Dead, missing toll tops 16,600: Police

Evacuee Kazuko Hiraushi, who lives in an evacuation center with her husband after their house was destroyed in the massive earthquake and tsunami which struck Japan a week earlier, cries after observing a minute's silence in memory of the victims near a devastated area in Rikuzentakata, north Japan, on Friday (REUTERS)

The number of people confirmed dead in the March 11 earthquake and tsunami in Japan has hit 6,539, surpassing the toll from the massive tremor in Kobe in 1995, police said Friday.

The number of people unaccounted for rose slightly to 10,354, putting the combined total of dead and missing at 16,893, the National Police Agency said in its latest update. A total of 2,513 people were injured.

In January 1995, a 7.2-magnitude quake struck the western Japanese port city of Kobe, killing 6,434 people.

The March 11 quake is now Japan's deadliest natural disaster since the 1923 Great Kanto Earthquake, which killed more than 142,000 people.

The toll from the disaster one week ago has increased steadily in recent days, and reports suggest it could eventually be much higher.

The mayor of the coastal town of Ishinomaki in Miyagi prefecture said late Wednesday that the number of missing there was likely to hit 10,000, Kyodo News reported.

On Saturday, public broadcaster NHK reported that around 10,000 people were unaccounted for in the port town of Minamisanriku in the same prefecture.

Amid a mass rescue effort there were grim updates indicating severe loss of life along the battered east coast of Honshu island, where the monster waves destroyed or damaged tens of thousands of homes and other buildings.

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