Saturday, March 12, 2011

Japan launches gargantuan quake rescue effort

An elderly person is rescued by helicopter from the roof of an elementary school. -- PHOTO: REUTERS

Malaysian Bloggers - TOKYO - JAPAN mobilised 50,000 military and other rescue personnel on 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.
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. -- AFP

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