Japan Dead Or Missing Tops 20,000

The number of people confirmed dead or listed as missing in Japan surpassed 20,000 nine days after a massive earthquake and tsunami struck.

There were fears of a far higher death toll from the disaster that wiped out vast areas along the Pacific coast of northern Honshu island.

The national police agency said 8,133 people had been confirmed dead and 12,272 were officially listed as missing – a total of 20,405 – as a result of the March 11 catastrophe.

Adding to the country’s woes is a potential atomic catastrophe at the six-reactor Fukushima nuclear plant, with workers continuing to douse the crippled plant in a desperate bid to avoid further trouble.

The Foreign Affairs Department is still trying to track down eight Australians believed to have been in the disaster-affected areas of Japan.

The number has increased from earlier today when the Department said it was working to confirm the safety of seven Australians.

There have been no reports of Australian deaths.

Miyagi prefecture was the worst hit, with a confirmed death toll of 4,882.

But Miyagi police chief Naoto Takeuchi has told a task force meeting that the prefecture alone “will need to secure facilities to keep the bodies of more than 15,000 people,” Jiji Press reports.

The second worst-hit prefecture was Iwate with 2,525 confirmed deaths, then Fukushima with 670 lives lost.

The death toll has now well surpassed that of the 7.2-magnitude quake that struck the western Japanese port city of Kobe in 1995 and killed 6,434 people.

The 9.0-magnitude quake has become Japan’s deadliest natural disaster since the 1923 Great Kanto earthquake, which killed more than 142,000 people.

More than 360,000 people have been displaced from their homes and taken shelter in evacuation facilities in 15 prefectures.