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Builders on Saturday started erecting temporary housing for those displaced by the killer earthquake and tsunami on March 11, with 200 units alone destined for the devastated coastal city of Rikuzentakata, Iwate Prefecture.

The 30-sq.-meter prefabricated houses can accommodate two to three people and will be built on the grounds of a junior high school. No completion date has been set for the project.

“We need to go forward,” Mayor Futoshi Toba told construction workers.

In the wrecked city of Kamaishi, also in Iwate, plans to build temporary housing at a baseball field were postponed because of gasoline shortages that are hampering the delivery of building materials, local authorities said.

The Iwate Prefectural Government plans to build a total of 8,800 houses for evacuees.

The National Police Agency, meanwhile, said the number of dead and missing in the disaster passed 18,000 as of noon Saturday, comprising 7,197 dead and 10,905 who remain unaccounted for.

The NPA also said that 3,090 bodies had been identified, with around 1,550 returned to families.

More than a week has passed since the killer quake and tsunami struck, and while the search for the missing and recovery of bodies continues, the focus of relief activities has shifted to rebuilding the livelihoods of the survivors. In total, about 387,000 evacuees from the disaster are staying at 2,200 shelters.

Miyagi has received offers from Kochi and other prefectures to put up evacuees in public housing after Miyagi Gov. Yoshihiro Murai called on survivors to move to other prefectures due to the difficulty of providing short-term housing.

Iwate Prefecture is also planning to transfer survivors from coastal areas to less-damaged public and private accommodations inland.

Saitama Super Arena in the city of Saitama, a huge event hall, will eventually accommodate some 5,000 evacuees, including those displaced by the Fukushima nuclear crisis.

A Maritime Self-Defense Force transport ship, the Osumi, arrived at Shiogama port in Miyagi Prefecture on Saturday morning carrying relief materials, including food, heating oil and outdoor bathtubs.

The port reopened partially Friday, and trucks will transport the relief goods to evacuation centers.

In Sendai, the well-known Fujisaki department store reopened Saturday for the first time since the disaster, saying it wants to lift spirits in the region by resuming business.

“We hope we can help restore calm and help people get back to their normal lives little by little,” a department store official said.

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