Tokyo (AFP) March 12, 2011
Japan mobilised 50,000 military and other rescue personnel Saturday to spearhead a Herculean rescue and recovery effort, a day after being hit by its most devastating quake and tsunami on record.
Every wing of the Self Defence Forces was thrown into frantic service, with hundreds of ships, aircraft and vehicles headed to the Pacific coast area where at least 1,000 people were feared dead and entire neighbourhoods had vanished.
As emergency staff in the quake-prone archipelago dug through rubble and plucked survivors off the roofs of submerged houses, Prime Minister Naoto Kan warned that day one after the catastrophe was a crucial window for survivors.
"I realized the huge extent of the tsunami damage," the centre-left premier said after taking a helicopter tour of the apocalyptic scenes, before meeting his cabinet ministers for an emergency meeting in Tokyo.
"What used to be residential areas were mostly swept away in many coastal areas and fires are still blazing there," he told them.
The United States, with almost 50,000 troops stationed in Japan, sent aircraft carriers to waters off the disaster zone -- just one of scores of nations that has offered assistance since Friday's monster quake.
US forces on Friday helped Japan rapidly react by delivering a cooling agent to a nuclear plant where malfunctions threatened a dangerous meltdown.
In the utter bleakness on the east coast of Japan's main Honshu island, where at least 3,600 houses were destroyed by the 8.9-magnitude quake, there were some rays of hope amid the carnage of smashed towns and shattered lives.
Army helicopters airlifted people off the roof of an elementary school in Watari, Miyagi prefecture, and naval and coastguard choppers did the same to rescue 81 people from a ship that had been hurled out to sea by the tsunami.
But for every piece of good news, there were more reminders of nature's cruelty against this seismically unstable nation -- including the latest of a series of strong aftershocks in the morning, measuring a hefty 6.8.
In large coastal areas, entire neighbourhoods were destroyed, with unknown numbers of victims buried in the rubble of their homes or lost to the sea, where cars, shipping containers, debris and entire houses were afloat.
The coastal city of Rikuzentakata in Iwate prefecture was almost completely destroyed and submerged, said the Fire and Disaster Management Agency.
Japan's military started its mass deployment Friday, when it dispatched 300 planes and an armada of 20 naval destroyers and other ships, while some 25 air force jets flew reconnaissance missions over the disaster zone.
The Tokyo and Osaka police forces and the health ministry also all quickly dispatched medical and rescue teams.
Among the international help pledged, a team from South Korea, with five rescue personnel and two sniffer dogs, was set to arrive Saturday.
Japan said it had been offered help by scores of other governments -- among them Australia, China, New Zealand, Israel, Singapore, Indonesia, India, Russia, Turkey, Germany, France, Belgium, Ukraine, Slovakia, United Arab Emirates, Switzerland, Hungary, Poland, Jordan, Britain, the European Union, Chile, Spain, Greece, Hong Kong, Pakistan, Argentina and Iceland.
The United States, which occupied Japan after World War II and is the country's main security ally, has many of its forces stationed on the southern island of Okinawa, far from the quake zone.
Two aircraft carriers were en route to the disaster zone -- the USS George Washington, which is based near Tokyo, and the USS Ronald Reagan, which was on its way to South Korea for exercises and has been redirected to Japan.
earlier related report
A Japanese team of 66 personnel which has spent more than two weeks scouring the rubble left by last month's 6.3-magnitude quake in Christchurch was making hasty preparations to return home to confront the latest tragedy.
And the United States said it was sending close to 150 rescue workers to the Japanese disaster zone, among them a team from Los Angeles that had only returned from New Zealand two days ago.
"My thoughts go out to all the people of Japan at this time," said New Zealand Civil Defence controller Steve Brazier from Christchurch, where a February 22 quake flattened the city, killing at least 200 people.
From Britain's Queen Elizabeth II to superstar entertainer Lady Gaga, the world has rallied to support Japan, where tsunami waves up to 10 metres (33 feet) high rolled across the low-lying northeast on Friday, washing away all in their path.
"Our prayers and thoughts are with everyone who has been affected by the dreadful disaster," the British monarch said in her message to Japan's Emperor Akihito.
Governments around the world offered their help, with United States President Barack Obama ordering emergency aid, including an aircraft carrier, to Japan after the catastrophe he described as "simply heartbreaking."
The US Agency for International Development said it was sending two teams of some 72 personnel, dogs and around 75 tons of rescue equipment each.
With more than 1,000 people feared dead and authorities scrambling to prevent meltdown at two nuclear plants, Japanese officials have requested other nations provide sniffer dogs to help search for trapped survivors.
Australia, South Korea and Singapore will all send dogs and search and rescue teams, their governments said Saturday as they expressed their condolences to Tokyo.
"The Australian government is prepared to throw anything and everything at this, consistent with the requests of the Japanese government," Foreign Minister Kevin Rudd told reporters in Canberra.
Earlier, Australian Prime Minister Julia Gillard conveyed her nation's "very sincere condolences" to Japan, saying the images of the tsunami were "truly shocking".
"It is really very apparent that the Japanese people have been dealt an incredibly cruel blow by this earthquake and the tsunami following it," she said. "We'll stand by them and we'll do anything we can to assist."
Calls of sympathy and support have poured in from around the world, including from China, India and the European Union.
New Zealand, which had been aided by Japanese searchers who sifted through Christchurch rubble in hopes of finding survivors, will send 48 urban search and rescue staff to the quake-zone.
"Japan responded to New Zealand's own tragic earthquake with enormous support, and we are ready to help our friends in Japan at this time of need in whatever way we can," Prime Minister John Key said.
The United Nations has said that about 60 international teams from more than 45 states were on alert to assist Japan if asked.
"The United Nations stands by the people of Japan and we will do anything and everything we can at this very difficult time," the UN secretary general Ban Ki-moon said earlier.
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Japanese search team leaves N.Z. for own crisis
Wellington (AFP) March 12, 2011
A Japanese search team working in the earthquake-devastated New Zealand city of Christchurch made hasty preparations to return home Saturday to deal with the crisis in their own country. An advance party of New Zealand Urban Search and Rescue staff would also be sent to Japan immediately to help with earthquake recovery efforts, Prime Minister John Key said. The 8.9-magnitude quake that ... read more
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