Japanese and U.S. military ships and helicopters searched Japan's tsunami-ravaged coastline Friday as part of a last chance search effort to find victims swept out to sea in last month's disaster.
Friday marked the solemn three-week anniversary of the Japan earthquake and resulting tsunami that claimed an estimated 25,000 lives. So far, more than 11,700 deaths have been confirmed.
The search for bodies continues at sea and on land. Altogether, 25,000 soldiers, 120 helicopters, and 65 ships will continue searching through Sunday. If U.S. forces spot bodies, they will point them out to the Japanese military rather than trying to retrieve them.
"Unfortunately we've come across remains over the scope of our mission, so it may be more likely than you think," to find bodies at sea so long after the disaster, said U.S. Navy Lt. Anthony Falvo.
More than 16,000 people are still missing from the disaster. The 9.0 magnitude earthquake also severely damaged the Fukushima nuclear complex, which is still leaking radiation despite ongoing efforts to control it.
The radiation has stymied efforts to recover corpses with the 12-mile evacuation zone around the facility.
Japan' s Prime Minister Naoto Kan said although disaster relief efforts are ongoing, it's time to focus on rebuilding.
Kan added that parliament will begin work on a budget to fund long-term reconstruction efforts.
Three weeks after the disaster in one of the most connected countries in the world, 260,000 households still do not have running water and 170,000 do not have electricity.
Meanwhile in a positive turn, officials at the U.N.'s nuclear watchdog agency in Vienna said Friday that radiation levels at one village outside the exclusion zone were improving.
However, workers at the crippled nuclear power plant continue to face challenges from radioactive groundwater.
The prime minister said in a televised news conference Friday that Japan will do whatever it takes to win the battle at Fukushima Dai-ichi, though he warned that it could be a long process.
"I promise to overcome this problem and regain a society where we can live with peace of mind," Kan said.