Millions face worsening crisis in quake-hit Japan

Reuters News
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Posted: Mar 21, 2011 10:15 AM
Millions face worsening crisis in quake-hit Japan

By Chris Meyers

SENDAI, Japan (Reuters) - Japan faced a growing humanitarian crisis on Sunday after its devastating earthquake and tsunami left millions of people without water, electricity, homes or heat.

As officials predicted the death toll could top 10,000, the country mobilized a rescue effort to deliver food, water and fuel, and pull stranded survivors from buildings and damaged homes. More than 350,000 people had been evacuated.

"I would like to believe that there still are survivors," said Masaru Kudo, one of 100,000 soldiers dispatched to help in the rescue effort, as he surveyed devastation in Rikuzentakata, a nearly flattened village in far-northern Iwate prefecture.

Two days after entire neighborhoods were submerged by waves that swallowed an estimated 5,000 homes, Rikuzentakata is one of many towns and cities facing both a fast-rising death toll and dwindling supplies of food, fuel and water.

"Water, food, gasoline and, kerosene - these are all lacking," said Rikuzentakata's mayor, Futoshi Toba.

Nationwide, about 1.8 million households were without power, and 1.4 million without electricity, Japan's Ministry of Health, Labour and Welfare said.

Tens of thousands of people had taken shelter in schools and stadiums to escape near-freezing temperatures. Television stations showed repeated footage of people sleeping under blankets at makeshift evacuation centers.

About 140,000 people, for instance, had been evacuated from areas around a crippled nuclear power plant in Koriyama in Fukushima Prefecture. They were scanned for radiation exposure as they entered shelters

At least 10,000 people were feared killed by the earthquake. As many as 20,820 buildings were either destroyed or badly damaged, according to Kyodo News.

Many expect the death toll to go higher. Kyodo said local governments had lost contact with tens of thousands of people.

(Additional reporting by Yoko Kubota; Writing by Jason Szep; Editing by Andrew Marshall)