RIKUZENTAKATA, Japan – Japan’s prime minister promised to support the hundreds of thousands of people who lost everything in a massive tsunami, as he laid eyes today for the first time on the destruction of the country’s northeastern coast.
More than 16,000 people are still missing after the disaster, which officials fear may have killed some 25,000 people. The magnitude-9.0 earthquake and ensuing tsunami also ravaged a nuclear power plant.
Prime Minister Naoto Kan went to the Fukushima Dai-ichi complex immediately after the wave knocked out cooling systems, leaving workers unable to control overheating nuclear reactors and allowing radiation to seep out.
But today marked his first visit to some of the dozens of villages, towns and cities wiped out in the March 11 disaster. Dressed in the blue work clothes that have become almost a uniform for officials, Kan stopped first in Rikuzentakata – a town of about 20,000 people that was flattened by the torrent of water.
The town hall still stands, but all its windows are blown out and a tangle of metal and other debris is piled in front of it. The prime minister paused in front of the building and bowed his head for a minute of silence.
He later visited an elementary school, which, like scores of schools and sports centers up and down the coast, is serving as an evacuation center.
“The government fully supports you until the end,” Kan told the 250 evacuees.
Helicopters, planes and boats carrying U.S. and Japanese troops resumed a massive search of the entire coast today. Altogether, 25,000 troops, 120 helicopters and 65 ships will search through Sunday in what may be one of the last such operations. So far, more than 11,700 deaths have been confirmed.