Japan declares 7,348 dead, nearly 11,000 missing (UPDATES) (VIDEO)


Members of a Japanese rescue team look through debris for bodies from the March 11 tsunami and earthquake in the city of Rikuzentakata in Iwate prefecture on March 19, 2011. In an updated toll, national police said at least 18,000 were dead or missing in Japan's worst natural disaster in 88 years.


Nicolas Asfouri

Engineers attached a power cable to the outside of Japan's stricken nuclear plant Saturday in an effort to restart cooling systems and prevent more radiation from leaking as officials rush to avert a nuclear meltdown.

Meanwhile, the death toll last week's devastating earthquake and tsunami was a confirmed 7,348 people, according to Japan's National Police Agency, CNN reported. An additional 10,947 people were missing and 2,603 were injured, the agency said.

Officials hope to stabilize the reactors at the Fukushima Dai-ichi nuclear plant by connecting the electric cord to the cooling equipment inside the facility, Reuters reports.

They will have power drawn to reactor No. 2 first and then test the water pumps and cooling systems to see if they can be restarted. These systems, which were disrupted by the earthquake and tsunami, are needed to cool overheated nuclear fuel rods and prevent more radiation leaks.

Japan disaster in figures.
Source: Reuters

Engineers hope to then connect the power to the plant's number 1, 3 and 4 reactors.

"If they are successful in getting the cooling infrastructure up and running, that will be a significant step forward in establishing stability," Eric Moore, a nuclear power expert at U.S.-based FocalPoint Consulting Group, told Reuters.

An official for Japan’s Nuclear and Industrial Safety Agency said that workers had restarted a diesel pump and restored cooling functions at two of the reactors, numbers 5 and 6, early Saturday morning, reports The New York Times.

Restoring electricity to the reactor will only work if the pumps are working, it states. If the water pumps have been destroyed, the plant, which is located 150 miles north of Tokyo, would have to spend time installing a new cooling system.

Japan's nuclear agency on Friday raised the alert level at the plant from four to five on the seven--point international scale for atomic accidents, on a par with the Three Mile Island atomic accident of 1979.

The government conceded that it was too slow in responding to the nuclear situation, BBC reports.

"In hindsight, we could have moved a little quicker in assessing the situation and coordinating all that information and provided it faster," Chief Cabinet Secretary Yukio Edano said.

Meanwhile, as teams at the plant battle round the clock to try to stabilize the reactors, hundreds of thousands of Japanese from areas badly hit by the disaster remain in need of basic supplies and shelter.

Some 390,000 people remain homeless and are living in shelters with short supplies of food, water, medicine and heating fuel, according to Reuters.

In the north, some 290,000 households have no electricity and about 940,000 lack running water more than a week after the earthquake and tsunami, it states.

The government has pledged to accelerate relief efforts, but many are still experiencing hunger and cold, the Los Angeles Times reports.

"Some cry, others say they're sick of the food. Or they really want to take a bath," Miyako City Hall official Tatsuyuki Kumagai told the Los Angeles Times of the survivors. He said the stress from the crisis "comes out in different ways."

Japan’s infamous mafia group, the Yakuza, is helping out with the relief efforts, according to the Daily Beast, shipping food, water, and blankets to the devastated areas, though anonymously so that the donations aren't rejected.

Japan marked a moment of silence Friday for the victims of the disaster, which killed at least 7,000 people. Another 11,000 remain missing.

In the video below, Prime Minister Naoto Kan calls for unity in the face of the crisis.

"We cannot let ourselves be overcome by this quake and tsunami," he says.


-- Hanna Ingber Win