Japan earthquake: UK rescue team arrives in Japan

Neil Pickersgill from Greater Manchester says the British team hope to save lives in Japan

A British rescue team has arrived in Japan to join the search for survivors of the earthquake and tsunami.

Fifty-nine search and rescue experts, four medics and two sniffer dogs flew out on a private charter plane with 11 tonnes of equipment on board.

Some 10,000 people are feared to have died in the worst-affected area after Friday's quake and tsunami.

The British ambassador to Japan, David Warren, said there were "some cases of British nationals unaccounted for".

In one town alone - the port of Minamisanriku - 10,000 people are feared dead, and efforts to find anyone alive are being hampered by aftershocks, continuing tsunami warnings and damaged roads.

By 0800 GMT on Sunday more than 3,200 people had called the Foreign Office's emergency helpline, concerned about friends and relatives who may have been affected by the quake.

The family of Brian Hickebottom, 34, a teacher from Birmingham, said they were very anxious about his safety.

His sister Emma, who lives in Cardiff, said he lived near the badly-hit city of Sendai with his Japanese wife and their six-month-old daughter.

Ambassador David Warren, who has travelled to Sendai, said he and his team had visited six major hospitals, where there were no reported cases of British casualties.

UK Search and Rescue Teams

  • The teams carry specialist lifting, cutting and digging tools
  • The British group is one of only 17 "heavy teams" in the world, who take their own equipment
  • They take enough food and water to be self-sufficient for up to two weeks
  • Team members were given just a few hours' notice of deployment

"But the situation is evolving because we are only on day two. We will be going back tomorrow to check again," he told the BBC.

He said the vast majority of the 17,000 Britons living in Japan were in Tokyo or Osaka, but phone lines in some areas outside the major cities were still cut off.

An additional 45 British consular staff are now on duty in Japan. Embassy response teams are also at Tokyo's Haneda and Narita airports to help British nationals and to liaise with airlines.

The Foreign Office said the British Embassy in Tokyo and British Consulate in Osaka had been working "around the clock".

Calling for help

The UK International Search and Rescue (ISAR) team arrived in Japan at around 1100 GMT (2000 local time).

It is made up of experts from fire brigades across the UK, and was put together by the Department for International Development.

A spokesman for the department says the team is expected to deploy to Ofunato, about 100 miles north of Sendai on the east coast.

They will start work at first light on Monday morning, together with American search and rescue experts.

View of damage in Ofunato, 13 March 2011 Many buildings in Ofunato have been flattened, although some are still standing

National co-ordinator for ISAR, Peter Crook, told the BBC the town had not yet been searched by rescue teams.

"We're already fighting against the clock and the logistical challenges", he said. "The quicker the team can get on the ground, the better, and they are working very hard to make that happen now."

The British team is one of only 17 in the world classified as a "heavy team", meaning it travels with the specialist tools needed to penetrate reinforced concrete and metal to reach trapped victims.

Japan's Kyodo news agency has reported that people buried under rubble have been heard calling out for help.

Dr Malcolm Russell, a British medic, said there had been stories of survival "many days" after similar incidents.

But he added: "The longer time goes on, the less likely it is we'll find survivors, so the imperative is for us to get there as soon as we possibly can."

Two sniffer dogs - including a border collie from Cheshire called Brynn - who have been trained to detect the scent of trapped survivors are among the rescue team.

They can sometimes find casualties missed by hi-tech electronic devices, and can also quickly confirm that no people are trapped in certain areas.

Low supplies

Motorists queue at a petrol station in Sendai Motorists queue for petrol in Sendai, the city closest to the earthquake

Michael Tonge, a British teacher living in the city of Sendai, told the BBC people were now worried about supplies of essentials running low.

"Trying to get petrol is very difficult," he said. "There's only a few petrol stations open and I think most have about a two-mile wait.

"And food is also the same, you have to go around and find some place that is open and then there's a long queue."

Charity Save the Children has launched an appeal for £1m to help support and protect the children of Japan in the wake of the disaster.

The British Red Cross has also has launched a UK appeal on behalf of the Japanese Red Cross which has been on the ground since the disaster began.

Another UK appeal has also been launched by aid agency World Vision.

The BBC Philharmonic Orchestra, which was caught up in the quake, has cancelled the rest of its Japan tour and is returning home early.

The Foreign Office has updated its travel advice for Britons in Japan and is advising against all non-essential travel to Tokyo and the north-east of the country.

British nationals and friends and relatives of those in Japan should contact it in the UK on +44(0) 20 7008 0000.

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