Soldiers and officials in northeastern Japan are warning residents that the area could be hit by another tsunami and are ordering residents to higher ground.
Sirens around the town of Soma went off late Monday morning and public address systems ordered residents to higher ground.
Kyodo News Agency said the tsunami could be 10 feet (3 meters) high, citing Fukushima prefectural officials.
An Associated Press reporter stood about 100 yards (100 meters) from the coast.
The area was hit by a massive quake and tsunami on Friday.
Japan began rolling blackouts to conserve power Monday as it tried desperately to stabilize nuclear reactors at risk of meltdown in the aftermath of the earthquake and tsunami. The disasters sent Tokyo’s stock market plunging as it opened, raising fears of a steep economic toll on top of the already overwhelming human suffering.
The planned blackouts of about three hours each in Tokyo and other cities are meant to help make up for the loss of power from key nuclear plants. Trade Minister Banri Kaieda said Sunday that the power utility expects a 25 percent shortfall.
Some 1.9 million households were without electricity, but many people were without even more basic necessities. At least 1.4 million households had gone without water since the quake struck, and food aid was slow in reaching many areas.
Friday’s quake and tsunami, which swallowed towns and tossed large ships like game-board pieces, caused tens of billions of dollars in losses, according to preliminary estimates. And the first day of stock trading since the disasters opening underlined the challenges Japan’s already fragile economy will have in bouncing back.
The benchmark Nikkei 225 stock average shed 494 points, or 4.8 percent, to 9,760.45 just after the market opened Monday. Japan’s central bank quickly responded by injecting 7 trillion yen (US$85.5 billion) into money markets.
The most urgent crisis remained at a nuclear plant along the ravaged northeastern coast, where operators worked frantically to try to lower temperatures of crippled reactors. Four nuclear plants had at least some damage, but two reactors at the Fukushima Dai-ichi nuclear complex were at the greatest risk of meltdown.
Operators dumped seawater into the two reactors in a last-ditch cooling effort. More than 180,000 people have evacuated the area, and up to 160 may have been exposed to radiation.
Officials have confirmed about 1,800 deaths from the earthquake and tsunami — including 200 people whose bodies were found Sunday along the coast — and said more than 1,700 were missing and 1,900 injured.
The death toll seemed certain to get much higher after a report from Miyagi, one of the three hardest hit states. The police chief estimated that more than 10,000 people were killed there, police spokesman Go Sugawara told The Associated Press. Only about 400 people in the state of 2.3 million have been confirmed dead so far.
Rescuers pulled bodies from mud-covered jumbles of wrecked houses, shattered tree trunks, twisted cars and tangled power lines while survivors took the first difficult steps toward rebuilding their lives. Hundreds of thousands of hungry survivors huddled in darkened emergency centers that were cut off from rescuers, aid and electricity.
Hajime Watanabe, a 38-year-old construction worker, said he walked two hours Sunday to find a convenience store that was open and waited in line to buy dried ramen noodles. He also got in line in Sendai for gas, along with hundreds of other motorists. By Monday morning the station still was not open.
“I’m giving up hope,” he said. An emergency worker in white helmet came over and told him if the station opens at all, the gas may be allocated for emergency teams and essential government workers.
He and his family are living in a shelter, fearful that one of the aftershocks that continue to strike will destroy their apartment building.
“I never imagined we would be in such a situation,” Watanabe said. “I had a good life before. Now we have nothing.”
About a third of the town of Soma was wiped out, with several hundred homes washed away. Three districts of town on the shoreline and now covered in rubble, overturned cars and trucks and waist-high, dirty green water. A landscape dotted with personal belongings: a tiny pink girl’s bicycle, all twisted up, near a child’s pink backpack with muddy stuff inside.
Atsushi Shishito sat in a daze on the concrete foundation of his home, now completely washed away. He sleeps at an evacuation center. The 30-year-old carried his 87-year-old grandmother to higher ground to escape the tsunami but said, “All my other relatives are all dead. Washed away.”
Near-freezing temperatures compounded the misery. One rare bit of good news was Sunday’s rescue of a 60-year-old man swept away by the tsunami who clung to the roof of his house for two days until a military vessel spotted him waving a red cloth about 10 miles (15 kilometers) offshore.
For Japan, one of the world’s leading economies with ultramodern infrastructure, the disasters plunged ordinary life into nearly unimaginable deprivation.
