© Associated PressA woman kneels by the body of her mother, after Japanese firemen discovered the dead woman inside the ruins of her home in Onagawa
Doctors fear that thousands of survivors of the devastating Japanese earthquake and tsunami could now fall victim to disease and epidemics.

Children and the elderly living in the stricken zone are most at risk from outbreaks of flu and other ailments, they warned.

The emergency services are struggling to obtain medicines and basic supplies for the thousands of displaced people whose homes have been destroyed. The situation is being aggravated by cold temperatures.

Captain Kazuhiro Fujino, of the Maritime Self-Defence Force, said: "There is no medicine - nothing. My biggest fear is a flu epidemic, as there would be little we could do to stop it. It would take many more lives."

The warning came as abnormal levels of radiation were found in milk and spinach as far as 65 miles from the stricken Fukushima nuclear power plant.

The discovery was quickly followed by an announcement that traces of radioactive iodine were found in tap water in Tokyo and several prefectures near the power plant, although the levels were well below the legal limit.

The food scares came as engineers battling to prevent a meltdown at the Fukushima Daiichi plant damaged by the 33ft tsunami, which followed the 9.0 magnitude quake on March 11, succeeded in restoring power to some of the plant's six reactors.

A mile-long power cable was connected in a desperate attempt to restart water pumps that would cool overheating nuclear fuel rods and prevent a deadly radiation leak. But the electricity was not expected to be turned on until safety checks had been completed today.

Experts said restarting the cooling system would be a "significant" step towards averting a meltdown.

Firefighters spent yesterday pumping tons of water directly from the Pacific into the cooling pool for used fuel rods at the plant's Unit 3, one of the most critical areas of the Fukushima complex. The rods are at risk of burning up and releasing radioactive material.

The Sunday Telegraph can also reveal that the company that runs the plant should have known it was vulnerable to a tsunami. The Tokyo Electric Power Company had carried out an extensive underwater survey in July 2007, after a 6.6 earthquake led to a leak of radioactive water from another of its plants.

Meanwhile, police confirmed that 7,320 people are dead with 11,370 officially listed as missing following the disaster.