• Kyodo News


The Self-Defense Forces and U.S. military elements Friday began a three-day intensive search for people still missing three weeks after a quake-triggered tsunami wiped out cities and towns along the northeast coast.

Using dozens of ships and helicopters, about 18,000 SDF and 7,000 U.S. service members will engage in the operation, with members of the Japan Coast Guard and the police and fire departments also taking part, according to the Defense Ministry and other sources.

The target areas will include shores that were largely submerged or remain under water, and the mouths of major rivers in Iwate, Miyagi and Fukushima prefectures, which took the brunt of the March 11 tsunami, within about 18 km of the coastline.

The tsunami and the magnitude 9.0 earthquake that triggered it have claimed at least 11,578 lives in 12 prefectures and left at least 16,451 people officially unaccounted for as of Friday morning.

Many of the missing are believed to have been swept out to sea when the giant waves receded.

The massive search was timed to coincide with a spring tide that began Friday as search efforts in coastal areas that are still flooded hit a snag. The tide makes it easier to spot victims when it ebbs.

The operation is expected to involve about 100 aircraft and 50 ships from the SDF and about 20 aircraft and 15 ships from the U.S. military. Divers from the SDF, coast guard, police and fire departments are also being mobilized.

The search, however, will avoid all areas within a 30-km radius of the paralyzed Fukushima No. 1 nuclear power plant in Fukushima Prefecture, which is contaminating the air, land and sea with radioactive materials, the authorities said.

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