Feature: Japan races to search survivors, missing in tsunami-hit Miyagi town

10:09, March 15, 2011      

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The tsunami after the magnitude 9.0 earthquake swallowed most of the town of Minamisanryuku in Miyagi Prefecture of Japan in a blink,leaving 10,000 people dead or missing. Three days later, local residents still can't believe what they have experienced.

When the catastrophe happened, Masafumi Yamauchi, 62, 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.

"The highest tide of tsunami was 20 meters. It swallows everything on its path," said Yamauchi. "We were shocked, terrified and numb."

The residents in Minamisanryuku are not unfamiliar to tsunamis. Last year a tsunami triggered by the Chile earthquake raised a tsunami warning here but caused little harm. And on the town's seafront, a memorial stone reminding people of a 2.6-meter tsunami about 50 years ago.

"People over the age 55 still have memories of the tsunami," Yamauchi said. "They thought this time it is going to be no big deal again and chose to stay in their homes despite the tsunami warning."

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.

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.

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 powerlines and household goods. Ambulances stand by and helicopters buzzed ahead.

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

In one of the shelters, 28 Chinese trainees at two local fish processing companies were found. They said more compatriots worked there and are said to be safe and sound.

"What we wanted most is to go back home -- to China as soon as possible," said 22-year-old Sun Ruting, who is from Shandong Province, adding that they have not been able to contact their families in China since the quake.

Chinese embassy officials already arrived in Sendai to give assistance to Chinese nationals. Meanwhile, a rescue team from China also is heading to Miyagi quake-hit areas.

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.

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. Another 24,000 people are stranded, it said.

Source: Xinhua

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