Japan earthquake: tens of thousands missing as full devastation emerges
Tens of thousands were unaccounted for and whole towns wiped off the map as the full horror of Japan’s “super-earthquake” began to emerge on Saturday.
By Robert Mendick in London and Julian Ryall in Iwaki
12 Mar 2011
Fears were compounded by a massive explosion on Saturday morning at a nuclear reactor, 160 miles north-east of Tokyo. Seawater was being pumped into the Fukushima Daiichi nuclear power plant in an attempt to cool the radioactive core, while 90,000 people were evacuated from within a 12-mile radius.
Local authorities reported that almost 10,000 people – out of a population of 17,000 – were missing from the fishing port of Minamisanriku, which was engulfed by huge waves that swept inland for six miles. The earthquake was so powerful that Italy’s National Institute of Geophysics and Volcanology said the Earth’s axis shifted 9.8in [25cm]. The US Geological Survey said the main island of Japan had moved 7.8ft [2.4m].
David Warren, the UK’s ambassador to Japan, said hundreds of Britons were still unaccounted for but officials were frantically trying “to make contact with British people who may have been caught up in this terrible event”.
Aerial photographs showed that Minamisanriku had been destroyed by Friday’s tsunami, its flattened houses covered in a thick layer of mud and debris.
Other towns along the north-east coast of Honshu island, including the city of Sendai, which has a population of more than one million, bore testament to the devastating power of the 8.9-magnitude earthquake and the resulting tsunami.