Death toll to exceed 15,000 in Miyagi alone: police chief

Kyodo News

The death toll from last week’s devastating earthquake and tsunami will top 15,000 in Miyagi Prefecture alone, the local police chief said Sunday, as the Self-Defense Forces, police and firefighters continued relief efforts.

More than 380,000 evacuees continued to endure cold weather at shelters in 14 prefectures, including Tokyo, as blankets and other desperately needed relief supplies arrived from overseas.

Many of the items being sent from abroad are intended to help survivors weather the wintry conditions, with at least 110,000 blankets donated so far, authorities said.

Radioactive iodine and cesium — telltale byproducts of uranium fission — have been detected in rain, tap water and air in areas southwest of the nuclear plant, including Tokyo, the science ministry and the Ibaraki Prefectural Government announced Sunday. The trace amounts do not pose any health risk, they said.

The number of dead and missing nationwide rose to 20,405 as of noon Sunday — 8,133 deaths and 12,272 unaccounted for, the National Police Agency said.

The military, police and local firefighting units have mobilized 120,000 people for the massive relief effort.

By Sunday, relief materials had been received from 13 nations, including 230,000 bottles of water and 30,000 packets of boil-in-the-bag fried rice from South Korea, 25,000 blankets from Canada and 500 power generators from Taiwan, the authorities said.

The evacuees include those who lived near the crippled Fukushima No. 1 nuclear power plant but have moved on to other prefectures, including neighboring Gunma, Niigata and Ibaraki.

In the town of Otsuchi, Iwate Prefecture, Mayor Koki Kato was found dead Saturday, prefectural officials said Sunday. The mayor was swept away by the tsunami during an emergency meeting outside the government building shortly after the March 11 quake, which struck at 2:46 p.m.