Japan earthquake: International teams in rescue effort

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International rescue teams have been helping search for survivors in the coastal city of Ofunato in Iwate prefecture (above).

The BBC's Gavin Lee is with the British team in Ofunato.

The city was one of the closest to the epicentre of the earthquake and was also hit by the tsunami.

Our correspondent reported seeing ships on top of houses and hundreds of vehicles, including a school bus, in piles of debris.


The British rescue team has been sent to Ofunato along with teams from the US and China.

It is made up of 59 fire service search and rescue specialists, two rescue dogs and a medical support team of four.

Rescuing people after a tsunami is particularly difficult because buildings in which people may be trapped are damaged by the wave coming in and going out and also by being hit by debris such as vehicles and other houses.

Gavin Lee says that particular damage has been caused by wood from a timber yard crashing into buildings.


The first job for the rescuers is to divide the area that they are searching into a grid and then systematically search the area with sniffer dogs.

The dogs help to narrow down the search by identifying buildings in which there may be survivors or bodies.

This particular dog is from a US search and rescue team, which is usually based in Virginia.


Once they have narrowed their search, the teams use listening equipment and heat imaging devices to help them locate any survivors in the rubble.

This team preparing its equipment is from China.

Some of the lower-lying areas of the city have been flattened, but it is hoped that the many higher buildings that have remained standing will yield some survivors.

The British team has brought 11 tonnes of equipment, including devices for heavy lifting and cutting.


Gavin Lee says that the rescue teams described Ofunato as being the biggest job they had seen.

The volunteers travel at very short notice to natural disasters around the world.

While there have been some people rescued alive elsewhere in Japan, so far in Ofunato the British team has only recovered bodies.