Tokyo: At least 82 children were orphaned by the huge earthquake and tsunami that devastated northeastern Japan last month, the government said.
The figure, from a preliminary government survey, is already higher than the 68 children who lost both parents in the 1995 Kobe earthquake, Japan`s last big natural disaster, Jiji press reported.
The Health, Labour and Welfare Ministry had previously said the number of orphans could far exceed those created by Kobe because of the scale of the March 11 disaster, which is known to have killed nearly 13,000 people, with 15,000 still missing.
"The latest disaster has caused wide-scale damage and we are concerned that a greater number of children have lost their parents," an official said last month.
Devastation of infrastructure and local government had complicated the task of identifying orphans, he said, adding that the ministry was hoping to mobilise 400 experts to find nursing homes or foster parents for them.
Of the 82 orphaned children, 44 are in Iwate prefecture, 30 in Miyagi prefecture and eight in Fukushima prefecture.
Official figures could rise, the ministry said, as research is carried out in isolated areas.
The tsunami that roared ashore following the 9.0-magnitude quake affected hundreds of kilometres (miles) of coastline, all but wiping out entire towns.
In contrast, Kobe`s quake, which struck on January 17, 1995, killing more than 6,400 people, affected a comparatively small area.