Huge search begins for tsunami victims

Japanese troops have launched the biggest search yet for bodies still missing from the March 11 earthquake and tsunami, which has left huge swathes of the country’s coastal communities in ruins.

Over 25,000 Self-Defence Force soldiers, police and coastguard officers began the two-day operation yesterday to find the nearly 12,000 missing victims of the disaster across Japan’s devastated northeast.

The massive search is being joined by the US military, Japanese navy divers, underwater robots and 90 helicopters that will scour the seas off hundreds of miles of coastline, said state broadcaster NHK.

Last month’s tsunami buried thousands of victims under mud or washed them out to sea before depositing them ashore again, in some cases dozens of miles away. Many bodies are unrecognisable after nearly six weeks in saltwater, Defence Ministry spokesman Norikazu Muratani said.

But he told Kyodo News that the search must continue. “We want to recover them and return them to their families.”

Troops and police have confirmed the deaths of 14,300 people but two earlier searches have produced dwindling results.

The last operation located fewer than 100 bodies and the authorities now fear that many victims will never be found: The bodies of nearly a quarter of the 164,000 people who died in the 2004 Indian Ocean tsunami have not been recovered.

“Some families want to see their loved-ones one last time so they can say goodbye,” said Naomi Fujino, who lost her father when the tsunami struck her hometown of Rikuzen-takata. “But I don’t want to see my father. I don’t think I could stand it so it’s better that he is left in peace at sea.”

Police in radiation suits only recently began the search for bodies inside the irradiated area around the stricken Fukushima Daiichi nuclear plant. The authorities yesterday said they were considering a mass cull of thousands of farm animals abandoned by their owners in the 20km evacuation zone.

Thousands of evacuees from the zone were yesterday told they would be allowed a single five-hour visit from next week to check their properties and pick up belongings. They are still waiting to hear if they can take abandoned pets.

Prime Minister Naoto Kan said only one member of each family would be allowed a visit; young children and pensioners are also banned from the zone, which was designated a no-go area last week.

“Since we are dealing with more than 26,000 households, we cannot (finish the

visits) all at once,” he told parliament. “It will take a considerable amount of time.”

Mr Kan is coming in for fierce parliamentary criticism for his government’s handing of the disaster aftermath and nuclear crisis. His ruling Democrats (DPJ) lost in seven out of 10 posts in local mayoral elections held over the weekend. The Democrats also performed poorly in city and prefectural polls two weeks ago - their first electoral test since the disaster.

Mr Kan yesterday defended his performance. “I can say with confidence that there was absolutely no error in our initial response,” he said. But he promised to ‘‘thoroughly review” plans construct at least 14 new reactors by 2030, part of a huge expansion of nuclear power.

Start your day with The Independent, sign up for daily news emails
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
ebooksA celebration of British elections
Arts and Entertainment
Billie Piper as Brona in Penny Dreadful
tvReview: It’s business as usual in Victorian London. Let’s hope that changes as we get further into the new series spoiler alert
Life and Style
A nurse tends to a recovering patient on a general ward at The Queen Elizabeth Hospital in Birmingham
Arts and Entertainment
No Offence
tvReview: No Offence has characters who are larger than life and yet somehow completely true to life at the same time spoiler alert
Chuck Norris pictured in 1996
Arts and Entertainment
Sarah Lucas, I SCREAM DADDIO, Installation View, British Pavilion 2015
artWhy Sarah Lucas is the perfect choice to represent British art at the Venice Biennale
A voter placing a ballot paper in the box at a polling station
Arts and Entertainment
The Queen (Kristin Scott Thomas) in The Audience
theatreReview: Stephen Daldry's direction is crisp in perfectly-timed revival
  • Get to the point
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

SThree: Trainee Recruitment Consultant - Dublin

£13676.46 - £16411.61 per annum + OTE: SThree: SThree Trainee Recruitment Cons...

Ashdown Group: Marketing or Business Graduate Opportunity - Norwich - £22,000

£18000 - £22000 per annum + training: Ashdown Group: Business and Marketing Gr...

SThree: Trainee Recruitment Consultant

£20000 - £25000 per annum + Commission: SThree: Are you great at building rela...

Ashdown Group: Database Analyst - Birmingham - £22,000 plus benefits

£20000 - £22000 per annum + excellent benefits: Ashdown Group: Application Sup...

Day In a Page

General Election 2015: Ed Miliband's unlikely journey from hapless geek to heart-throb

Miliband's unlikely journey from hapless geek to heart-throb

He was meant to be Labour's biggest handicap - but has become almost an asset
General Election 2015: A guide to the smaller parties, from the the National Health Action Party to the Church of the Militant Elvis Party

On the margins

From Militant Elvis to Women's Equality: a guide to the underdogs standing in the election
Amr Darrag: Ex-Muslim Brotherhood minister in exile still believes Egypt's military regime can be replaced with 'moderate' Islamic rule

'This is the battle of young Egypt for the future of our country'

Ex-Muslim Brotherhood minister Amr Darrag still believes the opposition can rid Egypt of its military regime and replace it with 'moderate' Islamic rule, he tells Robert Fisk
Why patients must rely less on doctors: Improving our own health is the 'blockbuster drug of the century'

Why patients must rely less on doctors

Improving our own health is the 'blockbuster drug of the century'
Sarah Lucas is the perfect artist to represent Britain at the Venice Biennale

Flesh in Venice

Sarah Lucas has filled the British pavilion at the Venice Biennale with slinky cats and casts of her female friends' private parts. It makes you proud to be a woman, says Karen Wright
11 best anti-ageing day creams

11 best anti-ageing day creams

Slow down the ageing process with one of these high-performance, hardworking anti-agers
Juventus 2 Real Madrid 1: Five things we learnt, including Iker Casillas is past it and Carlos Tevez remains effective

Juventus vs Real Madrid

Five things we learnt from the Italian's Champions League first leg win over the Spanish giants
Ashes 2015: Test series looks a lost cause for England... whoever takes over as ECB director of cricket

Ashes series looks a lost cause for England...

Whoever takes over as ECB director of cricket, says Stephen Brenkley
Fishing for votes with Nigel Farage: The Ukip leader shows how he can work an audience as he casts his line to the disaffected of Grimsby

Fishing is on Nigel Farage's mind

Ukip leader casts a line to the disaffected
Who is bombing whom in the Middle East? It's amazing they don't all hit each other

Who is bombing whom in the Middle East?

Robert Fisk untangles the countries and factions
China's influence on fashion: At the top of the game both creatively and commercially

China's influence on fashion

At the top of the game both creatively and commercially
Lord O’Donnell: Former cabinet secretary on the election and life away from the levers of power

The man known as GOD has a reputation for getting the job done

Lord O'Donnell's three principles of rule
Rainbow shades: It's all bright on the night

Rainbow shades

It's all bright on the night
'It was first time I had ever tasted chocolate. I kept a piece, and when Amsterdam was liberated, I gave it to the first Allied soldier I saw'

Bread from heaven

Dutch survivors thank RAF for World War II drop that saved millions
Britain will be 'run for the wealthy and powerful' if Tories retain power - Labour

How 'the Axe' helped Labour

UK will be 'run for the wealthy and powerful' if Tories retain power