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Japanese PM on 1st visit to tsunami-hit villages

04-02-2011 11:34 BJT Special Report:9.0 Magnitude Earthquake Rocks Japan |

RIKUZENTAKATA, Japan - Japan's prime minister laid eyes on the extensive damage in the northeast for the first time Saturday as troops trolled the decimated coastline in an all-out search for any remaining bodies swept out to sea by a tsunami three weeks ago.

Japan's Prime Minister Naoto Kan (C) visits the destroyed city hall in Rikuzentakata after
the area was devastated by a magnitude 9.0 earthquake and tsunami April 2, 2011.

More than 16,000 people are still missing after the disaster, which officials fear may have killed some 25,000 people. The magnitude-9.0 earthquake and ensuing tsunami also ravaged a nuclear power plant.

Prime Minister Naoto Kan went to the Fukushima Dai-ichi complex immediately after the wave knocked out cooling systems, leaving workers unable to control overheating nuclear reactors and allowing radiation to seep out.

But Saturday marked his first visit to some of the dozens of villages, towns and cities wiped out in the March 11 disaster. Dressed in the blue work clothes that have become almost a uniform for officials, Kan stopped first in Rikuzentakata _ a town of about 20,000 people that was flattened by the torrent of water.

The town hall still stands, but all its windows are blown out and a tangle of metal and other debris is piled in front of it. The prime minister paused in front of the building for a minute of silence.

"It is going to be a long haul, but the government is with you. We all should hang in there," Kan told firefighters and officials, according to the Kyodo news agency.

Japan's Prime Minister Naoto Kan (R) bows as he speaks to tsunami victim Ryoko Otsubo
during his visit to an evacuees shelter in Rikuzentakata, after the area was devastated
by a magnitude 9.0 earthquake and tsunami April 2, 2011. [Photo/Agencies]

About 90 miles (150 kilometers) down the coast, near the Japanese military's Kasuminome air base, a constant stream of helicopters roared overhead throughout Friday afternoon, shuttling to and from the more remote coastal regions. Planes and boats were dispatched from other bases near the city.

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