While Japanese officials continue to grapple with the threat of a major nuclear meltdown (which looks a little less likely than it did a few hours ago), the rescue effort has been continuing in the northeast of the country following the magnitude 8.9 earthquake that hit Friday.
Speaking at a meeting of the emergency disaster headquarters Saturday, Chief Cabinet Secretary Yukio Edano said that at least 1,000 people likely had lost their lives, although with reports coming through that as many as 9,500 people were still missing in Minamisanriku in Miyagi Prefecture (about half the town’s population), this figure may end up looking conservative.
As many as 50,000 troops from Japan’s Self-Defence Forces have been dispatched to assist with rescue efforts, which could be further hampered by the ongoing aftershocks. Estimates vary on how many there have been, but their frequency and intensity (the strongest so far has been magnitude 6.7, and they’ve been regularly rattling us here in Tokyo) pose a threat to buildings made unstable by the initial quake.
About 5 million people across the country were estimated earlier this evening to be without power, and with a number of nuclear reactors shut down, Tokyo and other areas are preparing for possible phased blackouts to ease electricity demand from early Monday.
The Japan Times reported Saturday:
‘Fires in residential areas continued, with Kesennuma in Miyagi Prefecture suffering three large-scale fires.
‘The number of partially or completely destroyed buildings has now reached some 3,400, with the number of fires that hit quake-affected areas totalling about 200, according to the Fire and Disaster Management Agency. Meanwhile, the welfare ministry said 181 welfare facilities, including nursing homes, have been damaged.’
The Diplomat’s Tokyo Notes bloggers David McNeill and Andy Sharp are heading to the affected area and, communications permitting, will be giving us an update on the ground about how things look. The roads have been jammed with people trying to get in and out of the Sendai area, but we hope to have some coverage from them Sunday.