Tokyo (AFP) Feb 23, 2011
A 70-strong rescue team was due to leave Japan Wednesday for New Zealand's quake-hit city of Christchurch, where at least 23 of its citizens were missing, many feared trapped under rubble.
Japan is one of the world's most earthquake-prone countries and the team includes specialist rescue workers from the coastguard, police and fire fighting service, doctors and nurses as well as sniffer dogs.
The missing Japanese are English-language students from several schools who were in the city when it was hit by the shallow 6.3 magnitude quake Tuesday that killed at least 75 people and left about 300 missing.
Among the Japanese missing were 10 students from Toyama College of Foreign Languages in the central prefecture of the same name, who were feared trapped under the rubble of the collapsed King's Education College building.
Several other Japanese students and their female teacher were rescued, including one whose crushed leg was amputated, media reports said.
Three Japanese who studied at the same language school were also missing, Kyodo News and other media said. One of them was from the city of Kobe, which suffered a devastating quake in 1995 that killed more than 6,000 people.
Two South Korean students -- a brother and a sister in their early 20s -- were also missing feared trapped in the same Christchurch language school, South Korea's foreign ministry said in a statement.
South Korean President Lee Myung-Bak on Tuesday sent a message of condolence to New Zealand and pledged to dispatch emergency rescue workers.
Additionally, a Tokyo company that organises studies abroad said it had been unable to contact 10 students who visited New Zealand on one of its tours, according to reports.
The Japanese rescue team was due to leave from Tokyo's Narita international airport on a special Air Self-Defence Force flight in the afternoon, around 0500 GMT, and arrive in New Zealand in the early hours of Thursday.
Japan's Prime Minister Naoto Kan said at an emergency meeting of his cabinet ministers, the second since the quake hit, that he expected the team "to rescue as many people as possible".
Like New Zealand, Japan sits on the "Pacific Ring of Fire" zone of high seismic activity and is often hit by powerful earthquakes.
New Zealand's ambassador in Tokyo had requested Japan's emergency assistance on Tuesday.
earlier related report
Teams from Australia, Japan, the United States, Britain, Singapore and Taiwan were to join hundreds of local rescuers digging through the rubble in Christchurch, where the 6.3 magnitude quake killed at least 75 people.
About 300 people were still missing in the disaster, which struck while streets were busy with lunchtime shoppers and toppled buildings that withstood a 7.0-magnitude quake in September.
The foreign help reaped dividends when Australian rescuers freed a woman from the twisted wreckage of the four-storey Pyne Gould Guinness building, where she had spent the night hiding under her desk.
"New Zealanders are deeply humbled by the messages of support and offers of specialist search and rescue help that have flooded in over the past 24 hours from other countries," said Foreign Minister Murray McCully.
"Support will be critical over the next few days as we reassess the specialist services required to speed the rescue operation."
Australia was sending a total of more than 140 specialist search and rescue personnel as well as medical staff and a 75-bed field hospital to provide emergency assistance. Some 300 police were also on their way.
"These police resources have been requested by the New Zealand government to support general duties police as part of the disaster recovery," Attorney General Robert McClelland said.
Singapore donated the services of a military contingent that was in New Zealand before the quake struck, and sent a 55-strong disaster team.
Seventy-five American search-and-rescue specialists were due to arrive on Thursday, along with 63 from Britain while Taiwan sent a team it set up after a massive tremor hit the island in 1999, killing around 2,400 people.
Japan, one of the world's most earthquake-prone countries, sent 70 rescuers including specialists from the coastguard, police and fire fighting service, doctors and nurses as well as sniffer dogs.
At least 23 of its citizens were among the missing, many feared trapped under the rubble.
The clock is ticking for those trapped, with New Zealand's emergency management chief John Hamilton saying rescuers may have just two or three days to pull out anyone still alive.
"We're reasonably pragmatic and understanding from international experience that there's a kind of window of opportunity which may only be open for about two or three days to effect a real rescue of people who have been trapped," Hamilton said.
"But we are also well aware that there are plenty of stories about how long some people do survive in the buildings."
About 30 people were rescued overnight as emergency workers dug through the rubble, sometimes using their hands.
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