue. "I thought to myself, ah, this is how I will die," Tatsuro Ishikawa, his face bruised and cut, told NHK as he sat in striped hospital pajamas.

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