The grim search for bodies in the quake-and-tsunami devastated region of northeastern Japan has so far yielded 18 corpses, as Japanese Self-Defense Forces (SDF) and U.S. military personnel embark on a three-day intensive search for missing people, according to Japan’s Defense Ministry.

The Ministry stated that the massive search will engage the services of dozens of ships and helicopters, about 18,000 SDF personnel and about 7,000 U.S. military personnel.

SDF will provide about 100 aircraft and 50 ships in the operation, with the U.S. supplying about 20 aircraft and 15 ships.

In addition, members of the Japanese police, the Japan Coast Guard and fire departments will also participate.

These entities will focus their search activities in the worst-hit parts of northeast Japan -- Iwate, Miyagi and Fukushima prefectures – as well as shorelines that have become submerged.

Moreover, due to fears of radiation and a mandatory evacuation zone imposed by the government, no search activities will take place within a 30-kilometer radius of the stricken Fukushima Dai-ichi nuclear plant. Residents who lived within 20 km of the plant were ordered to evacuate, while those living in the 20 km to 30-km band have been advised to either leave the area or to stay indoors.

It is believed that dead bodies lying near the power facility have become irradiated.

Kyodo News reported that it is believed that many of the missing were carried out to sea when the tsunami struck, adding that this search was timed to coincide with the spring tide, which makes the search for bodies easier when the tide ebbs.

Three weeks after the catastrophe, thousands of people are missing or unaccounted for.
According to the National Police Agency, the official death toll is 11,620 in twelve prefectures, with 16,464 officially reported missing in six prefectures.

The hardest hit prefectures are Miyagi (7.058 deaths), Iwate (3,438) and Fukushima (1,064). These three regions have reported 7,159, 4,560 and 4,741missing people, respectively.

A blogger on a Japanese news site summed up the pessimistic mood surrounding the search by saying: “unfortunately, they will never recover even half of those bodies. Many would be buried in 10 meters of silt and rubble, some kilometers inland, and many bodies would have been torn apart and highly decomposed. My full respect to all these American troops and their local counterparts for doing this thankless, grisly task.”