Death Toll Estimate in Japan Soars as Relief Efforts Intensify

Japan faced mounting humanitarian and nuclear emergencies Sunday as the death toll from Friday’s earthquake and tsunami climbed astronomically, partial meltdowns occurred at two crippled plants and cooling problems struck four more reactors.

In one town alone, the port of Minamisanriku, a senior police official said the number of dead would “certainly be more than 10,000.” The overall number is also certain to climb as searchers began to reach coastal villages that essentially vanished under the first muddy surge of the tsunami, which struck the nation’s northern Pacific coast. Prime Minister Naoto Kan told anews conference late Sunday: “I think that the earthquake, tsunami and the situation at our nuclear reactors makes up the worst crisis in the 65 years since the war. If the nation works together, we will overcome.”

The government ordered 100,000 troops into relief roles in the field — nearly half the country’s active military force and the largest mobilization in postwar Japan. An American naval strike group led by the nuclear-powered aircraft carrier Ronald Reagan also arrived off Japan on Sunday to help with refueling, supply and rescue duties.

Amid the despair and mourning, amid the worry over an unrelenting series of strong aftershocks, there was one bright moment on Sunday morning as Japanese naval forces rescued a 60-year-old man who had been riding the roof of his house for the past two days.

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