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Aftershocks, infrastructure damage hamper relief effort in Japan

At least 79 aftershocks have hit the region since Friday's massive earthquake, more than 1,231 buildings have been destroyed and more than 100 fires continue to burn out of control, a U.N. report says.

March 12, 2011|By Molly Hennessy-Fiske | Los Angeles Times Staff Writer

The death toll from Japan's 8.9-magnitude earthquake and the tsunami that followed will likely increase Saturday, as rescue efforts continue to be hampered by aftershocks and damaged infrastructure, according to a United Nations Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs situation report.

Japanese authorities had mobilized thousands of troops for the rescue effort Saturday, according to the report, with more than 300 planes and 40 ships conducting air and boat rescues.

However, the report noted that "continued aftershocks and tsunami are hampering rescue efforts."

Photos: Scenes of destruction after the earthquake

"Up to three-meter-high [9 foot] waves continue to hit the coastline. There have been at least 79 aftershocks in the region since the first powerful earthquake and 16 of them have been greater than 6.0 including a 7.1 magnitude," the report said. "The level of destruction is still not clear and is likely to be some days before a clearer picture emerges as to the extent of damage."

As of Saturday, U.N. officials said the most damage had been observed near the coastal city of Sendai in Miyagi Prefecture, which has a population of 1 million.

INTERACTIVE MAP: Shaking before and after the great quake

Japanese officials have determined that more than 1,231 buildings have been destroyed and another 4,000 damaged by the incident, according to the report, and about 1,450 roads, eight railways and 22 bridges have been damaged or washed away. An irrigation dam has reportedly burst, sweeping away houses in Fukushima.

At least 464 have died, and 771 remained missing Saturday, according to the report, but U.N. officials cautioned that "the extent of the destruction along the lengthy stretch of coastline suggests the death toll could rise significantly."

More than 59 of 207 fires had been extinguished Saturday, but 148 remained out of control, according to the report. "National media says 215,000 people are seeking shelter in emergency centers across the country but it is reported that there is not enough blankets, food and water," the report said.

More than 4 million homes remained without power Saturday across the country, according to the report.

Most National Disaster Management Organizations across the Pacific region had withdrawn their tsunami alerts by Saturday morning. In Papua New Guinea, there were reports of unusually high tides Saturday that caused minor flooding and damaged a hospital, which had to be evacuated.

The Japanese government has accepted offers of assistance from the U.S., Australia, South Korea, New Zealand, Germany, Singapore and Mexico and has agreed to the deployment of a nine-member United Nations Disaster and Assessment team. The team will coordinate the international Urban Search and Rescue teams and assist with environmental hazard analysis.

Teams from South Korea, Mexico, New Zealand, Germany and Singapore include 145 search-and-rescue specialists with 30 search dogs, according to the report.

China and the European Union are preparing for deployment, the report said, and emergency search-and-rescue teams from 39 other foreign countries remain on standby.

Telecoms Sans Frontiers is also sending a team to Japan to assess the country's communications systems and provide emergency assistance, the report said.

Related:

Japan faces toughest crisis since WWII, prime minister says

Videos of the earthquake

See the full report here: http://reliefweb.int/rw/rwb.nsf/db900sid/KHII-8EVHXC/$File/full_report.pdf

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