Hundreds of bodies wash ashore in northeastern Japan after earthquake and tsunami
Monday, March 14, 2011; 4:04 PM
TAGAJO, Japan - There are just too many bodies.
Hundreds of dead have washed ashore on Japan's devastated northeast coast since last week's earthquake and tsunami. Others were dug out of the debris Monday by firefighters using pickaxes and chain saws.
Funeral homes and crematoriums are overwhelmed, and officials have run out of body bags and coffins.
Compounding the disaster, water levels dropped precipitously inside a Japanese nuclear reactor, twice leaving the uranium fuel rods completely exposed and raising the threat of a meltdown, hours after a hydrogen explosion tore through the building housing a different reactor.
On the economic front, Japan's stock market plunged over the likelihood of huge losses by Japanese industries including big names such as Toyota and Honda.
While the official death toll rose to nearly 1,900, the discovery of the washed-up bodies and other reports of deaths suggest the true number is much higher. In Miyagi, the police chief has estimated 10,000 deaths in his province alone.
Miyagi prefecture bore the full force of Friday's tsunami, and police said 1,000 bodies were found scattered across its coast. The Kyodo news agency reported that 2,000 bodies washed up on two shorelines in Miyagi.
Most Japanese opt to cremate their dead, and with so many bodies, the government on Monday waived a rule requiring permission first from local authorities before cremation or burial to speed up funerals, said Health Ministry official Yukio Okuda.
"The current situation is so extraordinary, and it is very likely that crematoriums are running beyond capacity," said Okuda. "This is an emergency measure. We want to help quake-hit people as much as we can."
The town of Soma has only one crematorium that can handle 18 bodies a day, said an official, Katsuhiko Abe.
"We are overwhelmed and are asking other cites to help us deal with bodies," Abe told The Associated Press.
Millions of people spent a fourth night with little food, water or heating in near-freezing temperatures as they dealt with the loss of homes and loved ones. Asia's richest country hasn't seen such hardship since World War II.