U.S. government speeding disaster assistance to Japan
The State Department, the Defense Department, and the U.S. Agency for International Development (USAID) are sending emergency assistance to Japan in the wake of the devastating earthquake and tsunami disaster, while a host of agencies work to mitigate the collateral damage in Hawaii and the West Coast. "I’m heartbroken by this tragedy," President Barack Obama ...
The State Department, the Defense Department, and the U.S. Agency for International Development (USAID) are sending emergency assistance to Japan in the wake of the devastating earthquake and tsunami disaster, while a host of agencies work to mitigate the collateral damage in Hawaii and the West Coast.
"I’m heartbroken by this tragedy," President Barack Obama said at his Friday press conference. "On behalf of the American people, I conveyed our deepest condolences, especially to the victims and their families, and I offered our Japanese friends whatever assistance is needed."
Obama was awoken at 4 a.m. Friday morning with the news that the 8.9 magnitude earthquake had struck off the shore of Japan, near the island of Honshu. The president spoke with Japanese Prime Minister Naoto Kan shortly thereafter. U.S. Ambassador to Japan John Roos spoke with Foreign Minister Takeaki Matsumoto and moved U.S. embassy personnel to a new location as a precaution.
Assistant Secretary of State for Consular Affairs Janice L. Jacobs told reporters Friday that there are no reports yet of U.S. citizens killed or injured by the disaster, but that State has set up a task force and citizens in Japan can reach them at firstname.lastname@example.org. U.S. citizens in need outside Japan should write to email@example.com. The State Department also issued a travel alert advising U.S. citizens not to visit Japan.
Assistant Secretary of State Kurt Campbell was in Tokyo on Wednesday when the first "foreshock," which was a magnitude 7.2 earthquake, struck. However, he was in Mongolia when the big quake hit at 2:36 p.m. Tokyo time on Thursday afternoon.
USAID has taken lead on the international crisis response, and is sending a Disaster Assistance Response Team (DART) to Japan. It is also coordinating the dispatch of the Fairfax County Urban Search and Rescue (USAR) Team and the Los Angeles County Search and Rescue Team, both of which responded in conjunction with USAID to the January 2010 earthquake in Haiti. Each USAR team will have about 72 people, some dogs, 75 tons of rescue equipment, and USAID disaster experts in tow.
"We are working with the government of Japan to provide any assistance needed in the rescue effort as quickly as possible," USAID administrator Rajiv Shah said in a statement.
Secretary of State Hillary Clinton said at a meeting of the President’s Export Council Friday that the U.S. military delivered coolant to a nuclear plant in Japan. The Japanese government has declared an "atomic power emergency" at the Fukushima No. 1 plant in Fukushima Prefecture.
"We just had our Air Force assets in Japan transport some really important coolant to one of the nuclear plants," Clinton said. "You know Japan is very reliant on nuclear power and they have very high engineering standards but one of their plants came under a lot of stress with the earthquake and didn’t have enough coolant," Clinton said.
No major damage has been reported to U.S. naval forces stationed in Yokosuka. The Joint Chiefs of Staff said they were responding to the crisis in the following ways: "The USS Tortuga in Sasebo, Japan, is preparing to load landing craft and to leave for the disaster areas as early as this evening. The USS Essex, with the embarked 31st Marine Expeditionary Unit, arrived in Kota Kinabalu, Malaysia, this morning. The ship is preparing to depart as early as this evening. The USS Blue Ridge, in Singapore, is taking on humanitarian assistance and disaster relief supplies and preparing to depart tomorrow morning. The USS Ronald Reagan carrier strike group, at sea in the western Pacific on its way to Korea, can respond if directed."
"I’ve been kept informed all day long about the tsunami in Japan, the earthquake and tsunami," Defense Secretary Robert Gates, who is in Bahrain, said in a statement. "As best we can tell, all of our people are OK, our ships and military facilities are all in pretty good shape. We obviously have huge sympathy for the people of Japan and we are prepared to help them in any way we possibly can. It’s obviously a very sophisticated country, but this is a huge disaster and we will do all, anything we are asked to do to help out."
Back in the United States, the response is being led by FEMA in coordination with the U.S. Geological Survey and the NOAA National Weather Service. FEMA Administrator Craig Fugate said on a conference call that FEMA had dispatched an emergency team to Hawaii.
Dave Applegate, senior science advisor for earthquakes and geologic hazards at USGS, said that waves peaked in Hilo, Hawaii at around 9 a.m. local time and should have died down by now. Crescent City Harbor, CA saw waves of about 8 feet at around noon. While no substantial damage was reported on the west coast of the United States, the damage in Japan is massive.
"Economic losses are estimated to be in the tens of billions, just from the shaking alone, not the tsunami," Applegate said, explaining that the force of the earthquake was equal to 30 times the strength of the Great 1906 San Francisco Earthquake.
The quake broke a segment of the plate boundary between the Pacific plate and an extension of the North American plate and more aftershocks are expected. There’s a 5 percent chance the aftershocks could be even worse than Thursday’s quake, Applegate said.
"They will continue for not just days but weeks and months or even years."
For a list of ways to contribute to the aid effort in Japan, click here.
UPDATE: The Associated Press reported late Friday that Clinton misspoke and that the Japanese had politely declined the U.S. offer to bring nuclear coolant to the Fukushima power plant.
Josh Rogin covers national security and foreign policy and writes the daily Web column The Cable. His column appears bi-weekly in the print edition of The Washington Post. He can be reached for comments or tips at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Previously, Josh covered defense and foreign policy as a staff writer for Congressional Quarterly, writing extensively on Iraq, Afghanistan, Guantánamo Bay, U.S.-Asia relations, defense budgeting and appropriations, and the defense lobbying and contracting industries. Prior to that, he covered military modernization, cyber warfare, space, and missile defense for Federal Computer Week Magazine. He has also served as Pentagon Staff Reporter for the Asahi Shimbun, Japan's leading daily newspaper, in its Washington, D.C., bureau, where he reported on U.S.-Japan relations, Chinese military modernization, the North Korean nuclear crisis, and more.
A graduate of George Washington University's Elliott School of International Affairs, Josh lived in Yokohama, Japan, and studied at Tokyo's Sophia University. He speaks conversational Japanese and has reported from the region. He has also worked at the House International Relations Committee, the Embassy of Japan, and the Brookings Institution.
Josh's reporting has been featured on CNN, MSNBC, C-Span, CBS, ABC, NPR, WTOP, and several other outlets. He was a 2008-2009 National Press Foundation's Paul Miller Washington Reporting Fellow, 2009 military reporting fellow with the Knight Center for Specialized Journalism and the 2011 recipient of the InterAction Award for Excellence in International Reporting. He hails from Philadelphia and lives in Washington, D.C. Twitter: @joshrogin
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