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Nation pulls together in earthquake-tsunami aftermath

Date Posted: 2011-03-31

The death toll in Japan’s March 11th 9.0 magnitude earthquake and subsequent tsunami continues to rise, but the national trauma is subsiding now as the country comes to terms with the devastation and begins the transition from rescue-to-recovery.

While exact numbers aren’t expected for days, and perhaps weeks, the National Police Agency says a total of 10,418 people were confirmed killed in the earthquake and powerful tsunami with its 77-foot-high waves, while another 17,072 are officially not accounted for. The death toll is highest near the epicenter, Miyagi Prefecture, with 6,338 confirmed dead, while 3,123 are known to have died in Iwate and another 904 in Fukushima. A total of 6,240 are officially listed as missing in Miyagi Prefecture, but the Miyagi Police Chief says that number could rise to 15,000.

The earthquake and tsunami lashed out at 12 of Japan’s 47 prefectures, leaving hundreds of thousands homeless. Some 245,000, including evacuees from the Fukushima region where the nuclear power plants were damaged, are currently being housed in about 2,000 shelters in 17 prefectures.

Japan’s central government is preparing to carry the burden of reconstruction costs. “The state would like to fully take responsibility for such costs without burdening the local governments,” is how Chief Cabinet Secretary Yukio Edano explained the plans. He noted municipalities are having severe financial difficulties coping with the disaster.

Ryu Matsumoto, the Disaster Management Minister, says “nearly all costs will come from state coffers,” describing how the government will consider raising the amount of expenses it can offer to remove mountains of rubble left in the wake of the earthquake and tsunami. The rate is currently 97.5%. Miyagi Prefecture alone says it has an estimated 18 million tons of debris to be hauled away. Governor Yoshihiro Murai says the rubble is the equivalent of 23 years worth of prefecture trash. He says it will take an estimated three years to haul it all away, while adding that damages to bridges, ports, sewage treatment plants and schools have been calculated at ¥1 trillion.

Some signs of normalcy are returning, including with East Japan Railway Company, which says it will resume full services between Tokyo and Shin-Aomori stations on the Tohoku Shinkansen Line by late next month. Operations between some stations were suspended following the quake, and will be opened following inspections. The railway company says bridges and train tracks were damaged in more than 1,200locations, with repairs already accomplished on about 45% of them. Bullet trains are running on a limited basis in some areas, including between Morioka and Shin-Aomori stations, and between Tokyo and Nasu-Shiobara.

Gas stations are being set up in quake-damaged areas. The makeshift service stations will be near evacuation centers and operations areas. Mobile stations are being set in 10-20 locations in Iwate, Miyagi and Fukushima prefectures by Self Defense Forces. Gas, which will be free, will be transported in 1,000 cans, each holding 200 liters of gasoline.

Temporary housing is in the works for residents of Rikuzentakata in Iwate Prefecture, one of the most heavily hammered areas during the earthquake. Applications for the homes will go to those whose homes were destroyed or seriously damaged. Rikuzentakata has some 23,300 residents in 7,800 households, most of which were wiped out by the earthquake and ensuing tsunami.

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