Estimated 10K dead in Japan amid fears of nuclear meltdowns

(AP) - The estimated death toll from Japan'sdisasters climbed past 10,000 Sunday as authorities raced to combatthe threat of multiple nuclear reactor meltdowns and hundreds

SENDAI, Japan - (AP) - The estimated death toll from Japan'sdisasters climbed past 10,000 Sunday as authorities raced to combatthe threat of multiple nuclear reactor meltdowns and hundreds ofthousands of people struggled to find food and water. The primeminister said it was the nation's worst crisis since World War II.

Nuclear plant operators worked frantically to try to keeptemperatures down in several reactors crippled by the earthquakeand tsunami, wrecking at least two by dumping sea water into themin last-ditch efforts to avoid meltdowns. Officials warned of asecond explosion but said it would not pose a health threat.

Near-freezing temperatures compounded the misery of survivorsalong hundreds of miles of the northeastern coastbattered by the tsunami that smashed inland with breathtaking fury.Rescuers pulled bodies from mud-covered jumbles of wrecked houses,shattered tree trunks, twisted cars and tangled power lines whilesurvivors examined the ruined remains.

One rare bit of good news was the rescue of a 60-year-old manswept away by the tsunami who clung to the roof of his house fortwo days until a military vessel spotted him waving a red clothabout 10 miles offshore.

The death toll surged because of a report from Miyagi, one ofthe three hardest hit states. The police chief told disaster reliefofficials more than 10,000 people were killed, police spokesman GoSugawara told The Associated Press. That was an estimate - only 400people have been confirmed dead in Miyagi, which has a populationof 2.3 million.

According to officials, more than 1,800 people were confirmeddead - including 200 people whose bodies were found Sunday alongthe coast - and more than 1,400 were missing in Friday's disasters.Another 1,900 were injured.

For Japan, one of the world's leading economies with ultramoderninfrastructure, the disasters plunged ordinary life into nearlyunimaginable deprivation.

Hundreds of thousands of hungry survivors huddled in darkenedemergency centers that were cut off from rescuers, aid andelectricity. At least 1.4 million households had gone without watersince the quake struck and some 1.9 million households were withoutelectricity.

While the government doubled the number of soldiers deployed inthe aid effort to 100,000 and sent 120,000 blankets, 120,000bottles of water and 29,000 gallons of gasolineplus food to the affected areas, Prime Minister Naoto Kan saidelectricity would take days to restore. In the meantime, he said,electricity would be rationed with rolling blackouts to severalcities, including Tokyo.

"This is Japan's most severe crisis since the war ended 65years ago," Kan told reporters, adding that Japan's future wouldbe decided by its response.

In Rikuzentakata, a port city of over 20,000 virtually wiped outby the tsunami, Etsuko Koyama escaped the water rushing through thethird floor of her home but lost her grip on her daughter's handand has not found her.

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

A young man described what ran through his mind before heescaped in a separate rescue. "I thought to myself, ah, this ishow I will die," Tatsuro Ishikawa, his face bruised and cut, toldNHK as he sat in striped hospital pajamas.

Japanese officials raised their estimate Sunday of the quake'smagnitude to 9.0, a notch above the U.S. Geological Survey'sreading of 8.9. Either way, it was the strongest quake everrecorded in Japan, which lies on a seismically active arc. Avolcano on the southern island of Kyushu - hundreds of miles(kilometers) from the quake' epicenter - also resumed spewing ashand rock Sunday after a couple of quiet weeks, Japan's weatheragency said.

Dozens of countries have offered assistance. Two U.S. aircraftcarrier groups were off Japan's coast and ready to help.Helicopters were flying from one of the carriers, the USS RonaldReagan, delivering food and water in Miyagi.

Two other U.S. rescue teams of 72 personnel each and rescue dogsarrived Sunday, as did a five-dog team from Singapore.

LI Continuing Coverage: Japan quake and aftereffects

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