Sunday, March 13, 2011

Death Toll Estimate in Japan Soars as Relief Efforts Intensify -

Death Toll Estimate in Japan Soars as Relief Efforts Intensify -
In one town alone, the port of Minamisanriku, a senior police official said the number of dead would “certainly be more than 10,000.” The overall number is also certain to climb as searchers began to reach coastal villages that essentially vanished under the first muddy surge of the tsunami, which struck the nation’s northern Pacific coast. Prime Minister Naoto Kan told anews conference late Sunday: “I think that the earthquake, tsunami and the situation at our nuclear reactors makes up the worst crisis in the 65 years since the war. If the nation works together, we will overcome.”

The government ordered 100,000 troops into relief roles in the field — nearly half the country’s active military force and the largest mobilization in postwar Japan. An American naval strike group led by the nuclear-powered aircraft carrier Ronald Reagan also arrived off Japan on Sunday to help with refueling, supply and rescue duties.

Amid the despair and mourning, amid the worry over an unrelenting series of strong aftershocks, there was one bright moment on Sunday morning as Japanese naval forces rescued a 60-year-old man who had been riding the roof of his house for the past two days.

Hiromitsu Arakawa’s tiny home in the town of Minami-soma was torn from its foundations by the first wave of the tsunami that crashed ashore Friday afternoon, the defense ministry said. Mr. Arakawa saw his wife slip away in the deluge, and he clung to the roof as the house drifted away. He was discovered late Sunday morning, still on his roof, 9 miles south of his hometown and 9 miles out to sea.

The quake was the strongest ever recorded to hit Japan, which sits astride the notorious “ring of fire” that marks the most violent seismic activity in the Pacific Basin. On Sunday, the Japanese Meteorological Agency “upgraded” the quake’s magnitude from 8.8 to 9.0, an effective doubling of its recorded power.Nuclear officials in Fukushima shut down three reactors after the tsunami on Friday but an explosion tore through the No. 1 reactor building on Saturday.

When the cooling system on the No. 3 reactor also began to fail Sunday, workers pumped seawater and boron into it. Yukio Edano, the government’s chief cabinet secretary, warned Sunday of the possibility of an explosion at No. 3 — and the chance of meltdowns at both reactors.

Some 80,000 people were ordered to evacuate danger zones around two atomic facilities in Fukushima. Japanese officials reported that 19 people showed signs of radiation exposure and as many as another 141 were feared to have been exposed, including some who had been outside the plant waiting to be evacuated. . Three workers are suffering from full-on radiation sickness.

Northern Japan relies heavily on nuclear power for its electricity, and the government said it was instituting a series of rolling blackouts across the country starting Monday to make up for the diminished capacity from the reactor failures at Fukushima.

In a televised address the trade minister, Banri Kaieda, asked businesses to limit their use of power as they returned to operation on Monday. He asked specifically for nighttime cutbacks of lights and heating.

In Sendai, a city of roughly a million people in the region at the center of the catastrophe, many buildings cracked but none had collapsed. Still, city officials said that more than 500,000 households and businesses were without water, and many more lacked electricity as well.

Soldiers surrounded Sendai’s City Hall, where officials converted two floors to treat evacuees and drew power from a generator. Thousands of residents sought refuge inside waiting anxiously for word from their relatives. A line of people waited outside with plastic bottles and buckets in hand to collect water from a pump.

Masaki Kokubum, 35, has been living in City Hall since the quake. He works at a supermarket, and his neighborhood lost power and water. He said he had not slept in three days, and as he spoke he seemed dazed.

“I can’t sleep,” he said as he sat in a chair in a hallway. “I just sit here and wait.” Aerial photos on Sunday showed floodwaters receding from the runways at the airport in Sendai, which is the capital of Miyagi prefecture.

“The rescue is going on through the night, of course,” Michael Tonge, a teacher from Britain, said early Sunday morning from his home in the city.

No buildings had collapsed in his neighborhood, Mr. Tonge said, and people were not panicking — typical of a nation accustomed to order and schooled to stay calm and constructive.

“The few shops open have people queuing nicely,” he said, “with no pushing or fighting or anything.” Tokyo and central Japan continued to be struck by aftershocks from quakes off the eastern coast of Honshu Island, and United States agencies recorded 90 smaller quakes throughout the day Saturday. A long tremor registering 6.2 caused buildings in central Tokyo to sway dramatically on Sunday morning.

Search teams from more than a dozen nations were bound for Japan, including a unit from New Zealand, which suffered a devastating quake last month in Christchurch. A Japanese team that had been working in New Zealand also was called home.

A combined search squad from Los Angeles County and Fairfax County, Va., arrived from the United States with 150 personnel and a dozen sniffer dogs.

Assistance teams also were due from China and South Korea, two of Japan’s traditional and most bitter rivals. Tokyo’s acceptance of these offers of help —along with a parade of senior officials offering updates at televised news conferences on Sunday —was in marked contrast to government policies after the 1995 Kobe earthquake, which killed more than 6,000 people. The government refused most offers of aid at the time, put restrictions on foreign aid operations and offered little information about the disaster.

Good Lord, look mercifully upon them.  Here's the Times' "Japan Earthquake and Tsunami: How to Help."

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