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Disaster death toll to exceed 22,000; Shelters now housing more than 400,000 survivors

Date Posted: 2011-03-24

The numbers continue to mount as search and rescue officials make their way into more of the disaster-stricken northeast Japan areas ravaged by the March 11th Tohoku earthquake-tsunami.

Officials are now projecting that the combined number of dead and missing will exceed 22,000 before week’s end. Already, 8,649 deaths have been confirmed in 12 prefectures, while another 13,262 have been reported missing in six prefectures. In Miyagi Prefecture, at the heart of the earthquake and ensuing tsunami, the Police Chief says he’s expecting 15,000 dead in his prefecture alone. Police say they’ve already identified more than 4,000 bodies, including 2,990 that have been turned over to relatives.

In Iwate Prefecture, Otsuchi Mayor Koki Kato was found dead. He was swept away by the tsunami during an emergency meeting outside the government building shortly after the 2:46 p.m. earthquake March 11th.

“Until now, we’ve asked relief workers to prioritize rescuing afflicted people,” says Miyagi Governor Yoshihiro Murai, “but now we want them to give priority to assisting people living in shelters. Estimates now indicate 400,000 are in shelters, including those who’ve fled the areas near Fukushima, site of the dangerously inoperative nuclear reactors.

Officials say there are 2,070 shelters set up in 16 prefectures. The Miyagi governor has appealed to Prime Minister Naoto Kan for special aid for reconstruction, citing the total devastation in Ishinomaki. The Prime Minister canceled a scheduled visit to the beleaguered city, but Governor Murai later toured shelters and comforted quake victims. The Health, Labor and Welfare Ministry has recruited 5,900 caregivers to go to damaged areas and care for survivors, particularly the elderly. An estimated 28,000 seniors can be accommodated in nursing facilities away from the disaster zone, and ministry officials are working to move the elderly as quickly as possible.

More than 380,000 survivors are enduring the extremely cold weather at shelters, including Tokyo. Relief supplies are pouring in from other countries to aid the effort, with 110,000 blankets already donated. Military, police and local firefighter companies are now mobilized with more than 120,000 working in communities across the affected areas, sifting through debris in search of survivors and the dead. More than 13 nations are already represented in Japan with relief operations, bringing everything from 230,000 bottles of water and 30,000 packets of boil-in-the-bag rice from South Korea, 25,000 blankets from Canada and 500 power generators from Taiwan.

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