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An earthquake with a magnitude of 9.0 struck 250 miles (400km) from Tokyo on Friday 11 March. Latest updates on the UK's humanitarian response are posted here.
UK to send emergency drinking water to Japan
The UK will send bottled drinking water to Japan in response to a shortage of safe drinking water, International Development Secretary, Andrew Mitchell confirmed today.
100 tonnes of bottled water will be distributed to people living in the Ibaraki prefecture, following an urgent request from the Japanese authorities.
Damaged infrastructure in areas badly hit by the earthquake and tsunami has led to restrictions in the availability of clean drinking water, while concerns remain around radiation levels.
The water will be sent from Hong Kong and is due to arrive in Japan today.
International Development Secretary Andrew Mitchell said:
“Over two weeks on from this terrible disaster, many people are still in the midst of a crisis. The destructive nature of the earthquake and subsequent tsunami has damaged essential infrastructure and left many without water.
Britain is stepping in to help Japan to cope with this shortage, providing much-needed support at this difficult time.”
19 March 2011 1600 GMT
UK search and rescue teams arriving back at Manchester airport. Picture (C) Ian Howarth
The UK Government’s specialist search and rescue team has returned to the UK today following their relief mission to Japan.
Greeting them at Manchester airport, International Development Minister Stephen O’Brien praised the team for their courage and professionalism in Japan.
Following a direct request from the Japanese authorities, the team of 59 rescue specialists, two rescue dogs and four medical staff spent three full days searching two towns in Northern Japan - Ofunato and Kaimaishi - where tens of thousands were missing. Using their specialist search equipment and rescue dogs, the teams worked quickly to search for any survivors.
The earthquake and the tsunami had left a trail of devastation across a wide area of north-eastern Japan. Despite an extensive search of both towns and their surrounding areas, no survivors were found.
Stephen O’Brien, International Development Minister said:
“We are all proud of the British search and rescue team’s professionalism, dedication and courage. Through their vital work, Britain was at the forefront of assisting Japan in the aftermath of this terrible disaster.
“Despite cold, hard conditions they worked relentlessly to search for survivors in the utter devastation of the earthquake and tsunami, providing much needed relief Japan’s own exhausted disaster teams.”
Stephen O’Brien greets the returning search and rescue teams. Picture (C) Ian Howarth
Pete Stevenson, UK International Search and Rescue Commander who led the team on the ground in Japan said:
“The swift acceptance to the request for international assistance enabled the UK to be the first search and rescue team working in the worst affected areas.
“The towns of Ofunato and Kamaishi were devastated by the earthquake and resultant tsunami. The work carried out by the team has been extremely challenging and arduous. As ever, they performed their tasks with the utmost professionalism and skill.
“Whilst no survivors were found the assistance given by the UK team was greatly appreciated by the Japanese.
“Our thoughts are with the Japanese people and we wish them every success during the recovery and humanitarian response phase.”
Read the full press release
17 March 2011 1530 GMT
UK rescuers carry out searches in Kamaishi, Japan. Picture (C) David Stringer
The UK Government’s Search and Rescue team in Northern Japan have completed their search of Kamaishi town today.
Despite an extensive search of residential and industrial properties, no survivors have been found.
Heavy snow and falling temperatures six days after the start of the disaster mean there is now is an extremely low chance of finding survivors.
Therefore following a discussion with the Japanese disaster authorities, the UK team and their US counterparts have agreed not to extend their rescue operations and will begin to withdraw from Japan.
The team remain fit and well and continue to monitor radiation levels closely. No abnormal radiation has been detected in the area.
Andrew Mitchell, Secretary of State for International Development said:
“We are all extremely proud of the work of the UK Fire and Rescue team. Sadly, the chance of them finding further survivors is now extremely low and so their specialist skills are no longer necessary in Japan. We have therefore agreed with the Japanese authorities that we will withdraw our team.
“I am proud that despite very difficult conditions, the UK Fire and Rescue service’s dedication and professionalism was able to help Japan in its hour of need.”
Earlier this week, the team also completed a search of Ofunato. Several bodies were detected, but no survivors were found.
The team was dispatched to Japan following a direct appeal from the Japanese authorities. The British Government team, including 59 UK fire service search and rescue specialists, two rescue dogs and a medical support team, joined the international relief effort in Japan.
British Search and Rescue experts search remains of house in Ofunato, Japan, on Tuesday 15 March. Picture: Matt Dunham. Reproduced with permission. All rights reserved.
16 March 2011 1800 GMT
Update from Alan Downes, from Kent Fire and Rescue Service, one of the members of the UK’s International Search and Rescue team in Japan:
“We’ve seen total devastation in the areas affected. It’s so significant, I struggle to comprehend how any community can move on from it. But people here are getting on and dealing with what’s put in front of them.
