Police officers search for missing people in a river in Namie, near the striken Fukushima Daiichi nuclear plant in Fukushima prefecture on Wednesday, two and half years after of the massive earthquake and tsunami, which killed more than 18,000 people in northern Japan. AFP PHOTO

TOKYO: Police and the coastguard in Japan carried out large-scale searches on Wednesday for the bodies of more than 2,500 people still missing two-and-a-half years since the quake-tsunami and nuclear disaster it spawned.

Some 90 searchers combed coastlines and water off the Onahama district of Fukushima prefecture, roughly 50 kilometers south of the crippled Fukushima atomic power plant.

“If you imagine the feelings of the family members of missing individuals, it’s very saddening,” said Hiroshi Kuno, police chief of Iwaki Higashi police station.

“We want to find the missing individuals or their belongings,” he told local media.

Similar searches were being carried out all along a vast stretch of the northeast of Japan.

The vast bulk of the coastline, along with rivers running into the sea, have been searched several times before, but officials say they are trying to ensure no spot has been overlooked.

The prefectures of Iwate, Miyagi and Fukushima were hit directly by the 9.0-magnitude earthquake and killer tsunami on March 11, 2011.

A total of 15,883 people have been confirmed killed by the natural disasters, many in Miyagi, which bore the brunt of the destruction.

The bodies of a further 2,654 people have never been recovered, but all are assumed dead.

Giant waves knocked out cooling systems at the Fukushima Daiichi nuclear plant, which went through meltdowns and explosions that contaminated a vast farming region.

No one died as a direct result of the nuclear crisis. However, the government has added a further 2,688 deaths to the total toll for the triple disaster, counting as victims those who died due to stress or other complications associated with evacuation.



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