Israeli search and rescue team leaves for Japan

Six Israelis – five business people and a tourist – remain unaccounted for, Foreign Ministry says.

japan earthquake 2_311 reuters (photo credit: KYODO Kyodo / Reuters)
japan earthquake 2_311 reuters
(photo credit: KYODO Kyodo / Reuters)
A civilian Israeli search and rescue team was to leave for Japan on Sunday morning to help victims of the 8.9 magnitude earthquake and massive tsunami that struck the island nation on Friday.
Six Israelis – five business people and a tourist – remained unaccounted for on Saturday night, according to a Foreign Ministry spokesman.
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The spokesman said there were enormous problems with the communications system in Japan as a result of the earthquake, and that it was possible the six Israelis had been trying to call home.
While the telecommunications system was badly damaged, it is possible to make contact via e-mail, and the embassy – relying on a recently drawn-up list of the few hundred Israelis who live in Japan – succeeded in making contact with the vast majority of them. On Friday afternoon the number of Israelis who had not yet been contacted stood at 28, a number that dropped to six in 24 hours.
There are also believed to be 300- 400 Israeli tourists in the country.
Israel was one of around 45 countries that offered the Japanese assistance, proffering help in identifying victims of the earthquake and in providing water sanitation systems.
The Japanese have not yet said that they need the help.
IsraAID-First, an Israeli humanitarian umbrella group organizing the search and rescue team, said it would reach Japan by way of South Korea, and join Japanese teams already in action.
“We’re sending six medical professionals and people specializing in search and rescue,” Shachar Zehavi, the head of IsraAid, said. “Many of these people were members of the Israel Defense Forces search and rescue team in the past.”
Zehavi said the delegation would land in either Tokyo or Osaka and be deployed in a yet to be determined area chosen by Japanese authorities.
“It all depends on how things develop in the field, but there are more teams waiting here in Israel,” he said. “One of their main needs will be issues of water purification.
But the Japanese so far are dealing with it very well, with a lot of professionalism.”
Over the weekend, Jewish groups around the world expressed solidarity with the people of Japan in their time of crisis.
“The destructive power of the huge earthquake that slammed Japan is incalculable, but this crisis challenges us who can act to respond,” American Jewish Committee Executive Director David Harris said.
“IsraAID, our partner, often is one of the first nongovernmental groups to reach the disaster and provide urgently needed assistance.”
Several Diaspora organizations have launched fund-raising efforts to help. The Jewish Federations of North America announced it was opening a website to collect money to help victims in Japan and the Pacific rim.
“The Jewish Federations send our deepest sympathy to people affected by this terrible event,” said Fred Zimmerman, chairman of JFNA’s Emergency Committee. “We are determined to provide emergency relief as quickly as possible and to work with our partners to provide support over the longer term as well.”
Earlier, the American Jewish Joint Distribution Committee announced it was collecting money for relief efforts and had reached out to the Japanese government to offer its expertise in earthquake and tsunami- related response.
“Our prayers and sympathies go out to the families of those lost in the earthquake in Japan; and as we have before in Haiti [after the earthquake there in January 2010] and in nations struck by the Indian Ocean tsunami [of December 2004], JDC will leverage its disaster relief expertise and strong partnerships in the region to react swiftly and sympathetically to the needs of victims,” said Steven Schwager, JDC’s chief executive officer.
Two teams from the ZAKA rescue and recovery organization were set to depart from Israel and Hong Kong after the conclusion of Shabbat in their respective locations to help in rescue efforts.
The teams decided to go after consulting with the Foreign Ministry and with Chabad in Japan, ZAKA said in a statement. They expected to be met upon arrival by Israeli Ambassador Nissim Ben-Sheetrit, according to the statement.