Days after the earthquake and tsunami struck Japan, more than 7,500 people are still missing, and the number could likely rise.
Search and rescue teams are on hand in some areas– helping with the hunt for survivors.
The relieved mayor of Ofunato greets U.S. and British rescue teams as they start their first full day of operations, but his city’s condition could lie beyond their reach.
The tsunami came through Ofunato’s narrow inlet with such force a tugboat was thrown several blocks, and cars were violently scattered for miles.
“The first thing is we find a place to search. We have map grids that are set up by the local emergency managers in the area. They give us an area to search. We split it up. We take coordinates. We go through the buildings, search it building by building- standing up or laying down,” said Fairfax Co. Urban Search and Rescue Capt. Sam Gray.
The teams fan out, through mountains of rubble and teetering buildings, using every tool they brought.
Rescuers got word there was a note posted on a house that there was someone alive inside. They had the dog teams check it out, but the dogs didn’t detect the scene of anyone alive.
“If you can hear me, knock three times!” yelled one of the rescue team members.
Listening devices and audio signal yielded nothing.
Residents who did escape the tsunami are in shock.
It was initially thought Tomuko Shida lost her husband in the disaster, but a translator says, “Her husband already died. She had stored in a box…She put it in a really high place. And when the storm came, she couldn’t reach the box. She ran away first.”
She’s still looking for her husband’s remains.
For those who did lose loved ones in this disaster, the final casualty count here may never be known.
“The way we’re operating now there’s still plenty of opportunity to find live victims. But as time goes on, those opportunities diminish,” says Battalion Chief Chris Schaff of Virginia Task Force 1.
In many of these places, rescuers say they rely on local citizens, flagging them down to come and get a loved one out of a building or out of a pile of rubble.
One team member said that in Ofunato, whole families might have gone missing, and there might not be anyone even looking for them.
The 74 members of Virginia Task Force 1 deployed to Japan are seeing the devastation first hand.
Fairfax Co. Fire and Rescue Battalion Chief Chris Schaff joined 9NEWS NOW by phone Tuesday morning. He said half the team was resting after searching for survivors, while the other half was preparing to take over.
Click the image above for more of Travis J. Tritten’s photos of VATF-1 in action in Ofunato, Japan and additional details about the team’s initial missions.
“They have us doing search and rescue right along the shoreline where the tsunami came in, and actually working in that grid this morning and afternoon, and we’re going to push further down and closer to the coast tomorrow morning,” Chief Schaff said.
The team was also deployed to Haiti after the earthquake in January, 2010, where they made more than a dozen rescues.
Chief Schaff described how the conditions are different in Japan: “In Haiti, there’s not a whole lot of lumber they used to build, it’s mostly concrete. Here, there is a lot of lumber, so there is a lot of debris washed ashore. There’s houses that have been picked up and moved, as well as a lot of boats, large boats, that we’ve had moved a good distance from the shore, up on top of the houses and collapsed those houses. The crews are working in and around those, doing their search and rescue.”
At this point, they have not had an opportunity to rescue anyone, though Chief Schaff says the team is still very energetic.
Chief Schaff says they are also far enough away for the threat of nuclear radiation not be a concern. “We’ve got hazardous materials specialists that are also working with us from the team, and they’re keeping us abreast of the situation with the hazardous materials in the area we’re working in. That’s not a complication we’re dealing with right now, so we’re not really focusing that direction. However, we do have people that can take care of that should that need arise for us.”
Rescuers have found a 70-year-old woman alive four days after the disaster struck.
Osaka fire department spokesman Yuko Kotani says the woman was found inside her house that was washed away by the tsunami in northeastern Japan’s Iwate prefecture. The rescuers from Osaka, in western Japan, were sent to the area for disaster relief.
Kotani said the woman was conscious but suffering from hypothermia and is being treated at a hospital. She would not give the woman’s name.
Her rescue was a rare bit of news for Japanese traumatized by the disaster.
My friend Ron Gardner (a former and great TV news anchor) in Idaho posted the above video on his Facebook page today. It is one of the many videos from Japan that gives you the close-up ground view as the tsunami obliterated towns. It gives you an idea of the task ahead for the search and rescue teams from the U.S. They are now in Japan. Firegeezer has a bunch more videos for you.
Below are some videos, courtesy of WUSA9.com, of the arrival of Virginia Task Force 1 (VATF-1 out of Fairfax County) and California Task Force 2 (CATF-2 out of Los Angeles County) in Japan. There they have met up with a British team. (Note: I am aware the audio on the last two videos is out of synch. It was fed to WUSA9.com that way.)
Here is some information contained in a press release from the Fairfax County Fire & Rescue Department:
The team arrived at Misawa Air Base, Sunday, March 13, 2011, by commercial aircraft. Approximately 31 tons of equipment and supplies, including four inflatable boats, was transported separately by military airlift.
The self-contained, heavy task force of 74 personnel has technical search and rescue specialists, search and rescue canines, structural engineers, a medical component consisting of physicians and paramedics, and other critical support personnel. VATF-1 will travel to Ofunato, a seaport city of approximately 41,000, and establish a base of operations.
While enroute to Japan, VATF-1 stopped in Los Angeles, California, and joined with California Task Force 2 (CATF-2) for the trip to Misawa Air Base. Both teams will be working under the direction of the Tokyo Fire Department.
The Fairfax County Urban Search and Rescue team has been mobilized to respond to the devastation caused by the earthquake and tsunami in northern Japan.
Dan Schmidt, spokesperson for the Fairfax County Fire Department, says they received word just minutes ago. He says mobilization means the team prepares for deployment, but it does not necessarily mean it will be deployed.
