Electricity was restored to all but 30,000 Kobe-area households by this morning, but more than 850,000 households remained cut off from gas supplies.
With no gas available to run crematoriums, corpses were being placed in coffins and flown by helicopter to Kyoto for cremation. But a shortage of wood to build coffins and of helicopters to transport them meant that rows of bodies were left lying at relief sites.
Makiko Tanaka, director general of the Science and Technology Agency, on Saturday urged a review of all Japanese nuclear plants because "anything beyond imagination can happen."
Japan has 47 nuclear reactors and intends to use nuclear power to provide 45% of its electricity by 2010, up from about 28% now.
This afternoon, police put the toll at 4,924 dead and 25,493 injured. Until Saturday, more than 600 people had been reported missing. Then, for the first time, the number of missing dropped substantially to 201, and remained virtually unchanged for most of the day.
The magnitude of Tuesday's temblor was reported as 7.2 by the Japanese, but scientists at the U.S. Geological Survey in Golden, Colo., measure it at 6.8.
After four days in which only three of 29 offers of foreign aid were accepted, the government approved a series of contributions from South Korea, Finland, China, Australia, Brunei and Mongolia. Earlier, Japan accepted blankets from the United States and help from Swiss and French rescue units with search dogs.
Hospitals throughout the devastated area remained crippled. In the hours immediately after the Tuesday quake, patients filled all available beds, forcing doctors to put injured people on mattresses on the floor or even outside after treating them, doctors interviewed by NHK said.
Destruction to operating rooms and power failures has made operations and X-rays impossible. Many hospitals were operating with severe staff shortages, although 1,000 volunteer doctors and nurses from across the nation have gone to the devastated area.
On Saturday, 18 doctors and nurses from Southern California headed to Kobe to join the volunteer force. They expect to perform first aid, assist with surgery, treat infections and help prevent the outbreak of contagious diseases.
National Highway No. 2, the main operating artery into Kobe, was jammed Saturday with emergency vehicles trying to make their way into the port city of 1.5 million people. On Friday police had banned general traffic from the highway.
Thousands of people with backpacks and packages filled with supplies jammed Umeda Railway Station in Osaka on Saturday to travel to neighboring Nishinomiya, a city near Kobe that also suffered major damage.
Many said they were taking advantage of their first day off since the quake to take relief goods to friends and relatives in Nishinomiya or Kobe. With railways halted beyond Nishinomiya and buses unable to use roads filled with cracks and rubble, the only way into the center of Kobe, about 12 miles away, was a four-hour trip by foot.
Thousands of people, also carrying relief goods, jammed a pier in Osaka from which emergency ferry service to Kobe was operating.
Repairs on three separate railway sections were completed Saturday, opening a roundabout route to central Kobe for the first time since the quake.
Cranes were removing derailed train cars, and bulldozers were leveling out folded and cracked pavement in streets at Kobe's city center. The main street in downtown Kobe still had not been reopened to traffic, however.
Workers repairing cracks and gaps in the pavement and removing fallen debris from streets faced additional dangers: Multistory buildings, their ground or mid-level floors squashed, were teetering perilously. Authorities were reportedly consulting with owners about destroying the buildings to ensure public safety.
In Tokyo on Saturday, Sadatoshi Ozato, newly appointed Cabinet minister in charge of the earthquake cleanup, proposed that Parliament enact a special law to restrict the rights of landowners so that Kobe could rebuild itself into "a city resistant against earthquakes." He offered no details.
Although governments in Japan have the right of eminent domain to force property owners to sell land for public use, the right is seldom exercised.
Watanabe reported from Kobe and Jameson from Tokyo. Times staff writers Leslie Helm in Kobe and Jon D. Markman in Los Angeles contributed to this report.