Open Story: Earthquake strikes Japan

Editor's Note: This story is a collaborative effort of CNN and hundreds of iReport contributors who experienced the quake and its aftermath.
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  • On March 11, a massive earthquake and tsunami struck Japan
  • Thousands were killed and the death toll is rising
  • Damage to nuclear power plants has raised fears of radiation

Tokyo, Japan (CNN) -- Burdened by the weight of mounting national tragedies, residents in Japan painted a bleak picture of the still-unfolding crises but remained hopeful that they will pull through.


March 11's 9.0 earthquake and ensuing tsunami killed thousands, based on official and Japanese media reports, but an exact accounting of the disaster remains hidden beneath widespread damage that rescuers are only beginning to penetrate.


With each passing hour, the National Police Agency adds to the grim total: more than 12,500 dead and 15,000 missing since the quake unleashed a tsunami on a nation already grappling with an unsteady economy.


In the hardest-hit parts of Japan, thousands of citizens, most of them elderly, settled in into shelters -- indefinitely.  They found comfort in daily routines: lining up for lunch, folding and unfolding what few belongings they salvaged before walls of water devoured their communities.


Take a look at CNN's gallery of hi-res images of the Japan disaster


The tsunami that followed the earthquake March 11 damaged electrical components and coolant pumps at the Fukushima Daiichi nuclear power plant. Workers are undertaking various measures to prevent the further release of radioactive substances into the air and beyond.


Japan's nuclear concerns explained


The nuclear fears have spawned a mass exodus from the area, and those who live close to the plant already have been ordered to evacuate because of dangerously high levels of radiation.


Meanwhile, the constant threat of more earthquakes -- and hundreds of strong aftershocks -- do little to calm rattled nerves.


"I'm really concerned ... we still don't know exactly when the next big quake is going to happen," said Kyohei Kiyota, who lives outside Tokyo. "It is really scary. To prepare for the next quake, we have to know about it."


For more on this story, see CNN's This Just In blog.