The Fairfax County Urban Search and Rescue team, also known as Virginia Task Force 1, is one of two teams in the nation deployed by USAID to assist countries who have experienced large scale damage due to natural disasters or other causes. The other team is from Los Angeles, California.
Two groups from Fairfax’s team were dispatched after Haiti’s earthquake in January, 2010. They pulled more than a dozen people from the rubble.
Detroit’s Ladder 13, hit by a train yesterday, was caught on video when it crashed last year: In July, Ladder 13 went out of control as it made a turn at Lawndale and Vernor. The video above is from a security camera that caught the collision. Click here for our coverage of that story.
Detroit commissioner blasts Ladder 13 driver & union blasts commissioner: If you checked with us at all yesterday afternoon and evening you have seen the pictures and video of the aftermath of Ladder 13′s collision with an Amtrak train. It isn’t just the executive fire commissioner and union president who have opinions about this one, we have received a few comments. Click here for our extensive coverage of the wreck.
The most bizarre fire story you are likely to see in some time: In the UK a fire engine crew member was arrested on suspicion of manslaughter by negligence. His crime – he blew the lights and siren causing a stampede of Holstein Friesian cows that ran over Harold Lee, a 75-year-old farmer from Somerset. According to the Daily Mail, “Mr Lee’s son Andrew claimed the incident could have been avoided had the fire crew waited for just a few minutes as the cows were safely herded off the road.” Here’s the entire article.
Firegeezer Bill Schumm thinks this isn’t the United Kingdom’s only recent trip through the looking glass when it comes to the fire service. Check out Bill’s view.
Fairfax County still on standby for Chile: I spent some of yesterday afternoon watching the mobilization of Virginia Task Force 1 at the training academy for the Fairfax County Fire & Rescue Department. While the USAR team hasn’t been officially activated they were following USAID orders to get a 52 member team (with 4 search dogs) together and ready to deploy. Here’s the story. As of 8:00 this morning everyone is on 4-hour standby waiting for word from USAID. Here is a slide show from Fairfax County yesterday and here is the video (also in our player to the right). By the way my favorite image from yesterday was not captured by a camera. It was of a firefighter in uniform preparing his gear for deployment, talking on the cell phone and changing his toddler son’s diaper all at the same time. Now that’s multitasking. Also, here is some video from Califronia Task Force 2 doing the same drill.
Trying to explain brown-outs to the public: In Springfield, Illinois the local paper is trying to let the public know when the local fire station might be part of rotating closures. They are finding the answers a bit more complicated than expected. Check it out.
Comment number 15k: Yesterday morning we posted our 15,000th comment since starting STATter911 in May of 2007. It was from JasoninVA responding to a recent posting of a video from Gary, Indiana-
Good comment Chris. Now for those that want to pick this and every other video they see apart. Are you serious? Do you live in a dream world where every fireground goes perfect? It makes no difference whether you are from NOVA, DC, PG, Southern Va. or Western Md. We all have our own highlight reels and those that we wish we could go back to quarters and start again from the beginning. Sure, there were some questionable ops, but then again, I’d be lying if I said I hadn’t taken a window or two (or 20) w/o PPE as the wagon driver because the truck was delayed or cut a roof without a roof ladder. This is not an attack on anyone but more of an observation. With the age of technology, you never know who is there and watching. Pictures and videos are on the internet before you can even get back in quarters. Before we get on a “holier than thou” kick, you may want to think about something. The next video on here may be you doing something that “The Book” says isn’t safe and then you will find yourself justifying / defending your actions.
If you go to that entry and scroll down to comments you will see one by me. I think I actually ask some thoughtful questions (I don’t have any of the answers, but I sure can ask questions) on this whole topic of people pointing out issues in the fireground videos we post. Click here to see it all.
(Note: Please check the video player to the right. When new videos come in involving USAR teams, WUSA9.com’s Emily Cyr and Jillian Coyle are adding them, often before I am able to catch up with the details. You will also see other fire & EMS related videos in the player from the DC area and around the country.)
It is clear the urban search and rescue teams on the ground in Haiti are making progress. We have been keeping tabs of our local teams from Fairfax County, Virginia, but there is good work being done by many.
Fairfax County Fire & Rescue Department spokesman Dan Schmidt tells us the same team successfully completed at 1:00 AM a 17-hour rescue of a woman at the Hotel Montana in Port-Au-Prince (part of that operation is seen on the video above).
They then went on to assist the French team with the rescue of four people (a fifth was being worked on late this morning). A portion of the team was also assisting the group from Spain on rescuing two people from an elevator shaft.
Team two is known as USA-5 USA-1 Medium. It has 42 36 people on the team. They arrived in Haiti early this morning and Schmidt confirms they are also using the US Embassy as a base of operations (considered a plus for security and coordination).
Not unexpected this evening, the U.S. Agency for International Development (USAID) announced it is sending a Disaster Assistance Response Team (DART) to Haiti. This will include firefighters from Fairfax County and Los Angeles County. The two urban search and rescue (USAR) teams have been activated and are gathering personnel and equipment.
According to USAID, the USAR teams have as many as 72 personnel, 6 search and rescue canines and up to 48 tons of rescue equipment.
Fairfax County Fire & Rescue Department spokesman Dan Schmidt tells STATter911.com that as of 10:30 PM EST flight arrangements have not been finalized. Approximately ninety-percent of the 72-member team is made up of county firefighters. Civilian doctors, structural engineers and canine handlers are also part of the team.
The firefighters are at the department’s training academy loading the team’s 90,000 pounds of equipment.
The department, as it has in the past, will set up its family support group to keep relatives notified of the team’s location and progress through conference calls and other means.
Members of the Fairfax team have responded to disasters all over the world including two previous trips to Haiti for a school collapse and a hurricane.