The combined number of people who died or are unaccounted for in Friday’s catastrophic earthquake in Japan topped 1,200 Saturday, according to a police tally.
The death toll reached 398, with the number likely to rise to well over 1,000 as some areas suffered devastating damage due mainly to tsunami of up to 10 meters.
Meanwhile, 805 people are missing following the 2:46 p.m. quake with a magnitude of 8.8, the strongest ever recorded in Japan.
Chief Cabinet Secretary Yukio Edano on Saturday expressed the government’s determination to bring relief to the disaster-hit areas, telling a meeting of the emergency disaster headquarters Saturday, ‘‘This is the largest earthquake since the Meiji Era, and it is believed that more than 1,000 people have lost their lives.’‘
In Fukushima Prefecture, radiation could have been released at Tokyo Electric Power Co.‘s Fukushima No. 1 nuclear plant, the first leak of radioactive material into the outside air if confirmed, with radiation at more than eight times the usual level being detected at a monitoring post at the plant.
The amount of radiation reached around 1,000 times the normal level in the control room of the No. 1 reactor of the Fukushima No. 1 plant, the Nuclear and Industrial Safety Agency said.
The agency said it issued an unprecedented order for the electricity firm to open a valve at the plant to release pressure in the container housing the reactor following the powerful earthquake.
The local government, acting on orders from Prime Minister Naoto Kan, instructed about 3,000 residents living within a 10-kilometer radius of the No. 1 nuclear plant and within a 3-kilometer radius of the No. 2 plant to evacuate.
The number of partially or completely destroyed buildings has now reached some 3,400, and that of fires that hit quake-affected areas totals around 200, according to the Fire and Disaster Management Agency. Meanwhile, the welfare ministry said 181 welfare facilities, including nursing homes, have been damaged.
In Iwate Prefecture, the coastal city of Rikuzentakata was virtually destroyed by a tsunami wave, with almost all of the city submerged, the agency and local police said. The coastal area of Miyako City and almost all part of town of Yamada also submerged.
Around 200 to 300 bodies were found in Sendai’s Wakabayashi Ward, but police forces cannot reach them as they are in the flooded area, the Miyagi prefectural police said.
Around 1,800 houses in Fukushima Prefecture were found to have been destroyed, according to the NPA.
As rescue officials have not been able to access the tsunami-hit areas as tsunami warnings are still in effect, the overall picture of the destruction remains unclear.
A municipal official of the town of Futaba, Fukushima, said, ‘‘More than 90 percent of the houses in three coastal communities have been washed away by tsunami. Looking from the fourth floor of the town hall, I see no houses standing.’‘
Kan inspected the quake-hit Fukushima nuclear plant, where a reactor could not be cooled down, by helicopter on Saturday morning and to visit the nuclear plant, where a reactor could not be cooled down, and told an executive of Tokyo Electric Power, ‘‘I hope measures (to support the neighboring residents) will be taken at an early stage.’‘
In the quake-hit areas, around 5.57 million households had lost power as of Saturday morning, while more than 1 million households had had their water supply cut off.
Kan said the government has decided to dispatch 50,000 Self-Defense Forces officers to the quake-areas for rescue operations.
On Saturday morning, meanwhile, several strong quakes, one with a magnitude of 6.7 at 3:59 a.m., rocked an inland area on the Sea of Japan coast northwest of Tokyo, hitting Nagano and Niigata prefectures.
Saturday’s first predawn quake, which originated at a depth of 10 km in Niigata’s Chuetsu region, measured upper-6 on the Japanese seismic intensity scale in Nagano Prefecture, the Japan Meteorological Agency said.
The agency said it couldn’t rule out the possibility that the latest quake was triggered by Friday’s quake.
Four trains running in a coastal area of Miyagi and Iwate prefectures remained unaccounted for after tsunami triggered by Friday’s earthquake hit the area, the train operator said Saturday.
It is not known how many people were aboard the trains that were running on East Japan Railway Co.‘s Ofunato, Senseki and Kesennuma lines on the Pacific coast when the magnitude 8.8 quake hit northern Japan.
The company said earlier that another train on the Senseki Line was found derailed near Nobiru Station after the quake. On Saturday, the Miyagi prefectural police rescued nine passengers from the train by helicopter
JR East said, meanwhile, it expects to continue the suspension of bullet train services on the Tohoku, Yamagata and Akita Shinkansen Lines through Saturday, while resuming train operations in the Tokyo metropolitan area.
Nine expressways were closed as of Saturday, while at least 312 domestic flights were cancelled.
The quake measured the highest level of 7 on the Japanese seismic intensity scale in northern Miyagi, upper-6 in the rest of Miyagi and part of Fukushima, Ibaraki and Tochigi prefectures, lower-6 in part of Iwate, Fukushima, Gunma, Saitama and Chiba prefectures, and upper-5 in a wider area including central Tokyo, and part of Kanagawa and Yamanashi prefectures.
The Tokyo police said more than 120,000 people in the capital were unable to return home Friday evening due to the suspension of train operations and because of traffic jams.