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Japanese Rescuers Sad to Leave China: Move Twice in 4 days, Found No Survivors

Posted by Author on May 21, 2008

Takeru Makino / Yomiuri Shimbun Staff Writer, Japan, May. 21, 2008-

CHENGDU, China– The leader of the Japanese rescue team dispatched to seek survivors of the May 12 earthquake in southwest China said Tuesday the team did its best, but regretted leaving the area struck by the massive temblor without saving any survivors.

“It was unfortunate we weren’t able to get to work immediately after the earthquake,” Takashi Koizumi, 57, said at a press conference held Tuesday morning at a hotel in Chengdu, the capital of Sichuan Province.

Koizumi, director of the Foreign Ministry’s Overseas Disaster Assistance Division, leads 60 elite specialists sent from the Foreign Ministry, the National Police Agency, the Japan Coast Guard, the Tokyo Fire Department and Japan International Cooperation Agency.

The 32-member team brought with it high-tech rescue equipment, such as radar detectors that can locate survivors. But the team was only able to arrive at the afflicted areas after the 72-hour window in which people can realistically be expected to be rescued.

After reaching the afflicted area Friday, the team recovered about 20 bodies, but could not find any survivors.

At the press conference, Koizumi said: “I found some Chinese authorities were unaccustomed to dealing with a rescue team from a foreign country. We were unable to obtain some of the information we needed.”

“At the afflicted areas, I saw things that are difficult to describe in words.” Koizumi said. “But our activities were restricted in such areas.”

Koizumi said the team had done what needed to be done. However, he also said all the team members wanted to stay in the area and continue relief operations.

A member staying at the hotel said he had been able to sleep well for the first time in days.

“I’m not yet ready to explain my feelings [about leaving here without rescuing any survivors],” he said.

The hotel staff warned the team early Tuesday morning that a huge aftershock might strike the region.

“It’s difficult for me to leave here in such a situation,” he said.

After the press conference, all the members moved to another hotel to meet with Huang Yanrong, vice governor of Sichuan Province.

“You’ve won respect from Chinese citizens by conducting operations to the best of your abilities for five days, battling difficulties and dangers,” Huang said.

No lives saved

The limited achievements of the Japanese rescue team in a harsh environment showed the difficulty of international cooperation.

The team had to move twice in four days after reaching the quake-hit area. With time wasted traveling, members were able to search for survivors for only about two days. The team had to travel about 460 kilometers by car after arriving in Sichuan Province.

The rescue team reached Guanzhuang district in Qingchuan County of the province at about 10 a.m. Friday. However, team members discovered the area had been battered by landslides. Koizumi decided his team should move from the area because the team is specialized in urban disasters and was not equipped to handle the situation.

The team reached the Qiaozhuang district shortly after 4 p.m. and began search-and-rescue operations at the site of a collapsed hospital. Team members searched for survivors throughout the night, but were only able to find the bodies of a woman and her child.

On Saturday, the team moved to Qushan district in Beichuan County after another 29 members joined the team. Together, they conducted rescue activities at collapsed houses and a middle school building. They were able to recover the bodies of 14 people, but found no survivors.

The team was told to withdraw from the area to Chengdu at about 1 p.m. Monday. All the members, who had been waiting to move to another afflicted area, looked disappointed to hear the instruction. “There are still lots of things we can do in the disaster area,” one member told The Yomiuri Shimbun.

– Details from Yomiuri Shimbun: Japanese rescuers sad to leave China

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