Fears grow for missing NZers

Fears are growing for two New Zealanders missing in quake-torn Japan where tens of thousands are feared dead after a magnitude 9.0 tremor hit the country on Friday.

One of the two people the Ministry of Foreign Affairs and Trade (MFAT) has concerns for is reported to be Steven Brooking, a 37-year-old English language teacher who lived in the coastal city of Miyako, Iwate.

The city was destroyed by a massive tsunami that ripped through the area.

His family told TVNZ they had not heard from him since Friday morning when he emailed his mother.

Mr Brooking's father, Gary, told the Herald he did not know where his son was when the quake hit.

"He spoke to his mother on Friday morning by email so he was there then but whether he was actually at school or he had a day off and went somewhere else we don't know."

Steven Brooking had been teaching in Japan on and off for almost 10 years and was almost a year into his latest stint, his father said.

MFAT said 1721 New Zealanders had registered with them to advise they are safe and well in Japan.

Embassy staff were providing a range of consular assistance by those badly affected by the disaster, including visiting hospitals and evaluation centres.

Consular staff were also based at Narita International Airport in Tokyo and Sendai in the northeast to help.

MFAT has updated its travel advisory to recommend against all tourist and other non essential travel to prefectures in Japan affected by the earthquake and tsunami including Tokyo.

New Zealanders intending to travel to other parts of Japan were asked to email the ministry on cons@mfat.govt.nz to advise them of their wellbeing.

Meanwhile, New Zealand's Urban Search and Rescue (USAR) team in Japan are about to start work in the northeastern town of Minamisanriku in an effort to find any survivors.

The situation in the country has deteriorated today, with explosions at the Fukushima nuclear facility resulting in a fire that is producing a cloud of life-threatening radiation.

Since the quake, three explosions have rocked the power plant.

Radiation at four times a person's recommended level of safe exposure have been detected at the plant following the explosions.

Fire Service national manager of special operations and team leader Jim Stuart-Black said the team was "well aware" of the nuclear power plant issues emerging 130km south of their base.

"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."

The team was bracing to begin a search of the devastated area, which would include identifying sites where survivors were most likely to be, undertaking rescue operations and helping to move survivors to safety.

Mr Stuart-Black said he, the Australian USAR taskforce leader and Japanese emergency officials were discussing their planned operations in the tsunami-affected areas and were about to carry out an aerial reconnaissance of the Minamisanriku area.

Minamisanriku, a coastal town about 90km northeast of Sendai, was one of the hardest hit areas 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 - a hospital, a wedding store and a school.

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

- NZPA

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