Japan Earthquake: 50,000 personnel dispatched for rescue effort

Japan mobilised 50,000 military and other rescue personnel 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 on Saturday, 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.

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Japan requests foreign rescue teams

Japan has requested a limited number of foreign search and rescue teams to help with the aftermath of its major earthquake and tsunami, the United Nations said Friday.

More than 68 search and rescue teams from 45 countries have offered aid to Japan, which was hit by the earthquake and tsunami Friday in the northeast, it said.

"Japan has requested international search and rescue teams, but only a handful," Elisabeth Byrs, spokeswoman of the U.N. Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (OCHA), said in Geneva.

At least four teams had been requested — from Australia, New Zealand, South Korea and the United States, Byrs said. Japan’s request was made before a strong quake with preliminary magnitude of 5.8 struck northwestern Japan early Saturday.

U.S. President Barack Obama spoke to Japanese Prime Minister Naoto Kan Friday to offer to help "in any way possible," the Japanese Jiji agency reported.

"The United States stands ready to help the Japanese people in this time of great trial … The friendship and alliance between our two nations is unshakeable, and only strengthens our resolve to stand with the people of Japan as they overcome this tragedy," Obama said in a statement.

Read the rest of the story: Japan requests foreign rescue teams, U.N. says | Reuters.

Tokyo and Northern Japan Suffer Major Damage

Japan was struck by a magnitude-8.8 earthquake off its northeastern coast Friday, triggering a 13-foot (4-meter) tsunami that washed away cars and tore away buildings along the coast near the epicenter.

A tsunami carried boats across waters in Kamaishi city port in this still image taken from video footage.

In various locations along Japan’s coast, TV footage showed severe flooding, with dozens of cars, boats and even buildings being carried along by waters. A large ship swept away by the tsunami rammed directly into a breakwater in Kesennuma city in Miyagi prefecture, according to footage on public broadcaster NHK.

Officials were trying to assess possible damage from the quake but had no immediate details.

The quake that struck 2:46 p.m. was followed by a series of aftershocks, including a 7.4-magnitude one about 30 minutes later. The U.S. Geological Survey upgraded the strength of the first quake to a magnitude 8.8.

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