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Tsunami-hit airport resumes flights

Flights to the Japanese coastal city of Sendai have resumed, just over a month after a 32ft tsunami swamped the runways of its airport.

Sendai airport staff stood waving on the tarmac as passengers emerged from a JAL Express flight.

It was the first plane to land since the March 11 earthquake and tsunami, which swept cars and planes into terminals and turned the area into a muddy wasteland.

The airport is handling only a few daytime flights. Nevertheless, its reopening is a boost for recovery efforts in the area, where many communities have been virtually obliterated by the tsunami.

Soldiers near the airport have been sifting through the debris, looking for the bodies of the more than 15,000 people still missing after the twin disasters. The final death toll is expected to top 25,000.

Meanwhile, Japan's leaders are urging citizens to focus on rebuilding despite delays in resolving the country's nuclear crisis. Prime Minister Naoto Kan exhorting the public in a televised address to build an "even more marvellous country" and experts cautioning against a relapse into despair among the tens of thousands still living in shelters.

"Let's live normally without falling into excessive self-restraint," Mr Kan said. "We must build a new future."

Nuclear safety officials and the operator of the Fukushima Dai-ichi plant, Tokyo Electric Power Co (Tepco), reported no major changes on Wednesday, a day after the government ranked the accident there at seven, the highest possible severity on an international scale - the same level as Chernobyl.

The higher rating was open recognition that the nuclear crisis, caused when the tsunami washed out the plant's vital cooling systems, has become the second-worst in history, but it did not signal a worsening of the plant's status in recent days or any new health dangers.

Nevertheless, the change deepened unease among residents forced to evacuate from a growing area affected by spewing radiation despite government efforts to play down any notion that the crisis poses immediate health risks.

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