Number of dead, missing rises to 1,400

The great earthquake that hit eastern Japan on Friday afternoon had left at least 1,400 people dead or missing as of Saturday afternoon, with about 210,000 people taking refuge in shelters in the Tohoku region, authorities said Saturday.

The National Police Agency said 521 people were known dead with 735 missing as of 3 p.m. Saturday in 12 prefectures including Tokyo and Hokkaido. About 500 of the dead were in Iwate, Miyagi and Fukushima prefectures.

Separately, around 200 bodies were brought into two gymnasiums in Sendai alone, although exact counts were not available. Altogether, a minimum of about 1,450 people were believed dead or missing.

According to the NPA, 1,128 people were injured in the magnitude-8.8 quake and about 210,000 people evacuated their homes.

The quake hit the top rating on the Japanese intensity scale of 7.

It was the largest earthquake in the nation's history of seismic observation. The Great Kanto Earthquake in 1923 was magnitude 7.9, while the Great Hanshin Earthquake in 1995 was magnitude 7.3.

More than 100 aftershocks had been recorded as of 10 a.m. Saturday.

In Iwate and Miyagi prefectures, many houses and buildings were destroyed by tsunamis and fires. Large scale fires were reported at various places.

The Self-Defense Forces and the Japan Coast Guard moved their rescue operations into full gear Saturday.

Chief Cabinet Secretary Yukio Edano said Saturday morning at a meeting of the emergency disaster headquarters held at the Prime Minister's Office that the death toll would rise much higher than 1,000.

"More than 1,000 people are believed to have been killed, according to reported figures alone," said Edano, adding the real toll would greatly exceed that number.

The Meteorological Agency announced Saturday morning more than 100 aftershocks with an intensity of 1 or larger had been recorded since the Tohoku Pacific Offshore Earthquake hit eastern Japan.

The Defense Ministry said it would dispatch about 50,000 SDF members to quake-hit areas. About 2,000 officers from 27 prefecture-level police headquarters, including the Metropolitan Police Department and Hokkaido police, as well as medical doctors, were also dispatched for rescue and relief operations.

The Iwate prefectural government confirmed Saturday morning via helicopter that more than 80 per cent of the city of Rikuzen-Takata had been submerged in Friday's tsunami.

The prefectural government used its helicopter to rescue about 100 people stranded on the roofs of a hospital and the municipal government building.

About 50 people were also found stranded on the roof of a supermarket in Ofunato, where SDF members were trying to rescue them.

Cities and towns were also ruined in Miyagi Prefecture. According to the Miyagi prefectural government, most of Onagawacho and the Oshika district of Ishinomaki were devastated by a tsunami. One-third of Kesennuma was submerged and three large fires were reported.

-The Yomiuri Shimbun/Asia News Network