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The search for missing people following the March 11 earthquake and tsunami has been hindered in Fukushima Prefecture by the nuclear crisis, rescue workers said Thursday.

Self-Defense Forces personnel said it is possible bodies have been left behind after facing difficulties entering areas under evacuation orders due to the disaster at the Fukushima No. 1 nuclear plant.

Fukushima Prefecture is estimated to account for around 8 percent of the overall death toll from the quake.

People living in a 20-km radius of the plant have been told to evacuate and those within 20 km to 30 km have been advised to stay indoors.

SDF rescue workers deployed to Fukushima have thus focused on supporting the evacuation of residents, including bed-ridden hospital patients, rather than searching for the missing, they said.

According to the National Police Agency, more than 25,000 people were confirmed dead or were unaccounted for as of Thursday morning — 9,523 dead and 16,067 missing.

In Iwate Prefecture, meanwhile, construction of temporary housing started in the coastal city of Kamaishi, while the municipal governments of Ofunato and Miyako announced the work would start in their jurisdictions Friday.

In a fresh sign of restoration, the Tohoku Expressway, closed following the disaster, was fully reopened to ordinary traffic in the morning, enabling full-fledged support for reconstruction.

N.Z. quake dead ID’d

SYDNEY (Kyodo) The Foreign Ministry said Thursday two more Japanese nationals were confirmed dead in the earthquake in Christchurch, New Zealand, bringing the Japanese death toll to 24. Four others remain unaccounted for.

The two — Noriko Otsubo, 41, from Kobe, and Ayako Yamaguchi, 30, from Kawajima, Saitama Prefecture — were nurses and studying at a foreign language school housed in the collapsed CTV building.

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