Tsunami victims' bodies wash ashore

08:54, March 15, 2011      

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A tide of bodies washed up along Japan's coastline late Monday, overwhelming crematoriums, exhausting supplies of body bags and adding to the spiraling humanitarian crisis after the massive earthquake and tsunamis hit Japan.

Millions of people faced a fourth night without water, food or heating in near-freezing temperatures along the northeast coast devastated by Friday's disasters.

On the coastline of Miyagi Prefecture, which took the full force of the tsunami, a police official said 1,000 bodies were found scattered across the coastline.

Kyodo, the Japanese news agency, reported that 2,000 bodies had washed up on two shorelines in Miyagi.

In one town in a neighboring prefecture, the crematorium was unable to handle the large number of bodies being brought in.

"We have already begun cremations, but we can only handle 18 bodies a day. We are overwhelmed and are asking other cites to help us deal with bodies," said Katsuhiko Abe, an official in Soma. "We only have one crematorium in town."

While the official death toll rose to nearly 1,900, the discovery of the washed-up bodies and other reports of deaths suggest the true number is much higher.

In Miyagi, the police chief has said 10,000 people are estimated to have died in the prefecture alone.

The outspoken governor of Tokyo, Shintaro Ishihara, told reporters that the disaster was "punishment from heaven" because the Japanese had become greedy.

Across Japan, most people opt to cremate their dead. With so many bodies, the government has waived a rule requiring permission first from local authorities before cremation or burial to speed up funerals, said Health Ministry official Yukio Okuda.

"The current situation is so extraordinary, and it is very likely that crematoriums are running beyond capacity," said Okuda.

The pulverized coast has been hit by hundreds of aftershocks since last Friday, the latest one a 6.2 magnitude quake that was followed by a new tsunami scare yesterday.

As sirens wailed, soldiers abandoned search operations and told residents of the devastated shoreline in Soma, the worst hit town in Fukushima Prefecture, to run to safety.

They barked out orders: "Find high ground! Get out of here!" Several soldiers were seen leading an old woman up a muddy hillside. But the warning turned out to be a false alarm.

Ambulances stood by and body bags were laid out in an area cleared of debris, as firefighters used picks and chain saws to clear a jumble of broken timber, plastic sheets, roofs, sludge, twisted cars, tangled power lines and household goods.

Ships were flipped over near roads, a kilometer inland. Officials said one-third of Soma of 38,000 people was flooded and thousands were missing.

According to public broadcaster NHK, some 430,000 people are living in emergency shelters or with relatives. Another 24,000 people are stranded, it said.

By People's Daily Online/Agencies

 
 
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