Japan doubles troops for quake help, world offers aid

13th March 2011, Comments 0 comments

Japan on Sunday committed 100,000 troops to help earthquake and tsunami survivors as the world rallied behind the disaster-stricken nation and a US aircraft carrier began flying in food.

The deployment, ordered by Prime Minister Naoto Kan, doubles the number of troops already on the ground after the massive scale of the devastation wrought by the twin disasters emerged along the northeast coast.

"I ask for utmost efforts to save the lives of as many people as possible," Kan told a meeting of the government's emergency disaster headquarters, Kyodo News reported.

But the scale of the challenge facing relief workers was still becoming clear Sunday, with efforts to help victims hampered by shattered infrastructure in the disaster zone, where whole towns were flattened to rubble and mud.

Defence Minister Toshimi Kitazawa said the 100,000 troops -- about 40 percent of the armed forces -- would be fully deployed within two days.

"There are so many people who are still isolated and waiting for assistance. This reality is very stark," he said.

His comments came amid bleak warnings of a surge in the death toll. The police chief of Miyagi prefecture, the region hardest hit by Friday's natural disasters, said Sunday the death toll there will exceed 10,000.

Elsewhere police and military reported finding groups of hundreds of bodies along the tsunami-battered coastline.

More than 215,000 people were in emergency shelters, while near a stricken nuclear plant people were panic-buying from stores and petrol stations ran dry. Power was out in the quake-hit city of Sendai, and food and fuel were running low.

Offers of help poured in from across the world including China and Russia, which both have territorial disputes with Tokyo.

Beijing sent condolences from Premier Wen Jiabao and Foreign Minister Yang Jiechi and a team of 15 rescuers. Russia said Japan had asked it for more energy supplies after the tsunami shut down some nuclear plants.

Prime Minister Vladimir Putin said Moscow should do everything to help its neighbour, which asked for additional liquefied natural gas supplies.

"Our neighbours are faced with huge grief and tragedy," Putin told a meeting Saturday evening, saying all necessary help should be given despite "the problems which we have inherited from the past".

Japan's foreign ministry said 69 nations or regions and five international aid organisations had offered assistance as of Sunday morning.

Among them was New Zealand, which suffered its own earthquake devastation last month in the city of Christchurch.

A 66-strong Japanese team which has spent more than two weeks scouring the rubble in Christchurch also rushed home to confront the unfolding tragedy.

An Australian military plane was poised to leave carrying rescue dogs and searchers, some of them just back from New Zealand.

"I don't think what we have seen in Christchurch can remotely compare to (Japan)," said rescuer Barry Lowday.

South Korea, which sometimes has prickly relations with its 20th century colonial ruler, was to fly 102 rescue and medical workers to the Sendai region Sunday night on a military aircraft, said vice foreign minister Min Dong-Seok.

President Lee Myung-Bak expressed sympathy and condolences in a phone conversation with Japanese Prime Minister Naoto Kan Sunday morning. Lee told Kan he was "moved by the calm response shown by Japanese in the face of such an enormous natural disaster".

Search and rescue teams and sniffer dogs also arrived from Germany and Switzerland, and rescuers from Britain and France have been dispatched.

Japan has asked the US aircraft carrier Ronald Reagan for help to refuel its helicopters and transport troops to affected areas.

The carriers' own helicopters have flown 20 missions to and from a Japanese ship and delivered food and supplies to three towns, the US embassy said.

A 150-member US Agency for International Development team arrived to join inland operations along with 12 dogs.

In addition to rescuers, Australia offered to send nuclear specialists to help manage the threat from the damaged nuclear power station.

Two experts from the US Nuclear Regulatory Commission were headed for Japan, where fears of a meltdown led to the evacuation of tens of thousands of people.

© 2011 AFP

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