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Japan PM calls tsunami the worst crisis since WWII

Fresh footage of the disaster zone suggests that the death toll could easily top 10,000.

The automatic shutdown of four nuclear plants in the quake-affected area is already causing serious disruption to the country’s energy infrastructure.

From Monday, areas covered by Tepco will have to endure staggered three-hour power cuts to prevent prolonged blackouts. The measure is expected to stay in place until the end of April.

Edano said the government would draw on a 200 billion yen ($2.44 billion) contingency fund this month to pay for relief measures.

The long-term economic costs of the disaster will be more difficult to compute, however.

The Bank of Japan has vowed to do all it can to ensure market stability and the Tokyo stock exchange will open for business on Monday.

The country’s big three car manufacturers, Toyota, Nissan and Honda said they would suspend all production from Monday but were unable to forecast when operations would resume.

The huge effort under way to rescue survivors beneath buildings or left stranded by the tsunami is already bringing results.

Kan said about 12,000 people had been rescued so far, and helicopters took emergency food supplies to three devastated areas of Miyagi prefecture.

The government has sent 120,000 blankets, 120,000 bottles of water and 110,000 liters of gasoline to the affected areas, along with bread, rice balls, instant noodles and diapers.

According to the official count, more than 1,400 people were killed, including 200 people whose bodies were found on Sunday, and another 1,700 were injured. At least 1.4 million households had gone without water since the quake struck and some 2.5 million households were without electricity.

The tragedy drew offers of practical support and aid from more than 70 countries, including the United States, Britain and China. Two U.S. aircraft carrier groups reached the affected coastline on Sunday, poised to join a multinational effort led by 100,000 members of Japan’s self-defense force.

Helicopters have started flying in with deliveries of food and water from the nuclear-powered carrier the USS Ronald Reagan.