By Song Sang-ho
South Korean rescue workers Tuesday began searching for survivors in a Japanese northeastern coastal city, devastated by last week’s earthquake and tsunami, according to the Foreign Ministry in Seoul.
On Monday, the 102-member rescue team arrived in Sendai, Miyagi Prefecture ― one of the hardest-hit regions in the country struggling to deal with the aftermath of the 9.0 magnitude quake that has killed thousands of people.
The team joined an advance party of five rescuers and two search dogs who arrived there last Saturday. They have set up camp at a public stadium in the prefecture.
Early in the day, along with 50 Japanese police officers, 90 South Korean rescuers rummaged through the wreckage left behind by the strongest quake in the country’s recorded history.
Seoul has been stepping up efforts to help its neighboring country quickly recover from the disaster. Other than the dispatch of rescue workers, South Korean citizens have joined in a nationwide effort to collect money for Japan.
In the aftermath of the quake that unleashed a 10-meter tidal wave swallowing ships, cars and houses in the Miyagi region ― including its main city of Sendai ― media reports say there could be tens of thousands of people dead or missing.
The Seoul government is striving to verify the safety of South Koreans. At least 60 Koreans as well as two residents within a 30 kilometer radius of a badly damaged nuclear plant in Fukushima Prefecture have yet to be contacted, the ministry said.
The number of South Koreans living in the earthquake-hit regions is 11,572.
On Monday, the first South Korean fatality was confirmed. A 40-year-old construction worker, identified only by his surname Lee, fell to his death at a construction site in the Japanese province of Ibaraki where a thermal power plant was being built.
In addition, a 43-year-old ethnic Korean, identified by his family name Kim, has also been confirmed dead at the same construction site. He is stateless as he is a descendant of Koreans who lived without obtaining nationality after being moved to Japan during its colonial rule.
Meanwhile, the Korean Red Cross is to offer $1 million to its Japanese counterpart to help the ongoing relief efforts.
Korea’s Red Cross has also sent an official to join the international team designed to survey the extent of the damage and discuss effective measures to help recovery efforts. The eight-member team was organized by the International Federation of Red Cross and Red Crescent Societies.