Japan quake-tsunami death toll likely over 10,000

TAGAJO, Japan (AP) - The death toll in Japan's earthquake and tsunami will likelyexceed 10,000 in one state alone, an official said Sunday, asmillions of survivors were left without drinking water, electricityand proper food along the pulverized northeastern coast.

"This is Japan's most severe crisis since the war ended 65 yearsago," Prime Minister Naoto Kan told reporters, adding that Japan'sfuture would be decided by the response to this crisis.

Although the government doubled the number of soldiers deployedin the aid effort to 100,000, it seemed overwhelmed by what'sturning out to be a triple disaster: Friday's quake and tsunamidamaged two nuclear reactors at a power plant on the coast, and atleast one of them appeared to be going through a partial meltdown,raising fears of a radiation leak.

The police chief of Miyagi prefecture, or state, told agathering of disaster relief officials that his estimate for deathswas more than 10,000, police spokesman Go Sugawara told TheAssociated Press. Miyagi has a population of 2.3 million and is oneof the three prefectures hardest hit in Friday's disaster. Only 379people have officially been confirmed dead in Miyagi.

The nuclear crisis posed fresh concerns for those who survivedthe earthquake and tsunami, which hit with breathtaking force andspeed, breaking or sweeping away everything in its path.

"First I was worried about the quake, now I'm worried aboutradiation. I live near the plants, so I came here to find out ifI'm OK. I tested negative, but I don't know what to do next," KenjiKoshiba, a construction worker, said at an emergency center inKoriyama town near the power plant in Fukushima.

According to officials, more than 1,400 people were killed -including 200 people whose bodies were found Sunday along the coast- and more than 1,000 were missing in the disasters. Another 1,700were injured.

In a rare piece of good news, the Defense Ministry said amilitary vessel on Sunday rescued a 60-year-old man floating offthe coast of Fukushima on the roof of his house after being sweptaway in the tsunami. He was in good condition.

The U.S. Geological Survey calculated the initial quake to havea magnitude of 8.9, while Japanese officials raised their estimateon Sunday to 9.0. Either way it was the strongest quake everrecorded in Japan. It has been followed by more than 150 powerfulaftershocks.

Teams searched for the missing along hundreds of miles(kilometers) of Japanese coastline, and hundreds of thousands ofhungry survivors huddled in darkened emergency centers that werecut off from rescuers and aid. At least 1.4 million households hadgone without water since the quake struck and some 2.5 millionhouseholds were without electricity.

Temperatures were to dip near freezing overnight, but the primeminister warned that electricity would not be restored fordays.

Trade Minister Banri Kaeda said the region was likely to facefurther blackouts and that power would be rationed to ensuresupplies go to essential needs.

The government says it has sent 120,000 blankets, 120,000bottles of water and 110,000 liters of gasoline in addition tobread, rice balls, instant cup noodles and diapers to the affectedareas.

Large areas of the countryside remained surrounded by water andunreachable. Fuel stations were closed and people were running outof gasoline for their vehicles.

The government said 275,000 people have been evacuated toemergency shelters, many of them without power.

In Iwaki town, residents were leaving due to concerns overdwindling food and fuel supplies. The town had no electricity andall stores were closed. Local police took in about 90 people andgave them blankets and rice balls but there was no sign ofgovernment or military aid trucks.

At a large refinery on the outskirts of the hard-hit port cityof Sendai, 100-foot (30-meter) -high bright orange flames rose inthe air, spitting out dark plumes of smoke. The facility has beenburning since Friday. A reporter who approached the area could hearthe roaring fire from afar, and after a few minutes the gaseousstench began burning the eyes and throat.

"My water is cut off," said Kenji Fukuda, who lives in the ruraltown of Sukugawa. It "is a little bit rural and there is naturalwell water. We take it and put it through the water purifier andwarm it up and use it in various ways," he said.

In the small town of Tagajo, near Sendai, dazed residents roamedstreets cluttered with smashed cars, broken homes and twistedmetal.

Residents said the water surged in and quickly rose higher thanthe first floor of buildings. At Sengen General Hospital the staffworked feverishly to haul bedridden patients up the stairs one at atime. With the halls now dark, those that can leave have gone tothe local community center.

"There is still no water or power, and we've got some very sickpeople in here," said hospital official Ikuro Matsumoto.

One older neighborhood sits on low ground near a canal. Thetsunami came in from the canal side and blasted through the frailwooden houses, coating the interiors with a thick layer of mud andspilling their contents out into the street on the other side.

"It's been two days, and all I've been given so far is a pieceof bread and a rice ball," said Masashi Imai, 56.

Police cars drove slowly through the town and warned residentsthrough loudspeakers to seek higher ground, but most simply stoodby and watched them pass.

Dozens of countries have offered assistance. Two U.S. aircraftcarrier groups were off Japan's coast and ready to provideassistance. Helicopters were flying from one of the carriers, theUSS Ronald Reagan, delivering food and water in Miyagi.

Two other U.S. rescue teams of 72 personnel each and rescue dogswere scheduled to arrive later Sunday, as was a five-dog team fromSingapore and a 102-member South Korean team.

In Fukushima prefecture, people said the city of Soma washardest hit. Rubble was all that remained of one coastal housingdistrict where some 2,000 people lived. Their houses were simplywashed away.

No signs of life remained Sunday night, except for theoccasional dog searching for its owner. The only lights in towncame from the fire engines patrolling the area.

In Sendai, firefighters with wooden picks dug through adevastated neighborhood. One of them yelled: "A corpse." Inside ahouse, he had found the body of a gray-haired woman under ablanket.

A few minutes later, the firefighters spotted another - that ofa man in black fleece jacket and pants, crumpled in a partial fetalposition at the bottom of a wooden stairwell. From outside, thehouse seemed almost untouched, two cracks in the white walls theonly signs of damage.

The man's neighbor, 24-year-old Ayumi Osuga, dug through thecompletely destroyed remains of her own house, her white mittenscovered by dark mud.

Osuga said she had been playing origami, the Japanese art offolding paper into figures, with her three children when the quakestuck. She recalled her husband's shouted warning from outside:"'GET OUT OF THERE NOW!'"

She gathered her children - aged 2 to 6 - and fled in her car tohigher ground with her husband. They spent the night huddled in ahilltop home belonging to her husband's family about 12 miles (20kilometers) away.

"My family, my children. We are lucky to be alive," she told TheAssociated Press.

"I have come to realize what is important in life," Osuga said,nervously flicking ashes from a cigarette onto the rubble at herfeet as a giant column of black smoke billowed in the distance.