Tired Kiwi rescuers welcomed home from Japan
Published: 7:16AM Sunday March 20, 2011 Source: ONE News
Around 50 exhausted and emotional Urban Search and Rescue workers, who have been assisting in Japan, have arrived back in New Zealand.
The team were welcomed home at Auckland Airport this morning by their families, Internal Affairs Minister Nathan Guy, Fire Service Chair Dame Margaret Bazely, and other fire service colleagues.
"I'm proud of this team, many of whom have gone straight from working in Christchurch to help Japan in their time of need," said Guy.
"It shows the professionalism and dedication of our rescue workers."
New Zealand Fire Service National Commander Mike Hall said the Urban Search and Rescue team left Japan because they had passed the point of rescuing anyone alive.
Hall said the team had been working in extremely difficult conditions but sadly were unable to save any lives, although they did recover some bodies.
Taskforce leader Graeme Mills said it has been an emotional month.
Many have worked on both Canterbury quakes, at Pike River and now in Japan.
"Everybody here on our team has come straight from Christchurch, where we have of course had the bad earthquake and we have been there doing search and rescue work, working with Japanese team," Mills said.
Many in the team wanted to repay the Japanese after they answered the call when Christchurch was struck.
"Coming from Christchurch - that's why I went because Japan came over and helped us without hesitation really, and I was quite keen to give it back really and help them out, said Usar's Richard Twomey.
Hall said the tragedy in Japan was very different to the one in Christchurch.
"What we have seen in Japan has been just total devastation and destruction, and there has not been buildings even standing where we have been working, so it is very different and quite hard to understand and comprehend the power of the water.
"It is the first time many of the men have seen tsunami damage after the earthquake, so it has been quite different," he said.
The team had been working with international and Japanese searchers in the Minamisanriku area, about 200km north of Tokyo, where the tsunami swept away close to 10,000 people.
The stricken Fukushima power plant was also just 130 kilometres south, so radiation monitoring was constant.
"For us it was nothing more than just another hazard - it could be petrol that's spilt as a result of a tsunami going through a petrol station - it's just something else to be aware of," said Usar's Jim Stuart-Black.
Hall said the situation has been discussed with Japanese officials, and the assessment is that there is very little chance of finding people alive in the area, where the weather has turned bitterly cold.
"This is not an easy decision to make but the search and rescue skills of our team are no longer best suited to Japan's needs," Hall said.
Teams from several other countries, including the United Kingdom, the United States, Switzerland, Germany and Australia are also returning home.