NZ USAR team ready to start Japan search

New Zealand's Urban Search and Rescue (USAR) team in Japan are settled in the northern part of the country and about to start work helping to find survivors of Friday's magnitude 9.0 earthquake and tsunami.

The team's work will involve identifying the sites where survivors are most likely to be, undertaking rescue operations and helping to move survivors to safety.

Fire Service national manager of special operations and team leader Jim Stuart-Black said he, the Australian USAR taskforce leader and Japanese emergency officials were discussing their planned operations in the tsunami-affected areas.

They were about to carry out a quick aerial reconnaissance of the Minamisanriku area, a coastal town about 90km northeast of Sendai.

Minamisanriku was one of the areas hardest hit by the tsunami, despite being several kilometres from the ocean. Officials have suggested that more than half of its 17,000 residents are missing.

Of all its buildings, only three have been left standing - the hospital, a wedding store and a school.

Police believe a train filled with commuters has been buried by debris from the tsunami.

"The team morale is great and we are very focused on the work ahead. We are setting up our base of operations and preparing to begin searching for survivors," Mr Stuart-Black said.

The team was "well aware" of the nuclear power plant issues emerging 130km south of their base, he said.

"We have good information on the situation and are being kept well informed of all developments.

"We also have our own equipment and are constantly monitoring the atmosphere. The radiation levels here are the normal background levels."

- NZPA

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