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March 18th, 2011
03:30 PM ET

Japan's death toll climbs to nearly 7,000

CNN Wire Staff

Tokyo (CNN) - Japan documented more deaths Friday as Prime Minister Naoto Kan sought to reassure a nation reeling from disaster, saying that he is committed to taking firm control of a "grave" situation.

Japanese paused at the one-week mark following the monster earthquake and ensuing tsunami as the death toll continued its steady climb to 6,911, the National Police Agency reported. Another 10,692 people are missing.

Kan said the disaster has been a "great test for all of the people of Japan," but he was confident of the resolve of his people.

Amid a raised crisis level at the Fukushima Daiichi nuclear plant from a 4 to 5 - putting it on par with the 1979 incident at Pennsylvania's Three Mile Island - Kan told his compatriots to bury their pessimism.

"With a tsunami and earthquake we don't have any room to be pessimistic," he said. "We are going to create Japan again from scratch. We should face this challenge together."

Kan acknowledged the situation at the Fukushima plant remains "very grave" and said his government has disclosed all that it knows to both the Japanese people and the international community.

"The police, fire department and self defense forces are all working together, putting their lives on the line, in an attempt to resolve the situation," he said.

Search teams continued Friday to comb through the rubble and residents of decimated towns sifted through twisted metal and broken wood beams, looking for remnants of the lives they lost. Rescuers planted red flags where they found dead bodies.

"I have no words to express my feelings. I lost my mind. We will have to start from zero," Hidemitsu Ichikawa said, taking a break from shoveling mud outside his home.

In Miyagi Prefecture, officials observed a moment of silence Friday to mark the one-week anniversary of the quake.

Schools had become impromptu morgues, with names of the dead posted on the doors, Japanese public broadcaster NHK reported.

Long lines snaked around supermarkets as survivors stocked up on supplies.

In the hardest-hit parts of the country, thousands of people, many of them frail and elderly, settled into shelters not knowing when they might be able to leave.

Japanese media have reported difficult living conditions, including kerosene shortages that make it hard to heat the shelters.

Some 380,000 people are staying at 2,200 facilities, Kyodo News reported.

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