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Japanese citizens hand in £50m found washed up by tsunami

Tens of thousands of citizens may have lost their homes, livelihoods, and loved ones in the Japanese earthquake and tsunami, but their public spirit appears undiminished, with news yesterday that good Samaritans have handed in millions of pounds found in safes and wallets amid the devastation.

Thousands of safes have washed up in the shattered coastal landscapes in Iwate, Miyagi and Fukushima prefectures in the five months since the disasters struck, a national police report said, while millions of pounds in cash were also found by Japanese citizens in bags, wallets and purses and handed in to authorities. Police used other documents found in the wallets and safes to trace the owners, and 96 percent of the recovered money - which reports suggest could be as much as £50m - has now been returned.

"The fact that these safes were washed away meant the homes were washed away too," Koetsu Saiki of the Miyagi police was quoted as saying by ABC News. "We had to first determine if the owners were alive, then find where they had evacuated to." He said the soiled banknotes were not the only items found in the safes: police were also striving to return gold bars, antiques and other treasured keepsakes to the families.

Around 20,000 people died in the 11 March earthquake and tsunami, which also flattened hundreds of thousands of homes as the wall of water roared inland. The police effort to pair the lost money with survivors is a rare piece of positive news for the state, with the government facing harsh criticism over its handling of Japan's worst crisis since the end of the Second World War.