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Asia

Death toll rises in Japan - update

Five days after the major earthquake and tsunami, rescue workers are continuing to search for survivors. The death toll is expected to exceed 10,000. In areas around the nuclear plants, people are urged to stay indoors.

Japan Ground Self-Defense Force members search for the victims of Friday's tsunami

Rescue workers keep searching for tsunami survivors

So far around 15,000 people have been rescued, announced Prime Minister Naoto Kan. However, at least 2,400 people are confirmed dead and more than 1,800 injured in the disaster that struck on Friday afternoon, the National Police Agency said. The official toll Monday stood at 1,600.

A woman standing in the middle of ruined buildings

Over 70,000 buildings were destroyed

It is feared that the number will exceed to tens of thousands as a large number of people are still missing, as news reports said. The Japan Tourism Agency said the whereabouts of some 2,500 tourists in the disaster area were still unknown.

In the prefecture Miyagi alone there are still around 10,000 people missing, said the police chief of the region that was hardest hit by the massive earthquake and tsunami. Yesterday, rescue workers managed to find around 2,000 bodies.

Along the east coast of Honshu Island, where the giant waves destroyed and damaged more than 50,000 buildings, there were bleak updates indicating severe loss of life amid a mass rescue effort. Local police reported a number of landslides occurred after the tsunami.

Hundreds of thousands have been evacuated

Meanwhile the UN is sending international aid, including a team of disaster response specialists. The country’s military for the first time said they would call up their reserves to help in the relief effort.

Thousands of people in the affected areas were still stranded, many of them waiting in the cold for rescue on the roofs of schools, supermarkets and government office buildings. Meteorologists predict more cold weather and snow by Wednesday.

Evacuees rest at a shelter in Yamada, northern Japan

Hundreds of thousands of evacuees are in emergency shelters

Over 600,000 people have been evacuated from their homes since the earthquake, tsunami and incidents at the nuclear plants. The tsunami that came after the earthquake has caused severe damage on the north coast of the country. The wave was 10 meters high and swept away everything in its path – people, houses, cars, and boats.

Some people in the emergency shelters in Kawamata barely survived the tsunami. "I was dragged along by the waves and all of a sudden the water reached my throat, "an eyewitness gave his account of the disaster."But I managed to rescue myself. Not until I was 100 meters away did I feel safe."

Food and fuel shortage

Meanwhile water and food supplies are getting short. In many locations in the disaster area, food is being distributed. As one woman pointed out, it is extremely difficult to find anything in the shops. "The shops are always closed whenever I want to buy something to eat. What should I do?” The Japanese government has organized airlifts by military helicopters.

A shopper looks at the empty shelves in a supermarket in Moriyama, Japan

Water and food are in short supply

The UN office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (OCHA) said in addition to food supplies, the evacuated people also urgently need blankets, fuel and medical devices. The Organization World Vision reported that they managed to send the first aid packages for infants in the disaster areas. It is reported that at least 70.000 children have lost their homes because of the disaster, many of them are separated from their parents.

Due to damages on the nuclear plants, electricity also continued to be affected. The Tokyo Electric Power Company (TEPCO) has imposed rolling blackouts to compensate for a shortfall of 10,000 megawatts in generation capacity. Electricity rationing was expected to last until at least the end of April.

Radiation at nuclear plant reached danger level

In the mean time, radiation near quake-hit nuclear plant reached levels harmful to human health, Japan’s government said after two explosions and a fire at the crippled facility in Fukushima. Tens of thousands have therefore been evacuated from a zone within a radius of 20 kilometers of the 40-year-old plant. Prime Minister Kan urged people living within 10 kilometers of the zone to stay in doors.

An official scans a man and a child for radiation at an emergency center

The radiation levels are cause for concern

Four of the six reactors at the plant, 250 kilometers away from Tokyo, have now overheated and sparked explosions. The reactors were overheating after their cooling systems failed. Efforts to cool the plants by pumping sea water into the reactors was only partially successful, with fuel rods in one of the reactors fully exposed at least twice on Monday, officials said. Government spokesman Yukio Edano said the high radiation level might have been caused by these explosions, rather than a persistent leak.

The International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) has asked for expert assistance in the series of disasters. Its chief Yukia Amano, however, said that the crisis was unlikely to turn into a new Chernobyl. The blasts apparently have not penetrated the steel and concrete containers surrounding the fuel rods, which will reduce the risk of massive contamination.

Author: Anggatira Gollmer (afp/ap/dpa)
Editor: Sarah Berning

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