Japan: 2000 bodies washed ashore

About 2000 bodies have been found on the shores of Japan's Miyagi prefecture, victims of the huge earthquake and tsunami that have shattered northern Japan.

And efforts to stave off a nuclear meltdown at a stricken power plant were yesterday dealt a blow when a second reactor explosion injured 11 workers.

Last night, a third explosion seemed likely as another reactor at Fukushima began to fail.

And the earthquake-tsunami-nuclear disaster intensified, with predictions that the death toll would exceed 20,000.

The Kyodo news agency reported that 1000 bodies had been found on the shores of Ojika Peninsula in Miyagi, and another 1000 in the town of Minamisanriku, which was obliterated by the tsunami.

A further 9500 people are missing from there and 17,000 are missing from the town of Rikuzentakata.

The Japanese Government was last night adamant that the nuclear fuel rods in Fukushima's three reactors were intact and that only small amounts of radioactive contamination had leaked out.

But survivors within a 20km radius were warned to stay inside after the hydrogen explosion at the Fukushima Daiichi plant Unit 3, which authorities are trying to cool following Japan's magnitude-9 earthquake and devastating tsunami.

The blast yesterday was felt 40km away and follows a similar explosion on Saturday in the station's Unit 1 reactor, which injured four workers.

The operator of the quake-stricken nuclear power plant in northeastern Japan said last night its third reactor had also lost its cooling capacity, which could lead to overheating and an explosion similar to the other two blasts.

Tokyo Electric Power official Takako Kitajima said plant workers were preparing to inject seawater into Unit 2 to cool its reactor.

Chief Cabinet Secretary Yukio Edano said four army personnel and seven nuclear power plant workers were hurt in the Unit 3 blast. One was seriously injured, but the four military staff were only slightly hurt.

More than 180,000 people have been evacuated from the area, and up to 160 may have been exposed to radiation.

Last night, the United States started moving its ships and aircraft further from the plant after the crew of the aircraft carrier USS Ronald Reagan, on a humanitarian mission to Japan, were reportedly exposed to a month's worth of radiation in about an hour.

When Unit 3 exploded, sirens were wailing as rescue workers evacuated people in the city to higher ground after a tsunami warning that turned out to be a false alarm.

Last night, a 52-person Urban Search and Rescue team from New Zealand arrived in Japan to join in the disaster operation.

Foreign Minister Murray McCully said there was growing concern for New Zealanders who were in areas where the massive waves had washed away entire villages.

"Those are the ones we are giving priority to try to isolate," he said.

No Kiwis had been reported dead or injured last night. The Ministry of Foreign Affairs says 850 New Zealanders in Japan have registered with it, but it is believed about 6500 were there when the quake hit.

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

Among the wreckage there were some miracles. One woman was pulled alive from her car after being buried for more than 20 hours and a family and their 4-month-old baby were found alive on the second floor of their house in Ishinomaki.

Millions of people spent a third near-freezing night without water, food or heating along the devastated northeastern coast.

Japan's Government has sent 100,000 troops to head the aid effort. It has sent 120,000 blankets, 120,000 bottles of water, 110,000 litres of petrol and food to the affected areas.

At least 1.4 million households have been without water since the quake struck and 1.9 million households are without electricity.

"People are surviving on little food and water. Things are simply not coming," said Hajime Sato, a government official in Iwate prefecture.

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

He said local authorities were also running out of body bags and coffins.

"We have requested funeral homes across the nation to send us many body bags and coffins. But we simply don't have enough. We just did not expect such a thing to happen. It's just overwhelming."

The pulverised coast has been hit by more than 150 aftershocks since Friday, the latest one a 6.2-magnitude quake that prompted yesterday's false tsunami scare.

Atsushi Shishito sat in a daze on the concrete foundation of his washed-away home. The 30-year-old carried his grandmother to higher ground to escape the tsunami. "All my other relatives are all dead, washed away."

- AP, NZPA, STAFF REPORTERS

- NZ Herald

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