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Japan toll may cross tens of thousands, fears of nuclear disaster remain

Tuesday March 15, 2011 08:26:09 AM, IANS

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Japan Quake: Death toll may cross 10,000

Quake-hit Japan faces nuclear crisis

Tokyo: Fears of a possible nuclear disaster loomed large over Japan Monday in the aftermath of last week's magnitude-9 earthquake and ensuing tsunami as the toll is feared to run into tens of thousands. Freezing weather and snow compounded the problem of the homeless and affected rescue operations.


A blast Monday at yet another reactor of the Fukushima Nuclear Power Plant in northeastern Japan further escalated concerns about possible radioactive leaks, although the country's government has vowed that there is no major health risk, RIA Novosti reported.

The explosion hit reactor No. 3 of the Fukushima Nuclear Power Plant Monday morning, injuring 11 people and seven were missing, Xinhua reported.

Although pictures from the site showed massive destruction of the reactor building, Japanese officials said the reactor itself resisted the blast, the report added.

Tokyo Electric Power Co., which runs the nuclear plant, reported Monday that the cooling system at reactor No. 2 had failed. A lack of cooling liquid in the reactor raised fears of a possible blast earlier in the day. However, a few hours later, injection of water into the reactor restarted, the plant's operator said.

Meanwhile, the number of confirmed dead and missing has risen to almost 6,000, police said. Prime Minister Naoto Kan has said that 15,000 people have been rescued so far.

In Onagawa town in Miyagi prefecture - one of the areas hardest-hit in Friday's quake and tsunami - more than 1,000 bodies have been recovered, local police chief Naoto Takeuchi said.

The death toll in Miyagi could exceed 10,000, the official said as 1,000 bodies were found in Minami Sanriku in the prefecture.

Tens of thousands are unaccounted for. The whereabouts of some 2,500 tourists in the area are unknown, the Japan Tourism Agency said.

In Iwate prefecture, authorities have been unable to contact around 8,000 residents of Otsuchi town on the coast, the Kyodo news agency said.

The magnitude-9 earthquake - the strongest since record-keeping began - unleashed a massive wave that devastated large swathes of coastal land. According to the Interior Ministry, a total of 72,945 buildings were destroyed or have become permanently unusable.

Aftershocks continue to rattle the country, with a 6.2-magnitude tremor recorded at 10:02 (0102 GMT) Monday.

International aid, including a team of disaster response specialists dispatched by the United Nations, have begun to arrive. Rescue workers are combing the flattened fishing villages and cities in near-freezing temperatures to locate trapped or injured people and recover bodies.

The country's military, called the Self-Defense Forces, said they would call up their reserves to help in the relief effort.

Thousands of people are still stranded, many of them waiting for a rescue on the roofs of schools, supermarkets and government office buildings.

About 550,000 people had been evacuated by late Monday to more than 2,500 shelters, as meteorologists predicted more cold weather and snow by Wednesday, DPA said.

Water, food and fuel were in short supply, prompting the government to organize airlifts by military helicopters.

Electricity also continued to be affected, with parts of the greater Tokyo area plunged into darkness late Monday, as the Tokyo Electric Power Company (TEPCO) imposed blackouts to compensate for a shortfall of 10,000 megawatts in generation.

Electricity rationing was expected to last until at least the end of April, TEPCO said. 








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