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Japan residents urged to stay indoors amid radiation crisis

March 14, 2011 12:00:00 AM PDT
Rescue crews on Tuesday continued to search the rubble for survivors in Japan's devastated coastal towns in the aftermath of the magnitude-9.0 earthquake and 23-foot tsunami that struck Friday.

A police official in Japan said 1,000 bodies were found scattered in the coastal areas of Miyagi prefecture. The discovery raised the official death toll of the two disasters to about 2,800, but officials in Miyagi, one of the worst-hit areas, estimated the toll there alone could eventually top 10,000.

Officials estimate 24,000 people are stranded, but with many roads destroyed, authorities are having a hard time reaching the victims.

The Japanese army was going from house to house by boat to rescue the stranded. Many sat on their rooftops waiting to be rescued.

The government faces the grim reality of asking other countries to help supply coffins and body bags. Japan's crematoriums are overwhelmed already.

The U.S. Geological Survey upgraded the magnitude of Friday's deadly earthquake in Japan to 9.0 Monday.

The move comes after Japan's Meteorological Agency did the same. It's not unusual for scientists to tweak the magnitude of a giant quake after some number-crunching.

U.S. government scientists originally put the Japan quake at 8.9. The change to 9.0 means that the quake was about 1.5 times stronger than initially thought.

The Japan quake is now the fourth largest in the world since 1900 behind the 2004 magnitude-9.1 Sumatra quake.

Millions of people along the northeastern coast went for a fourth day without water, food or heating in near-freezing temperatures.

The quake, the largest to hit Japan since record-keeping began in the late 1800s and one of the biggest ever recorded in the world, struck at 2:46 p.m. about 80 miles off the eastern coast.

More than 150 aftershocks have struck the devastated coast since Friday. The latest one was a 6.2-magnitude quake that was followed by a new tsunami scare Monday. Residents were warned to get to higher ground, but it turned out to be a false alarm. A government spokesman said there was no oncoming tsunami detected.

The Japanese government has sent 100,000 troops to spearhead the aid effort and sent 120,000 blankets, 120,000 bottles of water and 29,000 gallons of gasoline plus food to the affected areas. But officials said electricity would take days to restore.

More than 300,000 people are living in emergency shelters or staying with relatives.

ABC7's David Ono caught up with a SoCal Edison official who happened to be in Tokyo about how Japan is coping with the widespread loss of electricity.

"People are curtailing their energy use, just to the essentials, and you can see that people, not only the business community, but also the people who live here, are voluntarily taking actions to reduce their consumption," said Erwin Furukawa of Southern California Edison.

Damage to at least three nuclear reactors at the Fukushima Dai-ichi power plant is contributing to the loss of power. One by one, each reactor has lost the ability to cool down.

Japan's nuclear officials say an explosion Tuesday at an already stricken nuclear energy complex in the country's northeast may have damaged the container and caused a radiation leak.

That would be the third explosion in four days. A second hydrogen explosion rocked the nuclear plant on Monday, sending a massive column of smoke into the air and wounding 11 workers.

The devastation continued Tuesday. A fourth reactor caught fire and and leaked radiation. Japan's nuclear safety agency said the fire at the No. 4 reactor was extinguished shortly after 8 p.m. PT.

Hours later, the U.S. said it had shifted its offshore forces away from the plant after detecting low-level radioactive contamination.

More than 180,000 people were forced out of their homes along the northeastern coast where fears spread over possible radioactive contamination.

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The Associated Press contributed to this report.