Northeast Japan Earthquake/Tsunami Reporting: Dead and Missing

Table of total counts by prefecture

I have been collecting the daily counts of missing and confirmed dead in my daily read of Asahi Shinbun. As of today, the Asahi reports that there are a total of  9737 confirmed dead, and 16,423 reported missing.  Miyagi Prefecture has experienced the largest numbers of dead and missing, while Iwate and Fukushima prefecture also have very high counts. Fukushima has a much larger number of missing compared with reported dead than any other prefecture, likely because evacuation zones around the Fukushima nuclear power plant do not allow access to aid in locating bodies.

Upward trends in both (see figure below) have been seen in all three of the hardest hit prefectures in the past two weeks, although the trend in confirmed dead and missing appears to be slowing. Miyagi Prefecture, however, has been reported ever more numbers of missing persons. As of now there are more than 25,000 people reported either missing or dead. Without running any formal analyses, I would expect that that number would level off to approximately 30,000 over the next few days, assuming that Miyagi Prefectures trend stabilizes within that time. 

Ratio of missing to dead

The number of missing continues to outpace the number of death confirmations, likely due to bodies being washed out to seas, buried under rubble, and the limits of relief crews who are focused on helping the living cope with the loss of home and livelihood. Overall, there are nearly twice as many missing to confirmed dead, although, as noted above, Fukushima Prefecture has an exceedingly high disparity of missing to dead. As Miyagi Prefecture’s reporting of missing has incresased relative to a stabilizing trend of death conformations, the ratio of missing to dead has also increased.

Given the incredibly high numbers of dead and missing, it is only chance that has spared the larger urban centers of Chiba and Tokyo from what would have been devastation on a scale not seen since the Great Kanto Earthquake of 1923. This does not minimize or diminish the incredible toll that this disaster has had on human life and on the families who have lost loved ones, friends, home and livelihood. Japan will have numerous challenges lying ahead in its future.

Trends in reported missing and confirmed dead

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About Pete Larson

Assistant Professor of Epidemiology at the Nagasaki University Institute for Tropical Medicine

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