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'Search surge' finds more bodies in Japan

By the CNN Wire Staff
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Searching for Japan's missing
  • NEW: Three-day Japanese search with U.S. help locates 69 bodies
  • NEW: Death toll stands at 12,087
  • Buses evacuate hundreds from Minamisanriku
  • At one point, half the town's 17,000 residents were thought to be missing

Tokyo (CNN) -- A search for missing people in Japan, conducted by the Japanese and U.S. militaries, led to the discovery of nearly 70 more bodies from the earthquake and tsunami, authorities said Sunday.

Joint Task Force Tohoku, overseeing the search, said it was a joint three-day effort by land, sea, and air. It was conducted from 8 a.m. until sundown.

Between Friday morning and Sunday afternoon, the 69 bodies were found, the task force said. The operation was timed to coincide with spring low tides which concentrated floating debris and allowed searchers to access tidal flats.

The overall confirmed death toll from the March 11 quake and tsunami stands at 12,087, according to Japan's National Police Agency. Another 15,552 are missing or unaccounted for and 2,876 are injured.

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In one of the most devastated areas of northeastern Japan, buses began evacuating more than 1,100 people from shelters on Sunday, local officials said.

Authorities in Miyagi prefecture said 21 buses would be used to evacuate 1,120 people from the town of Minamisanriku over the next three days. More than 9,000 people have taken shelter at local facilities because their homes were wiped out.

The coastal town, about 88 kilometers (55 miles) northeast of Sendai, was devastated by the quake and tsunami. A week after that disaster, reports were that more than half of the city's 17,000 residents had gone missing.

In late March, the community's mayor urged residents to go to seven other cities while temporary housing is being built. Some residents resisted the appeal, while others questioned if Minamisanriku would ever again be the same.

"I wonder if it is impossible for us to come back to Minamisanriku," one woman told Japanese broadcaster TV Asahi.

More than 300 additional people have applied for evacuation to other cities and towns, but the Miyagi prefecture government did not have any other evacuations planned Sunday.

CNN's Brian Walker and Journalist Terence Terashima contributed to this report.

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