South African rescue team heading to Japan

Rescue South Africa assembled a team of
50 rescue workers to fly to earthquake-
and tsunami- devastated Japan to help
the thousands reported missing and
(Image: Rescue SA)

• Ian Scher
Rescue South Africa
+27 82 459 9765

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As the situation in Japan becomes progressively worse, local organisation Rescue South Africa has assembled a crack team to fly to the earthquake- and tsunami-devastated country to aid the tens of thousands reported missing and injured by the disaster.

More than 10 000 people are believed to be dead after a magnitude 8.9 earthquake struck north-eastern Japan on Friday 11 March 2011. Although the country is prone to earthquakes, Friday’s natural disaster is the biggest to have hit the country in 140 years – since record-keeping began.

On Monday 14 March 2 000 bodies were recovered on the shores of Miyagi prefecture, where the tsunami was most intense.

Spokesperson for Rescue South Africa Ian Scher said a team of 50 people would fly out on Monday evening to Japan. The team would consist of firefighters, medical personnel, press, dog handlers and their dogs.

He said: “When we go on such a mission we go equipped … We have got to have our own camp with food, rescue equipment, medication, and doctors – so you don’t become a burden on the country you go and assist.”

Scher thanked the private sector which had sponsored the NGO on their mission and appealed to South Africans as they still needed further funding for the operation. “We are really struggling at the moment to raise funds, we need about R7-million for the operation, and at the moment we are about half way there.”

He said so far “Netcare have sponsored R1-million, Discovery have sponsored R500 000, Econet Wireless have sponsored R1-million, MTN R500 000, Core Group have given R250 000, and ER24 and Medhold have donated medication and warehouses.”

He said people who wanted to contribute could go to the website where they would find details on how to make contributions.

Rescue South Africa is part of the International Search and Rescue Advisory Group (INSARAG). Formed in 1991, INSARAG is made up of more than 80 countries and disaster response organisations that fall under the UN.

The South African organisation has been part of other major rescue missions including the Haiti rescue mission after a 7.0 magnitude earthquake struck that country in January 2010. In October 2005, they were part of the medical search and rescue mission in Pakistan after a 7.6 magnitude earthquake there. They went on an urban search and rescue mission in Algeria in May 2003 after it was struck by a 6.8 quake. In December of the same year, they undertook an urban search and rescue mission to Iran after the country was hit by a 6.5 quake.

South Africans living in Japan

South Africa’s Ambassador to Japan Gert Grobler reported on 11 March that he and his staff were unhurt and fellow South African citizens working in the country were also safe. He said there are more than 200 South Africans teaching English in Japan, and most of them were accounted for and unharmed.

Gobler said they would be tracking all the South Africans and confirming their wellbeing in the next few days.

Business affected

On 14 March vehicle manufacturer Toyota South Africa sent a top delegation to Japan to assess the effect of the earthquake and tsunami on its local operations. “Fortunately for us all our main operating plants are based in Toyota City which is in the Ngoya district south-west of Tokyo and quite a distance from the epicentre of the quake,” said Toyota South Africa spokesperson Leo Kok.

“We do, however, have four affiliates in the Sendai district, which has been heavily hit by the earthquake,” he said. Kok said they will be waiting for feedback in about two days to find out exactly how this will affect their local operation.

Toyota South Africa produces the Hilux, Corolla and Fortuner models locally for the domestic and export markets. It also imports the Yaris, Rav 4, Land Cruiser and the Lexus models.

Kok said they do, however, have to source certain parts from overseas, which might be affected by the current disaster.

* At the time of publishing the rand was R6.90 to the US dollar