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Quake-hit Japanese towns overwhelmed with bodies

Saturday March 19, 2011 08:40:57 PM, DPA

Tokyo: Quake and tsunami ravaged communities in northeastern Japan struggled to cope with an influx of bodies Saturday while a glimmer of hope was short-lived when news of a rescue from the rubble eight days after the quake proved unfounded.

Morgues and crematoria in the disaster zone have been overwhelmed with bodies. They have been hit with a shortage of fuel to burn the remains as well as dry ice and body bags to preserve them, the Yomiuri Shimbun newspaper reported.

Hygiene worries prompted the Miyagi prefectural government to allow the burial of victims without cremation, a practice highly uncommon, accounting for only 0.04 percent of all usual burials.

Officials in some cities in Iwate prefecture have also resorted to burials, but have complained of lacking the experience to know how to go about it.

"We don't really have the know-how to bury these bodies," an official dealing with the issue told the newspaper. "We don't know how much land a burial will require or where the best place for it is."

Authorities there have asked inland cities to take the bodies and cremate them, but that effort has also been hindered by lack of fuel for transportation.

Also in Miyagi, soldiers found a man in the second storey of a partially collapsed house Saturday in Kesennuma, leading to news flashes around the world that a quake survivor had been found.

The man, in his 20s, was apparently uninjured but in shock and unable to speak. Disaster experts say the usual limit for survival after a quake is 72 hours.

But his family later said Katsuharu Moriya had been staying in an evacuation centre since the March 11 disaster and decided to return to his home Friday to clean it up, the Kyodo News agency reported.

The scale of the disaster's impact on lives, infrastructure and the economy was still being determined more than a week later. The National Police Agency raised the toll Saturday to 7,197. More than 10,900 people remained missing, it said.

The new toll exceeded the more than 6,400 deaths caused by the 1995 earthquake that hit the coastal city of Kobe.

As last week's survivors grieved and struggled to find basic necessities, they have been shaken by hundreds of aftershocks.

The Meteorological Agency said a record 262 aftershocks of magnitude 5 or more had been measured since Friday, two-and-a-half times the number registered after a 1994 magnitude 8.2 quake in Hokkaido.

Three aftershocks greater than magnitude 7 have been recorded, the greatest at 7.5, and 49 have registered 6 or greater, the agency said.

"We need to remain vigilant because an earthquake focused in an oceanic area could cause strong aftershocks as late as 10 to 20 days afterward," Takashi Yokota, head of the agency's Earthquake Prediction Information Division, was quoted as saying by Kyodo.

Another natural phenomenon to fear were high spring tides that the Meteorological Agency warned would begin Saturday and last a week. It warned that some land sank after the March 11 quake and was therefore more vulnerable to the tides.

Meanwhile, the government focused its efforts on caring for survivors.

Temporary housing was beginning to be built for some of the 387,000 people now living in 2,200 shelters as the government sought to transfer some of them further away from the disaster zone to better, more intact housing.

Construction began for 200 temporary housing units capable of housing two to three people each at a schoolground in Rikuzentakata in Iwate prefecture, which plans to build 8,800 such houses.

Construction of similar units at a baseball field in Kamaishi, also in Iwate, was delayed because petrol shortages had prevented construction materials from arriving, local officials said.

Meanwhile, the main opposition leader turned down an offer by unpopular Prime Minister Naoto Kan to join his cabinet as deputy prime minister and minister in charge of the government's response to the earthquake and tsunami.

Kan said he wanted to work closely with the opposition parties to cope with what he has described as the nation's "worst crisis since Word War II".

But Liberal Democratic Party leader Sadakazu Tanigaki declined the offer, saying the proposal was too "abrupt".







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Picture of the Day

President of India Mrs. Pratibha Devisingh Patil addressing at the inauguration of the National Festival of Tribal Dances, ‘PRAKRITI’, in New Delhi on March 16, 2011. Union Minister for Housing and Urban Poverty Alleviation and Culture, Kum. Selja, Union Minister for Tribal Affairs Kantilal Bhuria and Minister of State for Tribal Affairs Mahadev S. Khandela are also seen.

(Photo: Mukesh Kumar)



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