Global rescue teams arrive to lend hand

by Masami Ito

Facing the chance that more than 10,000 people were dead in the wake of the deadly earthquake and tsunami in northern Japan, international rescue teams have been arriving to give assistance.

On Sunday morning, teams with search dogs arrived at Narita International Airport from Germany and Switzerland, bringing 41 members and three dogs from Germany and 27 workers and nine dogs from Switzerland. A 15-member Chinese emergency team, the first dispatched to Japan, and a team of 72 rescuers from the U.S. with search dogs arrived later in the day. “I am very grateful for the warm support of the international community,” Prime Minister Naoto Kan said Saturday evening.

The Foreign Ministry said the German and Swiss groups will head to the city of Tome, Miyagi Prefecture, while the U.S. team is expected to head to Ofunato, Iwate Prefecture. The destinations are subject to change, depending on the situation at each place, the ministry said.

As of Sunday afternoon, 69 countries and regions as well as five international organizations have offered help, including Russia, France, the U.K. and the International Committee of the Red Cross. While there are many offers for international support, however, the disaster zones are still in a state of confusion and more coordination is needed before Japan can accept all aid offers, a government official said.

A team of 45 people from New Zealand, which was hit by a deadly quake last month in Christchurch where 15 Japanese remain missing, was to arrive later Sunday. Also due were 72 rescue workers and two dogs from Australia.

On Saturday evening, Australian Foreign Minister Kevin Rudd expressed his condolences over the many deaths and missing to his Japanese counterpart, Takeaki Matsumoto.

A team from Singapore that arrived Saturday is expected to go to the city of Soma, Fukushima Prefecture, while a South Korean team is set to engage in rescue activities in Sendai.

Voice of Russia help

MOSCOW (Kyodo) Voice of Russia, the Russian government-run international radio station, said Saturday it will air a special program to convey messages from overseas residents facing difficulty contacting families and friends in Japan in the aftermath of Friday’s earthquake.

The station will accept any messages in Japanese, English and Russian on a 24-hour telephone hotline and will deliver them in its Japanese-language program aired daily between 9 p.m. and 11 p.m., as well as on its website pages, which feature a number of other Asian and European languages.

The phone number for the services is 7-495-9506484. The broadcaster is also accepting messages through e-mail at letters@ruvr.ru.