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Vital infrastructure was gradually being restored Friday in devastated areas of the Tohoku region but the fate of tens of thousands of people remained unknown, and Miyagi’s governor suggested survivors should relocate to other parts of Japan for now.

The death toll has reached 6,911 as of 7 p.m., exceeding the 6,434 marked in the 1995 Great Hanshin Earthquake, the National Police Agency said. The total number of dead and unaccounted for in the largest natural catastrophe in postwar Japan topped 17,000.

Around 90,000 rescue workers, including police officers and Self-Defense Forces personnel, have reached some 26,000 survivors so far.

Damaged roads, airports and ports have been gradually repaired, with the Tohoku Expressway now open to emergency vehicles and the submerged Sendai Airport made available for aircraft and helicopters on relief missions.

But delivery of relief goods sent in from around the nation to evacuees and survivors still remains difficult due to shortages of fuel and transport vehicles. Some 370,000 people are still staying at 2,100 shelters at a time when temperatures in the disaster zone remain at midwinter levels.

Fuel scarcity forced the Miyagi Prefectural Government to allow burial of victims without cremation.

The government decided to disburse ¥5.4 billion from its reserve fund to cover fuel costs for the deployment of the Self-Defense Forces, which have been working to transfer relief supplies and gasoline to the devastated areas.

Miyagi Gov. Yoshihiro Murai called on quake survivors Friday to move to other prefectures, due to the difficulty of providing housing for them in the short-term.

“Living conditions will be improved if they move to other prefectures,” he told reporters. “It is a nonbinding request. I hope people affected by the quake will cooperate.”

The planned relocation will last about six months to a year until the construction of temporary housing is completed.

Chief Cabinet Secretary Yukio Edano also said at a news conference the government is considering transferring survivors at evacuation centers in the Tohoku region to other areas.

The idea reflects an apparent view that it will be difficult to re-establish livelihoods in the devastated areas.

“Relocating the victims would be a useful approach,” Edano told a news conference. “We are considering it and making arrangements.”

The Diet, for its part, enacted a bill Friday to postpone local elections in the quake-hit areas, scheduled for April 10 and 24, for two to six months.

In Sendai, almost all stores at a shopping street near JR Sendai Station have reopened to provide food to residents, while convenience stores in Tome, Miyagi, also resumed business after the electricity supply was restored.

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