Japanese Prime Minister Naoto Kan on Saturday promised his full support to victims of the earthquake, tsunami and nuclear disasters during a visit to the affected north-eastern region, media reports said.
“It is a long struggle but the government will support you until the end and do its best. Please remain tenacious,” Mr. Kan told a group of fire-fighters in the city of Rikuzentakata in Iwate prefecture, badly hit by the magnitude-9 earthquake and tsunami on March 11.
He also visited an emergency shelter set up in a school and urged the inhabitants to be brave.
The Prime Minister was also due to visit an operations base at a football training ground, 20 kilometres from the Fukushima Daiichii nuclear power station, to speak to soldiers and rescuers.
Chief Cabinet Secretary Yukio Edano said it was important for the premier to see the situation for himself and talk to those affected during the one-day trip to the area.
Thousands of Japanese as well as U.S. military personnel and rescuers were Saturday searching for the missing in the badly damaged city of Ishinomaki in Miyagi prefecture. The second day of the planned three-day effort was focusing on the area around a primary school where many pupils were caught by the tsunami. Divers were also searching a nearby river. On Friday, 32 bodies were discovered in the rubble.
The director general of the International Atomic Energy Agency, Yukiya Amano, said the crisis at the Fukushima Daiichi nuclear power plant was “very serious.” “In order to say everything is normal ... I would say it would take more time than people think,” Mr. Amano was quoted as saying by the Kyodo News agency.
The plant’s power was knocked out by the earthquake and tsunami and the key cooling functions failed, leading to fires, explosions and radiation leaks. Residents within a 20-kilometre radius have been evacuated, and elevated levels of radioactive particles have been measured across a swath of Japan, as well as in seawater off the Fukushima plant on the north-eastern coast.
The National Police Agency said the death toll stood at 11,734 on Friday at 9 p.m. (12.00 GMT), with over 16,000 still missing.