Anxiety in Japan grows as more bodies are found

March 14th, 2011 by Mariah

Sendai, Japan (CNN) — In a nation already besieged with grief over mounting casualties, fears of possible radiation and the threat of more earthquakes, the nightmare grew for Japanese residents Monday as thousands of bodies reportedly were found and crews struggled to keep damaged nuclear plants under control.

 

Friday’s 8.9 earthquake and ensuing tsunami killed thousands, based on official and Japanese media reports, but an exact accounting of the disaster remains hidden beneath widespread damage that rescuers are only beginning to penetrate.

 

The official death toll, rising every few hours, reached 1,833 on Monday. But that didn’t account for thousands of bodies Japan’s Kyodo News said had been found in the hard-hit Miyagi Prefecture on Japan’s northeast coast.

 

At least 2,369 people were missing on Monday, the National Police

Agency said, and the number of dead is expected to go up as rescuers reach more hard-hit areas.

 

The earthquake and tsunami led to problems at three nuclear power plants, one of which remained a serious concern on Monday.

In Fukushima Prefecture, officials reported an explosion in a building housing the No. 3 reactor at the Fukushima Daiichi plant had injured 11 workers.

 

Hours later, cooling problems at the plant’s No. 2 reactor allowed nuclear fuel to overheat and generate radioactive steam that officials will have to later vent into the atmosphere.

 

A similar explosion over the weekend occurred in another reactor at the Fukushima plant.

 

Government officials have tried to calm the public, saying the releases of radiation are modest. But people are still nervous.

 

“I’m due to give birth soon,” said a woman who had to evacuate from the area. “I want to know what’s going on at the nuclear plant. I’m scared.”

 

“We’re not afraid of another earthquake, but of the nuclear reactors,” said Michelle Roberts, a resident of central Tokyo whose family is trying to decide whether to leave the country. “I am also at risk because of the medications I have to take. I don’t know if I need to be worried or not.”

 

“It’s just adding insult to injury,” said Ryan McDonald, an American living in Kitakata, about 60 miles west of the Fukushima Daiichi power plant. “The earthquake was horrible. Then The tsunami was horrible. And that’s not enough. Now there’s a nuclear fear.”

 

In Tokyo, residents worried about the threat of more aftershocks as they started their work week Monday.

 

“It didn’t really feel safe going to an empty office,” said Tokyo resident Mia Moore, citing the ongoing tremors that continue to rattle the city every few hours. “People want to stay with their families at this time to recover, really. It’s quite exhausting feeling so nervous all the time. I think people want to get back to normality as soon as they can.”

 

But normalcy seems a distant memory in Miyagi Prefecture, where rescue workers sifted through mountains of debris and hope for survivors appeared to dim.

 

The town of Minami Sanriku — about 5 kilometers (3 miles) from the Pacific Ocean — morphed into a massive pile of wood that used to house some 20,000 residents. An eerie silence prevailed as emergency rescue officials said they didn’t think anyone was still alive under the rubble. About half of Minami Sanriku’s population was unaccounted for.

 

New video Monday from Miyagi Prefecture showed a broad wave of Thursday’s tsunami washing away an entire residential neighborhood, as residents who had fled to higher ground could be heard crying out in despair. Some people can be seen perilously close to the churning debris and running away on a roadway leading out of the neighborhood.

 

In the Sendai area, where buildings were disintegrated by rushing water within seconds during the tsunami, a bizarre mix of sport-utility vehicles, cabinets, sofas, a taxi cab and a doll were heaped in a pile outside the remnants of a house. A white car sat precariously at the top of a sloped house.

 

Solemn residents waited in lines that stretched blocks for food, water and gas. Despite the devastation surrounding them, the crowds appeared calm and orderly.

 

At a shelter in Sendai, a shell-shocked man who fled the tsunami would not let go of his 3-week-old infant. “I have to protect my children. I have to protect my children,” he said.

 

Some areas in the city of Ishinomaki remained inaccessible by ground on Monday. Japanese troops had gone door-to-door in hopes of finding survivors — but found mostly the bodies of elderly residents.

 

Cold weather has increased the hardship for disaster victims and rescuers. Rescuers report some victims have been exposed to cold weather and water, in some cases for days. Conditions are expected to worsen with temperatures forecast to drop below freezing by Wednesday across portions of the earthquake zone.

 

So far, about 15,000 people have been rescued, Kyodo News reported Monday, citing Prime Minister Nato Kan.

 

Among them was Hiromitsu Shinkawa, a 60-year-old man from Minami Soma who was swept away with his house, Kyodo said.

 

A Japanese destroyer found him Sunday floating some 15 kilometers (9 miles) off Fukushima Prefecture, waving a self-made red flag while standing on a piece of his house’s roof, according to Kyodo.

 

“I was saved by holding onto the roof, but my wife was swept away,” he told Kyodo.

 

The problem of trying to keep Japan’s large, modern industrial economy running added to the difficulties facing the nation.

 

On Sunday, the country’s prime minister called on people to pull together and face sacrifices.

 

“In the 65 years after the end of World War II, this is the toughest and the most difficult crisis for Japan,” Kan told reporters.

 

With the imperiled Fukushima plant offline, Tokyo Electric Power said it was expecting a shortfall of around 25 percent capacity, which necessitated blackouts.

 

Rolling blackouts began in eight prefectures Monday evening, with electricity turned off for three to six hours some parts. Downtown Tokyo was not included. Up to 45 million people will be affected by the rolling outages, which will last until April 8.

 

Kazuya Matsuo, who lives near Tokyo in Saitama Prefecture, said residents are limiting power consumption on their own.

 

“Many people appeal (to) each other to save electric power on (the) internet,” including on social media sites, Matsuo said. “Many Japanese people are cooperating.”

 

The earthquake and tsunami will rank among the costliest natural disasters on record, experts predict.

 

Japan’s central bank announced plans Monday to inject 15 trillion yen ($186 billion) into the economy to reassure global investors in the stability of Japanese financial markets and banks.

 

Still, Japanese markets dropped sharply Monday, the first trading day since the disaster. By mid-day local time, the benchmark Nikkei 225 was down more than 6.4%.

 

The drop was the largest single day fall since September 2008 after the collapse of Lehman Brothers during the financial crisis.

 

A massive emergency response operation is under way in northern Japan, with world governments and international aid groups coming together to bring relief to the beleaguered island nation. Sixty-nine governments have offered to help with search and rescue, said the United Nations Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (OCHA).

 

Friday’s quake is the strongest in recorded history to hit Japan, according to USGS records that date to 1900. The world’s largest recorded quake took place in Chile on May 22, 1960, with a magnitude of 9.5, the agency said.