Japan tsunami: NZ to send rescue help
JONATHAN MARSHALL AND VICTORIA ROBINSON
Last updated 14:25 12/03/2011
New Zealand has been asked - and agreed - to dispatch an Urban Search and Rescue (USAR) team to help Japan following the massive earthquake and tsunami.
Forty eight rescue members will leave New Zealand over the next two days, with the first team of six flying out tonight.
Prime Minister John Key, speaking outside his Auckland residence this afternoon after a briefing with officials, said the request to New Zealand was "a recognition of our expertise in this area".
"We want to offer whatever support we can, obviously we are conscious of the fact that we are dealing with our own crisis in Christchurch," Key said.
There was no risk that New Zealand would be under-resourced with USAR members or equipment in the event of a further significant Christchurch aftershock.
Even once the 48-strong team went to Japan there would be another two teams available in here, Key said.
The latest information suggested no New Zealanders had been killed in the mega quake, Key said, but that Ministry of Foreign Affairs and Trade staff were having difficulty determining how many Kiwis were in Japan given that they are "notorious" for not registering their travel plans.
He said that at any one time he expected between 5000 and 10,000 Kiwis to be in Japan.
Key said he would make contact with Japan's Prime Minister Naoto Kan to offer New Zealand's support, but that he would wait for an "appropriate time" to do so given "there will be an enormous amount happening in Japan".
He said Kan had been "very kind and gracious" to him in the hours after Christchurch's quake.
"Our heartfelt sympathy goes to the people of Japan who have suffered one of the most significant earthquakes ever registered along with an enormous tsunami."
Key admitted that international support for the Christchurch earthquake could come under some stress given the events in Japan.
"Rightfully so people will be focusing on Japan and the way that they can help them, but the event that took place in Christchurch was significantly dramatic quake from New Zealand's perspective and we will work hard to try and restore the position in Christchurch... but now the world will be focusing on two major events - not one."
National Civil Defence controller Steve Brazier thanked the Japanese USAR team for the members' "incredible work".
"They worked tirelessly on the CTV site and within the four avenues. We really feel for their sorrows at the moment.
"We've been through a ghastly experience. They're going back to one."
Fire Service National Manager for Special Operations Jim Stuart-Black said New Zealand was responding to a specific call for help.
He said sending 48 workers would leave two thirds of personnel and equipment behind, enough to deal with any further quakes in New Zealand.
"As a decision it's not one that was entered into lightly in terms of taking people away from Christchurch.'' He was confident it would not slow down Christchurch recovery efforts.
Stuart-Black said he did not know what the New Zealanders would be called upon to do in Japan, where they are expected to stay up to three weeks.
- Fairfax Media