Japan tsunami: Kiwis head into areas hit hardest

By Amelia Wade

A team of 52 New Zealand Urban Search and Rescue experts have arrived in Japan to help a country that was quick to send us aid after the Christchurch earthquake.

Jim Stuart-Black, head of the Fire Service's Usar teams, was 2 hours into his leave after spending nearly three weeks searching through Christchurch rubble when he was told he was going to Japan.

"It's an unusual situation and I was looking forward to having some time off at the weekend ... But the fact is this has happened and we've just got to roll up our sleeves, dig deep and get on with the job ahead of us."

Usar members are trained to deal with physical and emotional fatigue - skills they have been relying on recently, Mr Stuart-Black said.

Selections of the team sent to Japan were based on which members had had breaks recently and who were the most emotionally capable of heading into another crisis, he said.

"We're eager to get to work, but we're eager to make sure that we come home and we come home safely. That means we've got to do the planning and make sure the resources are there," Mr Stuart-Black said.

The 52-strong team is made up of 46 Usar personnel supported by five Defence Force staff and a Ministry of Foreign Affairs representative. They have been sent to Japan for 10 days. They will be working in a joint task force with the Australian team.

The New Zealand team will initially be sent to an American base north of Tokyo.

They will then travel into one of the towns hit worst by Friday's earthquake and tsunami, Minamisanriku - an area so devastated the team will have to carry 17 tonnes of gear by foot for the last 5km of their journey.

The Kiwis will be based in Sendai, about 130km from the troubled Fukushima Daiichi nuclear facility.

Mr Stuart-Black said the team would be well outside the evacuation zone but would have radiation protection suits and respirators with them as an added precaution.

Search teams from 69 countries are beginning to arrive in Japan.

- NZ Herald

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