Thursday, May 5, 2011

Japan's Search in Namie...

Nearly five weeks after search teams first combed northeastern Japan's tsunami-devastated shorelines for victims, they have ventured to the coastal town of Namie '” less than five miles from the badly damaged Fukushima Daiichi nuclear complex. All photographs by Ko Sasaki for The Wall Street Journal.

At around 8 a.m. Friday, police and firefighters congregated a kilometer away from the deserted town Namie, in the parking lot of a wedding banquet hall, the staging point for the search.

The 280 police and firefighters wore white head-to-toe radiation suits, waterproof boots, rubber gloves and face masks.

Other tsunami-ravaged cities in northeastern Japan launched rescue efforts in the immediate aftermath of the earthquake. But in the coastal towns within a 12-mile radius of the damaged reactors, police and firefighters began looking for bodies only a week ago.

Namie was once a hamlet of 20,000 people. Now, it's a time capsule of the March 11 tsunami's destruction. About 180 people are still listed as missing from Namie. Many are expected to be found in Ukedo, a neighborhood along the coast about 4½ miles from the Fukushima Daiichi complex.

Police said they've covered less than one-sixth of the search area since the effort began a week ago.

During Friday's search, police and firefighters picked through thick mud and the wreckage of homes, cars and boats.

When searchers find a body, they mark the site with a flag so a recovery crew can later carry it away.