As Japan awoke to images of destruction rolling on continuous new bulletins, authorities went into overdrive to coordinate international rescue and relief efforts in the wake of yesterday's 8.9-magnitude earthquake and subsequent tsunami.
"This is the largest earthquake since the Meiji Era [1868 - 1912], and it is believed that more than 1,000 people have lost their lives,” said Chief Cabinet Secretary Yukio Edano at the headquarters of the crisis center set up by the government in Tokyo to coordinate the response to the disaster.
Prime Minister Naoto Kan visited the disaster zone on Saturday morning by helicopter, leaving Tokyo at 6 a.m. to visit the worst-affected areas and the Fukushima No.1 nuclear power station, where emergency crews have been battling to avoid a meltdown. And opposition parties, which have been locked in bitter battles with the unpopular government over a stalled budget in a deadlocked parliament, pledged a “political cease-fire” to cooperate on recovery efforts.
The government announced it will send a further 30,000 members of the Self-Defense Forces, Japan's de facto army, to join the 20,000 already deployed to assist in the rescue and relief efforts as emergency services attempt to reach hundreds up people thought to be buried under rubble, stranded on rooftops, or unable to reach evacuation areas.
Offers from more than 70 specialist rescue services from around the globe have been received by Japan, with crews from Australia, New Zealand, South Korea being requested to join a 150-member team from the United States making its way to the devastated northeast of the country.
Japan’s mobile phone carriers have created a digital bulletin board system where people looking for missing friends and relatives can post messages of up to 100 characters. The messages can be accessed by anyone who knows the posters’ telephone number.
Medical teams from 52 hospitals from around the nation have been sent to the quake-affected areas to help with treating the injured.
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On Friday, Foreign Minister Takeaki Matsumoto -- newly appointed on Wednesday after the previous incumbent stepped down following a political funding scandal -- asked US Ambassador John Roos for logistical assistance from the US Military in Japan. On Saturday, Mr. Matsumoto spoke with Secretary of State Hilary Clinton, who pledged full support for the relief efforts.
In Tokyo, away from the worst of the devastation, more than 100,000 people stranded by the shutdown of the capital’s train system began to make their way home on Saturday morning after spending the night in offices, emergency shelters, and anywhere they could find to lay their heads.
Approximately 5.5 million households were still without electricity on Saturday, while more than 1 million have no running water.