Number of dead and missing in Japan surpasses 21,000

People ride bicycles amidst debris of buildings wrecked by last week's earthquake and tsunami in Natori City, Miyagi Prefecture, northeastern Japan, March 20, 2011. Credit: Reuters/Yegor Trubnikov

TOKYO (BNO NEWS) — The number of dead and missing as a result of a catastrophic earthquake and tsunami that struck Japan on March 11 has increased to over 21,000, officials said on Monday.

As of Monday evening, Japan’s National Police Agency said a total of 21,459 people were either confirmed dead or reported missing, while around 320,000 people have been evacuated – including those by the nuclear reactor crisis. They are staying at the roughly 2,100 shelters that have been set up, Japan’s Kyodo news agency reported.

Miyagi Governor Yoshihiro Murai said authorities have asked relief workers to prioritize the rescue of affected people, assisting those who are living in the shelters

Meanwhile, Japan’s Ministry of Health, Labor and Welfare said that around 5,900 caregivers were to be dispatched to affected areas, helping address a shortage of staff looking after the elderly.

In parts of Sendai, search and rescue operations are still being carried out with trained dogs. Also, around 14,000 evacuees in 140 locations in the area have been unable to eat frozen foods due to the lack of electricity needed to prepare them.

On Monday, work to connect power cables to the No. 3 and No. 4 reactors at the Fukushima plant was halted, after smoke rose from the buildings housing the No. 2 and No. 3 reactors, plant operator Tokyo Electric Power Co. (TEPCO) said.

TEPCO workers were also briefly evacuated after grayish and blackish smoke was seen at the southeast of the No. 3 reactor building at around 3:55 p.m. local time above a pool storing spent nuclear fuel rods, though a blast was not heard. The smoke stopped after 6 p.m., but TEPCO subsequently found that white smoke was rising through a crack in the roof of the building housing the No. 2 reactor at around 6:20 p.m.

The utility said later the smoke is believed to be steam, not from the reactor’s fuel pool. The Tokyo Fire Department stopped spraying water for the day after the smoke rose from the No. 3 reactor building. It will suspend the operation until safety at the site is confirmed.

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