TOKYO, March 12 (UPI) -- Japanese Prime Minister Naoto Kan says he has ordered additional rescue forces sent into areas impacted by Friday's earthquake and resulting tsunami.
Kan said he asked Defense Minister Toshimi Kitazawa to increase the number of Self-Defense Forces in the affected areas by up to 50,000, Kyodo News reported Saturday. About 50,000 SDF personnel are already in the area.
"First and foremost, we need to make full efforts in saving lives and rescuing people," Kan said shortly after authorities confirmed an explosion at the Tokyo Electric Power Co.'s Fukushima No. 1 nuclear power plant.
The SDF was working with the U.S. military to help in rescue efforts in what would be the largest domestic disaster operation ever involving U.S. forces, the report said.
The death toll was expected to exceed 1,700 from Friday's 8.9-magnitude earthquake and tsunami. Entire coastal cities were washed away by the tsunami.
The U.S. Navy's Seventh Fleet was to conduct joint search and rescue operations off the Pacific coast in northeastern Japan.
All available SDF resources, including personnel, aircraft, vehicles and ships have been sent to the area -- or are being prepared for deployment, the report said.