“My only other deployment was to Sumatra. There was a lot of devastation but nothing on this scale - the difference being, in Indonesia, it was individual properties being destroyed, whereas here, whole communities have been affected by the tsunami.
“We’ve been working systematically to search a significant area and establish any survivable locations. We speak to locals to ascertain likely numbers of casualties and people missing. One lady took us to an area where her friend was missing. We tunnelled under rubble and sent in dogs - but after two hours we concluded it was not a survivable area.”
The UK team returned to their base at 1830 local time today and are awaiting further instructions from the Japanese authorities.
16 March 2011** 1200 GMT**
The British Government search and rescue team returned to Ofunato at 0530 local time this morning to clear the final sector which had not been cleared yesterday. No survivors were found.
The team then travelled 30km north to Kamaishi, where 1,000 people are reported missing.
In heavy snow, the team immediately started to search the central industrial and residential areas which had been badly affected by the earthquake and the tsunami. Three bodies were detected in the debris, but no survivors were found.
They returned to their base at 1830 local time and await further instructions from the Japanese authorities.
Pete Stevenson, team leader of the UK-ISAR team in Japan said:
“The UK-ISAR team are now working in Kamaishi which is 30 kilometres north of the base of operations and are working daylight hours only due to a lack of power. The UK team are working nearby to their colleagues from the United States and they are in radio contact with each other. Kamaishi still has 1000 people missing but so far the UK team have only recovered 3 deceased.”
International Development Secretary Andrew Mitchell said:
“I spoke directly to our team in Japan this morning who have confirmed they are fit and well. I thanked them for their continuing efforts to help Japan in its hour of need.”
Expert scientific advice shows that there is no current risk of radiation contamination to the UK International Search and Rescue team, who are deployed more than 130 km away from Fukushima nuclear plant. No abnormal levels of radiation have been detected in the area. The team continue to monitor the situation in conjunction with the US teams and US military that they are deployed with.
Weather conditions on the ground are now deteriorating, with low temperatures and heavy snow is falling.
15 March 2011 1500 GMT
The UK ISAR team have set up their base in a school in Sumita, north Japan, near Ofunato, along with teams from the US.
This morning at 0600 local time the full team was deployed to the centre of the disaster zone in Ofunato. The team cleared a large industrial district and residential area. Although bodies were recovered, no survivors have been found so far. The team will now be tasked overnight with new operations.
International Development Secretary Andrew Mitchell said:
“We are all proud of the UK’s search and rescue experts, who are doing a great job under tough conditions.
“They are working alongside Japanese colleagues to give much-needed help and support to that country in its time of dire need.”
14 March 2011 1500 GMT
The UK Search and Rescue team deployed by DFID have now arrived at their base, 20km outside Ofunato in the north east of Japan.
The British team will be working alongside US search and rescue colleagues and dogs.
Several members of the team have already carried out an initial assessment of the area earlier today. All teams will set out to begin search and rescue operations at first light tomorrow (0600 Japanese time, 2100 GMT 14 March).
12 March 2011 1330 GMT
Following a direct appeal from the Japanese Government earlier this morning, the British Government will dispatch a team of 59 UK fire service search and rescue specialists, two rescue dogs and a medical support team to join the international relief effort in Japan.
The team will fly from Manchester airport later this afternoon and travel directly to Japan as quickly as possible. On arrival tomorrow, they will immediately join the international search for survivors, providing relief for Japan’s own rescue teams.
11 March 2011 18:00 GMT
This morning International Development Secretary Andrew Mitchell met members of the UK’s International Search and Rescue (ISAR), just back from New Zealand.
Speaking to the BBC this lunchtime from Birmingham, he said:
“Our hearts go out to all those who are caught up in this dreadful disaster.
“I’ve spent time this morning with members of the British International Search and Rescue Team, who have just returned from Christchurch, where they were working with their Japanese counterparts on helping with the dreadful earthquake in New Zealand, and we have made it absolutely clear that if there is any additional or specialist expert help which we can supply, we will certainly do so.
“Japan has some of the best international search and rescue services anywhere in the world, so that at least is some minor comfort at this terrible time .
“What we’re doing now in the British humanitarian operations room, which has been active on this since very early this morning, is to hope for the best but to plan for the worst. We’re working closely with organisations like the International Red Cross as well as the international organisations which operate through the United Nations.”
For more information on the UK’s response, please see the Foreign and Commonwealth Office website.
Humanitarian experts from British Government are closely monitoring the impact of the earthquake in Japan and tsunami heading across the Pacific region. We stand ready to respond as necessary.