The Japanese port town of Minamisanriku, situated 55 miles from the epicentre of yesterday's earthquake, where almost 10,000 people are still unaccounted for. Naoki Ueda/AP

Japan: 9,500 people missing in single town alone

Local authorities in Minamisanriku – with a population of around 18,000 – says over half of its population is missing.

LOCAL AUTHORITIES in the Japanese prefecture of Miyagi have said that over half of the population of the port town of Minamisanriku is still unaccounted for following the tsunami that hit the town yesterday.

About 9,500 people are unaccounted for in the town, which had a population of just under 18,000.

With figurse yet to be offered from other towns, the current death toll – which the Kyodo news agency suggested is now approaching 1,700 – could surge into five figures as rescue operations begin in the coming days.

Minamisanriku – which was formed in 2005 through the merger of two smaller towns – lay about 55 miles away from the epicentre of the main 8.9-magnitude earthquake that struck at 5:46am Irish time on Friday morning.

Around 1.4 million homes in Japan are still without water, state broadcaster NHK reported.

As authorities try to deal with the aftermath of continual minor tsunamis – which have continued to batter the country as the number of individual quakes striking the waters reaches 250 – attention has turned to the site of the Fukushima I nuclear power plant, where an explosion occurred this morning.

Though the nuclear reactor at the facility was not damaged in the blast – which is thought to have been triggered by a hydrogen build-up – the International Atomic Energy Agency is distributing iodine tablets to residents from nearby areas, in efforts to combat radiation poisoning of the thyroid gland.

The plant’s operator, the Tokyo Electric Power Company (TEPCO), said it would begin to fill the leaking reactor with sea water in attempts to keep it cool, after both the main and backup cooling systems failed as a result of the earthquake and the main resulting tsunami.

NHK TV reported that of the 90 people from within a 10km exclusion zone who had been tested for radiation exposure, three had given positive results.

TEPCO said that four staff had been injured in the blast, but none of them had incurred life-threatening injuries.

No damage to Fukushima nuclear reactor despite explosion, authorities say >

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