Japanese, U.S. military search for tsunami victimsPosted: Updated:
Japanese and U.S. military ships and helicopterstrolled Japan's tsunami-ravaged coastline looking for bodiesFriday, part of an all-out search that could be the last chance tofind those swept out to sea nearly three weeks ago. More than 16,000 are still missing after the disaster, whichofficials fear may have killed some 25,000 people. The9.0-earthquake and tsunami also ravaged a nuclear plant thatcontinues to leak radiation despite frantic efforts to control it. Japan's Prime Minister Naoto Kan sounded a resolute note Friday,promising to win the battle against the overheating plant even asatomic safety officials raised questions about the accuracy ofradiation measurements there. Residents have been evacuated fromaround the plant. On the outskirts of Sendai, near the Japanese military'sKasuminome air base, a constant stream of helicopters roaredoverhead throughout the afternoon, shuttling to and from the moreremote coastal regions. Planes and boats were dispatched from otherbases near the city. Altogether, 25,000 soldiers, 120 helicopters, and 65 ships willcontinue searching through Sunday. If U.S. forces spot bodies, theywill point them out to the Japanese military rather than trying toretrieve them. So far, more than 11,700 deaths have been confirmed. "Unfortunately we've come across remains over the scope of ourmission, so it may be more likely than you think," to find bodiesat sea so long after the disaster, said U.S. Navy Lt. AnthonyFalvo. Some may have sunk and just now be resurfacing. Others may neverbe found. After the 2004 Indian Ocean tsunami, 37,000 of the164,000 people who died in Indonesia simply disappeared, theirbodies presumably washed out to sea. The Japanese military stopped short of saying the search wouldend for good after Sunday, but public affairs official YoshiyukiKotake said activities will be limited. The search includes placesthat were submerged or remain underwater, along with the mouths ofmajor rivers and the ocean as far as 12 miles fromshore. Police officers have also been searching for bodies in decimatedtowns inland, but in some cases their efforts have been complicatedor even stymied by dangerous levels of radiation from the FukushimaDai-ichi nuclear plant 140 miles northeast ofTokyo. People who live within 12 miles have been forcedto leave, though residents are growing increasingly frustrated andhave been sneaking back to check on their homes. Governmentofficials warned Friday that there are no plans to lift theevacuation order anytime soon. Radiation concerns have rattled the Japanese public, alreadystruggling to return to normal life after the earthquake-bornetsunami pulverized hundreds of miles of thenortheastern coast. Three weeks after the disaster in one of themost connected countries in the world, 260,000 households still donot have running water and 170,000 do not have electricity. Officials at the International Atomic Energy Agency in Viennatold reporters on Friday that the U.N. nuclear watchdog was sendingtwo reactor specialists to Japan to get firsthand information. Theywill meet experts in Tokyo and may go to the Fukushima site. In a positive turn, an IAEA official also said Friday thatradiation levels at one village outside the exclusion zone wereimproving.