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SENDAI, March 13, Kyodo
Japan continued to grapple Sunday with widespread damage from its biggest recorded earthquake and massive tsunami that hit northeastern and eastern regions two days ago, with the number of reported victims topping 2,000 and a crisis escalating at two nuclear plants.
The magnitude for the devastating quake was revised upward the same day from 8.8 to 9.0, one of the largest recorded in the world, the Japan Meteorological Agency said.
The number of people who had died or remained unaccounted for exceeded 2,000, police said, while the official death toll neared 800. In Fukushima Prefecture alone, 1,167 were unaccounted for and well over 600 corpses had been found in both Fukushima and Miyazaki prefectures on the Pacific coast.
Local governments have been unable to contact tens of thousands of people, and at least 20,820 buildings have been fully or partially damaged in quake-hit areas, according to local officials and a tally by the national governments.
Tokyo Electric Power Co. notified the government's nuclear safety agency that the radiation level at the Fukushima No. 1 nuclear power plant exceeded the legal limit, after reporting earlier in the day that the sixth reactor at its two Fukushima plants had lost its cooling functions.
At the Fukushima No. 1 plant, one of the reactors partially melted Saturday and operations to fill the reactor with sea water for emergency cooling continued Sunday to prevent an occurrence of criticality, but at least 22 people are known to have been exposed to radiation near the plant.
Prime Minister Naoto Kan issued an instruction to double the number of Self-Defense Forces personnel sent to quake-hit areas to 100,000, one of the largest ever for an SDF operation, Defense Minister Toshimi Kitazawa said.
''I ask for utmost efforts to save the lives of as many people as possible,'' Kan said at a morning meeting of the government's emergency disaster headquarters. ''We will put all-out efforts into rescuing people who have been isolated.''
In Miyagi, about 200 dead bodies were newly found in the city of Higashimatsushima, the National Police Agency said.
About 4,400 people remained isolated as of Saturday night in schools, hospitals and inns in the tsunami-swamped town of Onagawa and neighboring Ishinomaki city, as well as at the Onagawa nuclear plant where they had been evacuated to, Miyagi officials said.
In Minamisanriku, about 10,000 people, over half the town's population, remain unaccounted for.
In Iwate Prefecture, north of Miyagi, many corpses were found Sunday morning under the rubble in Rikuzentakata. About 5,000 houses in the city had been submerged by the quake-triggered tsunami, and the city office has confirmed that only 5,900 of its population of about 23,000 had taken shelter.
The prefectural government said it was still unable to contact 1,167 residents, including 918 in the town of Namiem, boosting the tally of those unaccounted for in its latest data.
It also has been unable to communicate with the mayor and officials in Otsuchi after the town office was swept away by a tsunami while the mayor and town officials were apparently inside the building. A nursing home accommodating 30 elderly people was also washed away in Ofunato city.
Helicopters from the Maritime Self-Defense Force sent to check the extent of damage spotted wood fires at seven places in Miyako city early Sunday, the Defense Agency said.
Communication failures also were found to have extended further. Nippon Telegraph and Telephone East Corp. said 475,400 fiber-optic services were disconnected as of 6 a.m., up 76,500 from 8 p.m. Saturday, in addition to 879,500 subscribed phone lines that remain out of service in areas centering on Iwate and Miyagi.
The government adopted a decree late Saturday designating the quake a serious disaster eligible for increased state subsidies for reconstruction.
A total of 69 governments from abroad and 5 international institutions had offered assistance to Japan as of 9 a.m., the Foreign Ministry said.