In Minamisanriku, Heartbreak as 9,500 Remain Missing

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REUTERS/KYODO Kyodo

More than half of the population of Minamisanriku was unaccounted for on Saturday, adding to concerns that the death toll in Japan will rise to exorbitant heights over the next few days

The small port town of Minamisanriku, which is located in the Miyagi Prefecture, close to the epicenter of Friday’s 8.9-magnitude earthquake, is a popular tourist destination, and has been utterly devastated by the quake and resulting tsunami.

(More on TIME.com: See photos of the earthquake’s aftermath.)

Saturday in Japan, Kyodo News Agency reported that 9,500 out of 17,000 residents were unaccounted for in the fishing community, as the area has been one of the hardest hit by the disaster. Government officials stated that the fate of the missing was still unknown more than 24 hours following the earthquake, as there has been no contact those who are missing. Local authorities are unsure if the residents fled in the wake of the quake, or if they were wiped out by the destruction.

Minamisanriku is located along the Pacific coastline, and its economy relies mostly on tourism and commercial fishing, where its hauls include silver salmon, kelp, shark fin, tuna, abalone, oysters and scallops, according to CNN.

(More on TIME.com: See the top 10 deadliest earthquakes.)

The confirmed death toll had exceeded 680 on Saturday night, but is expected to grow even higher in the following days. Early Sunday morning in Japan, Kyodo News reported that the number of those missing or dead could exceed 1,800, not counting the number from Minamisanriku.

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