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Japan earthquake: The work of the UK rescuers

Posted on 16th March 2011 at 21:24pm

The British search and rescue team working on the north-east coast of Japan is spending a second day looking for survivors.

Every single member of the team, including accompanying journalists, has now been issued with a dosimeter, which reads radiation levels.

All the measure gauges currently show a reading of zero and we are now 80km (50 miles) north of the potential zone of exposure.

The team started on Wednesday as it ended on Tuesday, in the coastal city of Ofunato where hundreds are estimated to be missing.

20ft waves

The devastation caused by the tsunami is almost impossible to comprehend. Thousands of businesses and residential properties at the bottom of a mountain range have been crushed and flattened.

Hundreds of cars and several fishing vessels have been smashed up and tossed across what remains of the landscape.

We can also see proof of the size of the wave by looking at the watermark made 20ft (6m) high on the walls of the few buildings that still stand.

All of those still standing are supported by steel structures. Thousands of pine trees from a timber yard have been speared into the remaining properties.

The saddest part has been the personal remnants I have seen on the ground - family photos, teddy bears, wallets and car keys still left in the ignition.

It gives a sense of the immediacy of the earthquake. The warning siren sounded here five minutes before the earthquake, which was followed five minutes later by the tsunami.

The rescuers are working in teams of six, slowly and deliberately working through the rubble.

The Japanese authorities say more than 160 bodies have been recovered in this area.

Within the 2km stretch of the city the British are covering, no survivors have been found. The rescue team has recovered one body.

Further along the coast, two survivors have been found.

Despite the odds, in freezing cold conditions the Japanese authorities discovered one man on the second floor of a building between two mattresses. This was an indication of the emergency earthquake training that the population here regard as essential.

He was treated for dehydration and hypothermia.

On Wednesday afternoon, the rescue crews deployed 30km (19 miles) further north, to Kamaishi.

They were told that local fire and rescue teams had already searched the area, but there are still more than 1,000 people missing.

As we arrived on the rugged coastline, the blusters of snow turned to blizzard conditions.

The thick snow could not hide the piled-up cars, sofas, trees and boats that have lined up along a procession of debris by the banks of the main Kasshi-gawa river that leads to Kasai Shi Bay.

This was once a picture postcard Japanese tourist destination. Now its low-lying houses have been destroyed.

News Feed from BBC News

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