Officials try to grasp scale of disaster in Japan

March 12, 2011

IWAKI, Japan (AP) -- The confirmed death toll from the earthquake and tsunami that devastated northeastern Japan yesterday stands at
686, but the government says it could be far higher.

The destruction stretches hundreds of miles along the coast, where thousands of hungry survivors have been huddling in darkened emergency centers cut off from rescuers and aid.

While the full scale of disaster is not yet known, a top government official says reported cases alone suggest that more than 1,000 were killed.

One report says four trains disappeared yesterday and still have not been located. Another says 9,500 people in one coastal town are unaccounted for and that at least 200 bodies had washed ashore elsewhere.

An official in one of the worst-hit states (Miyagi prefecture) says it's impossible to confirm any of those figures because so many people have been cut off.

The tsunami swept inland as far as six miles in some areas, swallowing boats, homes, cars and trees and scattering debris everywhere. The transport ministry says all highways from Tokyo leading to quake-hit areas are closed, except for emergency vehicles.

(Copyright 2011 by The Associated Press. All Rights Reserved.)

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