Snowfall doubles victims' misery

In some parts of Sendai city, firefighters and relief teams sifted through mounds of rubble, hoping to find any sign of life in water-logged wastelands where homes and factories once stood.

But, as they did in most other towns, rescuers just pulled out body after body, which they wrapped in brightly coloured blankets and lined up neatly against the grey, grim landscape.

“The strong smell of bodies and the dirty seawater make search extremely difficult,” said Yin Guanghui, a member of a Chinese rescue team working in the battered town of Ofunato.

“Powerful waves in the tsunami would repeatedly hit houses in the area. Anyone trapped under the debris would be drown in no time, without any chance to survive.”

Japanese media said at least two people were pulled alive from the rubble, more than 72 hours after the earthquake and tsunami struck. But, rescue officials said the snow weakened what little chance they had of finding any more survivors.

“Snow has just come down in a blanket. Visibility is just 40 metres,” said Patrick Fuller of the International Red Cross Federation from what remained of Otsuchi, a fishing hamlet.
“People are still working, the Army is out here. But the fire service has taken off because they are worried they won’t get back to their base because of the snow.”

In Rikuzentakata, rescue workers used diggers to clear streets strewn with debris congealed by mud and now covered in snow. The fire department said more than 80 percent of the city was flooded, and the situation was likely to get worse due to snowfall.

Food shortage

Those who did survive lost everything they owned and now face shortages of food and water, no electricity or heating and frequent aftershocks —-some as strong as a magnitude six —- that have rattled the country.

“Stressed out”

The Meteorology agency said temperatures could drop as low as  -2 Celsius in Sendai on Wednesday.  Scores of people queued up in the snow for drinking water that arrived by truck. Relief workers rationed it at three litres a person.

Rescuers said their main concern was for the elderly, who make up the majority of the scores of people packed into shelters.

“They need regular medication and proper care. A lot of the problems, though, are psychological, people are so stressed out.”

In addition to their physical well-being, many elderly people at shelters were traumatised by what they had been through, and just sat huddled on blankets, waiting, but not sure for what.

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