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Japan to launch massive search for quake and tsunami bodies

Nearly 25,000 soldiers along with boats and aircraft will head into the disaster zone on Monday aiming to recover many of the bodies of those still classed as missing but presumed dead.

A devastated area of Kesennuma port in Kesennuma, Miyagi Prefecture in northeastern Japan earlier today.
A devastated area of Kesennuma port in Kesennuma, Miyagi Prefecture in northeastern Japan earlier today.
Image: Hiro Komae/AP/Press Association Images

JAPAN WILL SEND nearly 25,000 soldiers backed by boats and aircraft into its disaster zone on Monday on an intensive land-and-sea mission to recover the bodies of those killed by last month’s earthquake and tsunami.

Agriculture officials also plan to send a team of veterinarians into the evacuation zone around a stricken nuclear plant to check on hundreds of thousands of abandoned cows, pigs and chickens, many of which are believed to have died of starvation and neglect.

The government is considering euthanising some of the dying animals, officials said.

About 14,300 people have been confirmed dead so far in the catastrophic March 11 tsunami and earthquake.

Another 12,000 remain missing and are presumed killed. Some of their bodies were likely swept out to sea, while others were buried under the mass of rubble.

Cleanup crews have discovered some remains as they gingerly removed rotting debris to clear the area for rebuilding. But the two-day military search operation will be far more extensive, Defense Ministry spokesman Ippo Maeyama said:

We will do our utmost to recover bodies for bereaved families.

The operation will be the third intensive military search for bodies since the disaster last month. With the waters receding, Maeyama hopes the teams will have more success.

The search was complicated by the decomposition of some of the corpses, he said. Some had already turned into skeletons, the spokesman added:

You have to be very careful in touching the bodies because they quickly disintegrate. We cannot tell the bodies’ gender anymore, let alone their age

Meanwhile, the government in the Fukushima prefecture will send a team of six veterinarians into the 12-mile (20-kilometer) evacuation zone around the radiation-leaking Fukushima Dai-ichi nuclear power plant to survey the livestock there.

Farmers in the area were estimated to have left 3,000 cows, 130,000 pigs and 680,000 chickens behind when they hurriedly fled the area last month when the nuclear crisis started.

With no time for burials, veterinarians who find dead livestock will spray lime over them to prevent them from spreading disease, agricultural officials said.

The government is also considering euthanising dying animals, but only after getting permission from their owners, said Yutaka Kashimura, an agricultural official in Fukushima.

“Killing animals is the very last resort,” he said.

- AP

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