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Japan races with time to rescue victims of quake-tsunami

03-15-2011 07:36 BJT Special Report:9.0 Magnitude Earthquake Rocks Japan |

TOKYO, March 15 (Xinhua) -- Tens of thousands of Japanese and foreign workers are racing with time to rescue survivors, including the injured, children and elderly, three days after the magnitude 9.0 earthquake and the massive tsunami that devastated the coastal areas of northeastern Japan.

The Japanese government has sent 100,000 troops to lead the aid effort. It has sent 120,000 blankets, 120,000 bottles of water and 110,000 liters of gasoline plus food to the affected areas.

Rescue operations are underway. Japan Self Defense Forces, firemen, and police from all over the country were mobilized to search survivors and dig out bodies.

"We are still focusing on searching the survivors," said Wataru Suzuki, a fireman from the fire department of Osaki, Miyagi Prefecture, saying it is hopelessly difficult as the missing people are too many.

The firemen used hand picks and chain saws to clear an indescribable jumble of broken timber, plastic sheets, roofs, sludge, twisted cars, tangled power-lines and household goods. Ambulances stand by and helicopters buzzed ahead.

A 15-strong Chinese international search and rescue team Monday morning set out to join the relief work in Oofunato, Iwate, a city severely damaged by a 9.0-magnitude earthquake Friday.

The Chinese team is one of the first overseas teams to join and help out the relief work in the city. Team leader Yin Guangfui said they have brought along life exploration device and some other equipment to help carrying out the rescue.

By Monday, food supplies were shipped to four shelters in Minamisanryuku, reaching at least 3,000 people over there.

However, electricity will take days to restore. From Iwate to Fukushima, power supplies were still limited to a small urban area. Telecommunications were impossible in Minamisanryuku, Kesennuma or other seriously-hit coastal areas. Cars queued for hours to get their gasoline refilled.

According to public broadcaster NHK, some 430,000 people are living in emergency shelters or with relatives and another 24,000 people are stranded. As rescue workers are struggling to reach the victims, it was estimated that millions of people were spending a fourth night Monday without water, food or heating in the low- temperature northeastern region.

The Fire and Disaster Management Agency has counted that the number of buildings that were completely or partially destroyed stood at more than 70,000 as by 11.00 p.m. Monday.

A total of 550,000 people have been evacuated and Prime Minister Naoto Kan said at a Monday morning meeting of the government disaster headquarters that emergency workers have so far rescued 15,000 survivors.

The number of dead or unaccounted for following the magnitude 9. 0 quake came to about 5,900 after around 1,000 bodies were found Monday on several shores on the Oshika Peninsula in Miyagi Prefecture, while police and firefighters worked to recover another 200 to 300 bodies in Sendai, the capital of Miyagi, according to a Kyodo News report.

Local police counted that the death toll stood at 1,886 with 2, 369 missing as of 8 p.m. Monday.

Seventy-two hours after the quake and ensuing tsunami, around 10,000 people remained unaccounted for in Minamisanryuku, more than half of the town's total population of 18,000, making it one of the deadliest disaster-hit areas.

The Japan Tourism Agency reported that about 1,000 of the 4,900 tourists who were visiting the devastated areas could not be contacted by Monday afternoon.

A Kyodo News survey shows that local governments in the devastated areas are unable to contact up to 30,000 residents by Monday.

Many people in the devastated areas could hardly recover from the nightmare. "The highest tide of tsunami was 20 meters. It swallows everything on its path," recalled Minamisanryuku resident Masafumi Yamauchi, 62. "We were shocked, terrified and numb."

Yamauchi was working in his fish store near the coast. After hearing the tsunami alarm, he escaped to Shizugawa Middle School, a shelter atop of a nearby hill.

In about 15 to 20 minutes, around 500 people abandoned the town to took refuge at the middle school. They witnessed what happened below with extreme terror.

Jin Sato, the magistrate of the town, was missing after the quake but later confirmed alive. He returned to his post Saturday and called for all-out efforts to save every life.

As rescue workers are racing against the time, the whole world put the focus on the nuclear incidents at the Fukushima No. 1 nuclear power plant in the quake-hit areas.

A hydrogen explosion occurred Monday morning at its No. 3 reactor while fuel rods at its No. 2 reactor were fully exposed later in the day after its cooling functions failed.

The nuclear plants shut down automatically due to Friday's massive earthquake, but the shortage of power and tsunami damage to back-up generators apparently crippled reactors' cooling systems.

Explosions created by "hydrogen bubble" blew apart the buildings housing the No. 1 and No. 3 reactors, but did not pierce the reactors' steel and concrete containment vessel.

After the blast at the No. 3 reactor, the Nuclear and Industry Safety Agency asked about 500 residents within a 20-kilometer radius to take shelter inside buildings.

Earlier Monday morning, Kyodo News Agency reported that the radiation level around the Fukushima plant has again exceeded the legal limit, but chief government spokesman Yukio Edano said Monday that radiation was at a tolerable level for humans.

While U.S. and Russian nuclear experts are rushing to Japan, it was reported that the latter has also asked the U.N. nuclear watchdog, the International Atomic Energy Agency, to provide experts in a joint effort to deal with the incidents at the nuclear power plant.



Editor:Zhang Pengfei |Source: Xinhua

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