Relief work in quake-hit Japan continues as casualties rise

16:35, March 17, 2011      

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Relief work continues in Japan as casualties in Friday's devastating earthquake and tsunami increase day-by-day and the threat of a major nuclear disaster looms in the country.

The National Police Agency said Thursday that the catastrophic quake and ensuing tsunami have left 5,178 people dead and more than 8,600 others unaccounted for by 10 a.m. local time (0100 GMT).

Around 380,000 evacuees are now living in shelters in eight prefectures, including the worst-hit Miyagi, Fukushima and Iwate, said the agency.

Separately, the Fire and Disaster Management Agency said that up to 100,300 houses have been destroyed or partially damaged.

The lack of food, drinking water, medicines and fuel has been a common problem in quake-hit areas, where supplies of essential resources have been wiped out and communications infrastructures crippled.

Meanwhile, the threat of a nuclear disaster added to Japanese misery and frustration.

Authorities in Tokyo reported that radiation levels spiked in the nation's capital and its vicinity, following explosions at the Daiichi nuclear plant in Fukushima. The radiation leak has caused panic among Tokyo residents who began to empty the shelves of supermarkets and convenience stores.

Many homes have had their windows and doors wrapped in protective plastic as news of rising radiation levels has caused anxiety.

"The worry and anger of the people of Fukushima have been pushed to the limit," Fukushima Governor Yuhei Sato told the NHK TV.

In a rare televised public address on Wednesday, Japanese Emperor Akihito expressed the hope that the people will overcome the current difficulties and demonstrate solidarity in the aftermath of the disasters.

In an effort to improve communication, the government and Tokyo Electric Power Co. launched a joint crisis headquarters to deal with the situation at the Fukushima power plant.

The Transport Ministry has also imposed a no-fly zone within 30 km of the stricken plant in Fukushima as the catastrophe escalates by the hour.

The Japanese government and the ruling Democratic Party of Japan (DPJ) are considering providing special grants to disaster-hit areas under a planned bill for reconstruction, Kyodo news agency quoted Masaharu Nakagawa, a DPJ lawmaker as saying on Wednesday.

"We would like the bill to address a wide range of disaster-hit regions and unprecedented problems such as the nuclear plant accident," Nakagawa said.

The Bank of Japan on Wednesday pledged an additional 13.8 trillion yen (170 billion U.S. dollars) to ensure the nation's banking system stays liquid following Friday's massive quake and tsunami.

Financial markets plunged after the quake and tsunami and the central banks's unprecedented moves are aimed at providing enough funds for local banks and institutions in quake-hit regions.

A growing number of Japanese companies offered donations Wednesday to help people affected by the disasters.

Mitsubishi Estate Co. donated 150 million yen (1.88 million dollars) and All Nippon Airways Co., Takashimaya Co., Rohm Co. and other companies will donate 100 million yen (1.25 million dollars) each, according to a Kyodo News report.

The 9.0-magnitude quake struck at 2:46 p.m. (0546 GMT) on Friday, with the epicenter at 130 km east of the coast of Miyagi Prefecture at a depth of 24.4 km under seabed. It then set off a deadly tsunami up to 10 meters high that sent walls of water sweeping across coastal cities in the north, putting many other Pacific countries and regions on high alert.

Source: Xinhua

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