Belfast Telegraph

Saturday 30 August 2014

Japan's officials struggle to bring aid to living and deal with the dead

Vehicles are left on a flooded street in Watari, Miyagi, northern Japan Monday, March 14, 2011 following Friday's massive earthquake and the ensuing tsunami. (AP Photo/Kyodo News) JAPAN OUT, MANDATORY CREDIT, NO SALES IN CHINA, HONG KONG, JAPAN, SOUTH KOREA AND FRANCE
Damaged platforms for bullet trains are seen in Sendai, northern Japan Monday, March 14, 2011 following Friday's massive earthquake and the ensuing tsunami. (AP Photo/Kyodo News) JAPAN OUT, MANDATORY CREDIT, NO SALES IN CHINA, HONG KONG, JAPAN, SOUTH KOREA AND FRANCE
Reporters at the Associated Press Tokyo Bureau in Tokyo take shelter under a table while a strong earthquake strikes eastern Japan Friday afternoon, March 11, 2011. (AP Photo/Itsuo Inouye)

The toll from Japan's quake continued to rise yesterday as officials and survivors were confronted with the enormity of coping with thousands of dead as well as taking aid to the living.

A tide of bodies yesterday washed up along the coastline, crematoriums were overflowing with the dead and rescue workers ran out of body bags as the nation faced the reality of its mounting humanitarian, economic and |nuclear crisis.

Japanese police said 1,000 washed up bodies were found scattered across the coastline of Miyagi Prefecture.

The discovery raised the official death toll to about 2,800, but the Miyagi police chief said that more than 10,000 people are estimated to have died in his province alone, which has a population of 2.3m.

Japanese officials have refused to speculate on how high the death toll could rise, but experts who dealt with the 2004 Asian tsunami offered a dire outlook.

“It's a miracle, really, if it turns out to be less than 10,000,” said Hery Harjono, a senior geologist with the Indonesian Science Institute, who was closely involved with the aftermath of the earlier disaster that killed 230,000 |people — of which only 184,000 bodies were found.

He drew parallels between the two disasters — notably that many bodies in Japan may have been sucked out to sea or remain trapped beneath rubble as they did in Indonesia's hardest-hit Aceh province. But he also stressed that Japan's infrastructure, high-level of preparedness and city planning to keep houses away from the shore could mitigate their losses.

As the ground continues to tremor with aftershocks from Friday's quake, survivors on some of the most remote areas were surviving on little food and water as the authorities struggled to reach areas that remained cut off.

“Things are simply not coming,” said Hajime Sato, a government official in Iwate Prefecture on the north east coast.

“We have repeatedly asked the government to help us, but the government is overwhelmed by the scale of damage and enormous demand for food and water.

“We are only getting around 10% of what we have requested. But we are patient because everyone in the quake-hit areas is suffering. We have requested funeral homes across the nation to send us many body bags and coffins. But we simply don't have enough. We did not expect such a thing to happen. It's just overwhelming.”

Friday's double tragedy has caused unimaginable deprivation. In many areas there is no running water, no power and four-to five-hour waits for petrol. People are suppressing hunger with |instant noodles or rice balls while dealing with the loss of loved ones and homes.

“People are surviving on little food and water. Things are simply not coming,” said a government official in Iwate Prefecture, one of the three hardest hit.

Katsuhiko Abe, an official in Soma, a coastal city in Fukushima Prefecture, said the authorities were struggling to deal with the number of dead.

“We have already begun |cremations, but can only handle 18 bodies a day,” he said.

“We are overwhelmed and have asked other cities to help us deal with bodies.

“We only have one crematorium in town.”

In Japan most people opt to cremate their dead, a process that, like burial, requires permission first from local authorities.

But the government took the rare step yesterday of waiving the paperwork to speed up funerals.

Search parties arrived in Soma for the first time since Friday to dig out bodies.

Ambulances stood by and body bags were laid out in an area cleared of debris, as firefighters used handpicks and chainsaws to clear a jumble of broken timber, plastic sheets, roofs, sludge, twisted cars, tangled powerlines and household goods.

Officials said one-third of the city of 38,000 people was flooded and thousands were missing.

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