Death toll may surpass 10,000 in Miyagi

Size of earthquake officially raised to a magnitude of 9 Sendai KYODO

SENDAI (Kyodo) The death toll from Friday’s devastating earthquake and tsunami in northeast Japan will likely surpass 10,000, the police chief of hard-hit Miyagi Prefecture said Sunday.

The magnitude of the devastating quake was meanwhile revised upward the same day from 8.8 to 9.0, making it one of the largest in history, the Meteorological Agency said.

And another is on the way. According to the agency, there is a 70 percent chance of a magnitude 7 or stronger quake occurring in the next three days, and a 50 percent chance of one hitting in the three days after that.

Prime Minister Naoto Kan told a news conference Sunday that the situation triggered by Friday’s devastating quake is posing the worst postwar crisis Japan has ever seen.

As of 7:30 p.m., the death toll as confirmed by the National Police Agency topped 1,217 while the number of missing was 1,086, they said.

In Fukushima Prefecture alone, 1,167 people were missing and well over 600 bodies had been found in Miyagi and Iwate prefectures.

Local governments have been unable to contact tens of thousands of people, and at least 20,820 buildings have been fully or partially damaged in quake-hit areas, while more than 450,000 people had been evacuated in six prefectures, according to local and central government tallies.

Kan issued an instruction to boost the number of Self-Defense Forces personnel in quake-hit areas to 100,000, one of the largest deployments ever, Defense Minister Toshimi Kitazawa said.

“I ask for utmost efforts to save the lives of as many people as possible,” Kan said at a morning meeting of the government’s emergency disaster headquarters. “We will put all-out efforts into rescuing people who have been isolated.”

The SDF had dispatched 65,000 personnel by Saturday night but will increase that to 100,000 in one or two days, Kitazawa told reporters.

In Miyagi, about 200 more bodies were found in the city of Higashimatsushima, the National Police Agency said.

About 4,400 people remained isolated as of Saturday night in schools, hospitals and inns in the tsunami-swamped town of Onagawa and neighboring Ishinomaki, as well as at the Onagawa nuclear plant where they had been evacuated to, officials in Miyagi Prefecture said.

In Minamisanriku, also in Miyagi, about 10,000 people — or over half the town’s population — remain unaccounted for.

In Iwate Prefecture, north of Miyagi, many bodies were found Sunday morning under the rubble in Rikuzentakata. About 5,000 houses in the city had been submerged by the tsunami, and the city office has confirmed that only 5,900 of its population of about 23,000 had taken shelter.

It also has been unable to communicate with the mayor and officials in Otsuchi after the town office was swept away while the mayor and town officials were apparently inside the building. A nursing home accommodating 30 elderly people was also washed away in the city of Ofunato.

The Fukushima Prefectural Government said it was still unable to contact 1,167 residents, including 918 in the town of Namie, boosting the tally of those unaccounted for in its latest data.

Maritime Self-Defense Force personnel sent by helicopter to check the extent of damage spotted wood fires at seven places in the city of Miyako early Sunday, the Defense Agency said.

Ground SDF troops, meanwhile, rescued about 5,800 people in the Miyagi town of Kesennuma and its vicinity, the Defense Ministry said.

A 63-year-old man, identified as Hiromitsu Shinkawa, was rescued by an MSDF destroyer some 15 km off the coast of Fukushima Prefecture around 12:40 p.m., the ministry said, adding that the man was conscious.

A total of 69 governments from abroad and five international institutions had offered assistance to Japan as of 9 a.m., the Foreign Ministry said.

In the evening, the weather agency lifted the tsunami advisory for the Pacific coast stretching from Hokkaido to Kyushu after downgrading its tsunami warning to an advisory in the morning for the Pacific side of the Tohoku region.

The government adopted a decree late Saturday designating the quake a serious disaster eligible for increased state subsidies for reconstruction.