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Workers face daunting rescue effort in Japan

The death toll has reached 680 and is rising, 10,000 residents of one coastal town haven't been located and more than 215,000 people are living in 1,350 temporary shelters. Japan has sent thousands of relief workers to the hardest-hit coastal areas in the northeast.

March 12, 2011|By Molly Hennessy-Fiske | Los Angeles Times Staff Writer
  • Rescue workers in Yamamoto, Japan look for missing people in a house destroyed by waves generated by a tsunami.
Rescue workers in Yamamoto, Japan look for missing people in a house destroyed… (Reuters )

Japan has sent thousands of rescue workers to the northeastern coastal area devastated by Friday's earthquake, including officials attempting to prevent a meltdown at a nuclear reactor damaged in the quake.

The death toll from the 8.9-magnitude quake and associated tsunami reached 680 Saturday and may reach 1,000, according to Japanese public broadcaster NHK. According to official figures, 642 people are missing and 1,426 injured.

Photos: Scenes from the earthquake

Officials in Miyagi prefecture said 10,000 residents, more than half the population of the town of Minami-Sanriku, couldn't be located after the earthquake, NHK reported. They reported that an estimated 4,000 people were stranded at evacuation centers in the northern city of Sendai, about 193 miles north of Tokyo, without food, water or heat.

More than 215,000 people were living in 1,350 temporary shelters in five prefectures, the national police agency said.

Japanese television stations broadcast footage of people lining up for water and food such as rice balls Saturday. But there were still many areas surrounded by water and unreachable for rescuers.

Japan's hospitals were overwhelmed with patients and evacuees Saturday, the Japan Times reported. Because of power outages, hospital officials told the newspaper they had limited electricity and water. A hospital in Sendai was treating 400 patients and sheltering dozens of local residents, the newspaper reported.

Videos of the earthquake

One hospital in Miyagi prefecture could be seen surrounded by water with "SOS" painted on its rooftop, where staff had assembled and were waving white flags.

Australian officials said they were sending search-and-rescue teams with cadaver-sniffing dogs to earthquake ravaged areas of Japan to help find bodies trapped in rubble. The teams will carry 22 tons of equipment and supplies, Atty. Gen. Robert McClelland said in a Saturday statement.

Japan's Defense Ministry sent a unit that specializes in dealing with radioactive contamination to a command post near the Fukushima Dai-Ichi plant, which was damaged in an explosion after the earthquake, according to reports from NHK.

About 50,000 Japan Self-Defense Force personnel were being deployed Saturday in quake and tsunami relief efforts, according to a Kyodo News report in the Japan Times. Officials from Japan's Defense Ministry said 190 aircraft and 25 ships were involved in the effort, according to the report.

Also:
Japan plagued by aftershocks -- 27 of them magnitude 6 or greater
Japan's fears mount with nuclear plant blast
Photos: Japan's quake and tsunami aftermath
Video:Dramatic images emerge from California coast

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