Quake toll could number in tens of thousands

SENDAI, Japan — Japanese authorities say thousands may have died in the massive earthquake and tsunami that left many survivors stranded or shivering in makeshift evacuation centers that were running low on supplies early today.

In Miyagi, one the three hardest-hit prefectures, at least 10,000 were killed, police spokesman Go Sugawara told The Associated Press late Sunday. Only 400 people had been confirmed dead in Miyagi, which has a population of 2.3 million.

Elsewhere, about 1,800 people were confirmed dead Sunday — including 200 bodies found along the coast, according to The Associated Press. About 1,900 were injured and more than 1,400 were missing late Sunday.

More than 500,000 people have been forced to evacuate from quake- and tsunami-affected regions, Kyodo News reported.

Televised reports showed hundreds of thousands of hungry survivors huddled in darkened emergency centers, cut off from rescuers, aid and electricity. At least 1.4 million households had gone without water since the quake struck and some 1.9 million households were without electricity, Kyodo reported.

"We have no choice but to deal with the situation on the premise that it (the death toll) will undoubtedly be numbered in the ten thousands," Naoto Takeuchi, head of the Miyagi prefectural police, told a Kyodo reporter during a local disaster task force meeting.

A Los Angeles County Fire Department search and rescue team arrived at Misawa Air Base about 400 miles north of Tokyo at about 3 p.m. local time Sunday with 74 tons of equipment, including swift-water rescue gear and six search dogs, spokesman Don Kunitomi said.

They joined two other crews from Fairfax County, Va., and the United Kingdom who are scheduled to travel together to Miyagi to aid search-and-rescue efforts.

"We are glad to accept all the help we can get to assist the people of Japan," said Col. Michael Rothstein, 35th Fighter Wing commander at Misawa. "We will do whatever is in our means to support their efforts in this time of need."

There were some dramatic rescues of tsunami survivors Sunday, including a 60-year-old man who had been waiting for help since he was swept out to sea Friday.

Hiromitsu Shinkawa was spotted by rescuers at 12:40 p.m. local time nine miles off shore by the crew of a Japanese Maritime Self-Defense Force destroyer, according to Jiji Press.

Shinkawa, from the devastated city of Minamisoma, was conscious and in "good condition" after the rescue, Japanese officials said.

"I ran away after learning that the tsunami was coming," Shinkawa told rescuers, according to Jiji Press. "But I turned back to pick up something at home, when I was washed away. I was rescued while I was hanging to the roof from my house."

In Rikuzentakata, a port city of about 20,000 leveled by the tsunami, Etsuko Koyama escaped the water rushing through the third floor of her home but was unable to hold on to her daughter's hand, she told Japanese broadcaster NHK. The girl was swept away by floodwaters and had still not been found Sunday, Koyama said.

"I haven't given up hope yet," Koyama told NHK, wiping tears from her eyes. "I saved myself, but I couldn't save my daughter."

About 5,000 houses in Rikuzentakata were submerged by the tsunami, and most of the 7,200 houses in Yamada were also submerged, Kyodo reported. In Otsuchi, the tsunami swept away the town office.

A young man told NHK what ran through his mind as tsunami waters rose and he watched his house wash away toward a nearby nursing home. Eventually he, too, was swept away, he said.

"I thought I was dying and I was coasting through the water. I thought of my family, and I decided to make every effort to survive," Tatsuro Ishikawa he said as he sat in striped hospital pajamas after being rescued, his face cut and bruised.

Additional foreign search-and-rescue teams arrived in Japan on Sunday, and 88 governments and six international institutions have offered assistance with recovery efforts, the Japanese Foreign Ministry announced.

Adding to the misery were a series of more than 40 punishing aftershocks, three of magnitude-6 or more Sunday.

The Japan Meteorological Agency said there was a 70 percent probability of a magnitude-7 quake in the next three days.

Officials from Tokyo Electric Power Co. said they would begin rationing power today to the 45 million people they serve to prevent Tokyo and nearby prefectures from experiencing massive blackouts, Kyodo reported.

The power rationing is expected to last until the end of April, Kyodo reported.

Banri Kaieda, Japan's trade minister, warned that the country's quake-damaged eastern and northeastern areas may suffer electrical shortages and urged large companies to limit electricity use, Kyodo reported.

Japanese Prime Minister Naoto Kan told reporters Sunday that his country was facing its most difficult challenge since World War II and called on his people to unite in the face of a devastating earthquake and tsunami and potential nuclear crisis.

"This is the toughest crisis in Japan's 65 years of postwar history," Kan said during a televised news conference. "I'm convinced that we can overcome the crisis."

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