Japan Quake: Survivors Walk Among the Dead to Find the Missing

Patients lie on cardboard in hallways in overcrowded hospitals.

ISHINOMAKI, Japan March 14, 2011— -- For many Japanese searching for loved ones killed in Friday's quake and tsunami, the search ends with a walk among the bodies of the dead, laid out in orderly rows in makeshift morgues popping up along the country's northeast coast.

In Ishinomaki, a coastal city some 30 miles north of Sendai in hard-hit Miyagi Prefecture, the hospital's morgue is too small to handle the ever growing number of dead.

The city's municipal gymnasium houses the dead. There are now more than 1,000 arranged in rows on the hard wood floors, just enough room between each body for relatives to walk among them, searching the faces for those they lost.

The bodies are not refrigerated or cooled on ice and can remain there only briefly, said Masaaki Abe, a spokesman for the Red Cross at Ishinomaki Hospital.

At first, funeral homes volunteered to provide traditional Shinto rites to the dead, donating white shrouds and cremating the bodies.

"But there are too many of them for burning now," said Abe. "They must be buried quickly. This is much faster."

Officially the death toll is almost 1,900, but the Miyagi police chief has said 10,000 people are estimated to have died in his area.

There are so many dead that officials are asking other parts of Japan to send them body bags and coffins since the supply in this area is quickly being exhausted.

As the dead are laid out the floors of public buildings, so too are the living.

The hospital in Ishinomaki is overrun with the homeless and infirm. Red Cross workers triage the steady stream of patients and displaced persons.

The building's large atrium is filled with the sick and elderly, sitting and sleeping on cardboard slabs.

The exhausted staff say they are overwhelmed.

Many of the tens of thousands rendered homeless by the tsunami have sought shelter in hospitals and government buildings.

In Sendai, the seat of Miyagi Prefecture, the corridors of the Prefecture Office, a building akin to a state capitol, have become shelter for the homeless.

Walking Among the Dead to Find the Missing

They sleep on opened cardboard boxes, warmed by blankets distributed by the Red Cross.

A large room inside the office has been converted into a war room. Teams assigned to handle restoring water, electricity, sanitation, and public order gather around tables with maps splayed out in front of them.