More than 1700 likely dead in Japan quake, tsunami
Japanese news agency says 9,500 people in one town unreachable; about 300,000 people have been evacuated from their homes.
By REUTERS, JPOST.COM STAFF
March 12, 2011 16:48
4 minute read.
Flattened, burning homes after earthquake in Japan 311 R.
(photo credit: REUTERS/Kyodo)
TOKYO - More than 1,700 people are likely dead or missing following a
massive earthquake and tsunami that hit Japan, Kyodo news agency
reported on Saturday. Later it said 9,500 people in one town were unreachable, but
gave no other details.
About 300,000 people have been evacuated from their homes and that
number is likely to rise with the government increasing the size of an
evacuation area around two nuclear power plants in Fukushima in northern
Japan, Kyodo said. An aftershock with a preliminary magnitude of 6 hit Fukushima on Saturday night, public broadcaster NHK said.
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Police accounts put the death toll at 637 and those missing at 653, but
the total number is likely to be much bigger as 200-300 dead bodies were
being transported in the city of Sendai and another 200 were being
taken to gyms in other parts of Miyagi prefecture, Kyodo said.
Earlier, Japan warned of a meltdown
at the nuclear reactor
damaged after the quake, but said the risk of radiation
contamination was small.
Meanwhile, the Foreign Ministry announced that it has not heard from 20 Israelis in Japan following the earthquake.
ministry stressed that it may be difficult for the Israelis to contact
their families because of the collapse of communications networks in
Japan due to the quake.
Foreign Ministry officials have also
issued a travel warning to Israelis residing in Japan and other
countries in the Pacific to stay away from areas close to the shore and
obey instructions from local authorities.
unfolding disaster in the wake of the 8.9 magnitude earthquake and
10-meter (33-feet) high tsunami prompted offers of help from dozens of
Stunning TV footage showed a muddy torrent of water carrying cars and wrecked homes
at high speed across farmland near the coastal city of Sendai, home to
one million people and which lies 300 km (180 miles) northeast of Tokyo.
Ships had been flung onto a harbour wharf, where they lay helplessly on
Boats, cars and trucks were tossed around like
toys in the water after a small tsunami hit the town of Kamaichi in
northern Japan. An overpass, location unknown, appeared to have
collapsed and cars were turning around and speeding away.
Japanese politicians pushed for an emergency budget to fund relief
efforts after Kan asked them to "save the country," Kyodo news agency
reported. Japan is already the most heavily indebted major economy in
the world, meaning any funding efforts would be closely scrutinised by
Domestic media said the death toll was expected to reach the thousands, with most deaths by drowning.
The extent of the destruction along a lengthy stretch of coastline suggested the death toll could rise significantly.
Tsunami warnings were issued across the Pacific but were later lifted for some of the most populated countries in the region, including Australia, Taiwan and New Zealand.
Even in a nation accustomed to earthquakes, the devastation was shocking.
"A big area of Sendai city near the coast, is flooded. We are hearing
that people who were evacuated are stranded," said Rie Sugimoto, a
reporter for NHK television in Sendai.
"About 140 people,
including children, were rushed to an elementary school and are on the
rooftop but they are surrounded by water and have nowhere else to go."
Japan has prided itself on its speedy tsunami warning
system, which has been upgraded several times since its inception in
1952, including after a 7.8 magnitude quake triggered a 30-metre high
wave before a warning was given.
The country has also built
countless breakwaters and floodgates to protect ports and coastal
areas, although experts said they might not have been enough to prevent
disasters such as what happened on Friday.
Cabinet Secretary Yukio Edano told people to stay in safe places as the
cold deepened into the night. "Please help each other and act calmly,"
he told a news conference.
In Tokyo, residents who had
earlier fled swaying buildings jammed the streets trying to make their
way home after much of the city's public transportation was halted.
Many subways in Tokyo later resumed operation but trains did not run.
People who decided not to walk home slept in office buildings.
"I was unable stay on my feet because of the violent shaking. The
aftershocks gave us no reprieve. Then the tsunamis came when we tried to
run for cover. It was the strongest quake I experienced," a woman with a
baby on her back told television in northern Japan.
The quake, the most powerful since Japan started keeping records 140 years ago, sparked at least 80 fires in cities and towns along the coast, Kyodo said.
Other Japanese nuclear power plants and oil refineries were shut down
and one refinery was ablaze. Television footage showed an intense fire
in the waterfront area near Sendai.