While the government doubled the number of soldiers deployed in the aid effort to 100,000 and sent 120,000 blankets, 120,000 bottles of water and 29,000 gallons (110,000 liters) of gasoline plus food to the affected areas, Prime Minister Naoto Kan said electricity would take days to restore.
“This is Japan’s most severe crisis since the war ended 65 years ago,” Kan told reporters, adding that Japan’s future would be decided by its response.
Japanese officials raised their estimate Sunday of the quake’s magnitude to 9.0, a notch above the U.S. Geological Survey’s reading of 8.9. Either way, it was the strongest quake ever recorded in Japan, which lies on a seismically active arc. A volcano on the southern island of Kyushu — hundreds of miles (kilometers) from the quake’ epicenter — also resumed spewing ash and rock Sunday after a couple of quiet weeks, Japan’s weather agency said.
Dozens of countries have offered assistance. Two U.S. aircraft carrier groups were off Japan’s coast and ready to help. Helicopters were flying from one of the carriers, the USS Ronald Reagan, delivering food and water in Miyagi.
Two other U.S. rescue teams of 72 personnel each and rescue dogs arrived Sunday, as did a five-dog team from Singapore.
Still, large areas of the countryside remained surrounded by water and unreachable. Fuel stations were closed, though at some, cars waited in lines hundreds of vehicles long.
The United States and a several countries in Europe urged their citizens to avoid travel to Japan. France took the added step of suggesting people leave Tokyo in case radiation reached the city.
Community after community traced the vast extent of the devastation.
In the town of Minamisanrikucho, 10,000 people — nearly two-thirds of the population — have not been heard from since the tsunami wiped it out, a government spokesman said. Public broadcaster NHK showed only a couple concrete structures still standing, and the bottom three floors of those buildings gutted. One of the few standing was a hospital, and a worker told NHK that hospital staff rescued about a third of the patients.
In the hard-hit port city of Sendai, firefighters with wooden picks dug through a devastated neighborhood. One of them yelled: “A corpse.” Inside a house, he had found the body of a gray-haired woman under a blanket.
A few minutes later, the firefighters spotted another — that of a man in black fleece jacket and pants, crumpled in a partial fetal position at the bottom of a wooden stairwell. From outside, while the top of the house seemed almost untouched, the first floor where the body was had been inundated. A minivan lay embedded in one outer wall, which had been ripped away, pulverized beside a mangled bicycle.
The man’s neighbor, 24-year-old Ayumi Osuga, dug through the remains of her own house, her white mittens covered by dark mud.
Osuga said she had been practicing origami, the Japanese art of folding paper into figures, with her three children when the quake stuck. She recalled her husband’s shouted warning from outside: “‘GET OUT OF THERE NOW!'”
She gathered her children — aged 2 to 6 — and fled in her car to higher ground with her husband. They spent the night in a hilltop home belonging to her husband’s family about 12 miles (20 kilometers) away.
“My family, my children. We are lucky to be alive,” she said.
“I have come to realize what is important in life,” Osuga said, nervously flicking ashes from a cigarette onto the rubble at her feet as a giant column of black smoke billowed in the distance.
As night fell and temperatures dropped to freezing in Sendai, people who had slept in underpasses or offices the past two nights gathered for warmth in community centers, schools and City Hall.
At a large refinery on the outskirts of the city, 100-foot (30-meter) -high bright orange flames rose in the air, spitting out dark plumes of smoke. The facility has been burning since Friday. The fire’s roar could be heard from afar. Smoke burned the eyes and throat, and a gaseous stench hung in the air.
In the small town of Tagajo, also near Sendai, dazed residents roamed streets cluttered with smashed cars, broken homes and twisted metal.
Residents said the water surged in and quickly rose higher than the first floor of buildings. At Sengen General Hospital, the staff worked feverishly to haul bedridden patients up the stairs one at a time. With the halls now dark, those who can leave have gone to the local community center.
“There is still no water or power, and we’ve got some very sick people in here,” said hospital official Ikuro Matsumoto.
Police cars drove slowly through the town and warned residents through loudspeakers to seek higher ground, but most simply stood by and watched them pass.
In the town of Iwaki, there was no electricity, stores were closed and residents left as food and fuel supplies dwindled. Local police took in about 90 people and gave them blankets and rice balls, but there was no sign of government or military aid trucks.
Todd Pitman reported from Sendai. Associated Press writers Eric Talmadge and Kelly Olsen in Koriyama and Malcolm J. Foster, Mari Yamaguchi, Tomoko A. Hosaka and Shino Yuasa in Tokyo contributed to this report.