TOKYO – The death toll from Japan’s devastating earthquake and tsunami jumped past the 10,000 mark today, police said two weeks after the magnitude-9 quake struck off the northeastern coast and unleashed a cascade of disasters.
Hundreds of thousands of survivors are still camped out in temporary shelters. Some 660,000 households do not have water; more than 209,000 do not have electricity. Damage could rise as high as $310 billion, the government said, making it the most costly natural disaster on record.
The total death toll from the disaster could rise much higher as the National Police Agency said more than 17,400 people are still missing. Those tallies may overlap, but police from one of the hardest-hit prefectures, Miyagi, estimate that the deaths will top 15,000 in that region alone.
Japan has been grappling with an avalanche of miseries that began with the March 11 quake, which ravaged the northeastern coast and damaged the critical cooling system at the Fukushima Dai-ichi nuclear power plant, 140 miles northeast of Tokyo.
As operators of the Fukushima plant struggled to get the cooling system operating again, radiation has seeped into the air and water, stoking fears about the safety of Japan’s food and water supply. Radiation has been found in raw milk, seawater and 11 kinds of vegetables, including broccoli, cauliflower and turnips, grown in areas around the plant.
In Tokyo, residents stripped store shelves of bottled water and some other basic necessities after authorities said radioactive iodine in the tap water was more than twice what is considered safe for babies to drink.
Tests conducted Thursday showed the levels in the city’s water fell to acceptable limits for infants but shot up in neighboring regions.
In Fukushima, plant operators were still struggling to get the cooling system operating again. Lighting was restored Thursday to the central control room at Unit 1 for the first time since the tsunami, but two workers were treated at a hospital after stepping into radiation-contaminated water.
Their injuries were not life-threatening.