Aid groups scramble after Japan quake

2011-03-11 12:10

Geneva - The tsunami set off by Japan's huge earthquake is currently higher than some Pacific islands that it could wash over, the Red Cross warned on Friday.

Developing countries are at greater risk from the tsunami than Japan, although many have beefed up early warning systems and evacuation plans since the 2004 tsunami, the International Federation of Red Cross and Red Crescent Societies said.

"Our biggest concern is the Asia and Pacific region, where developing countries are far more vulnerable to this type of unfolding disaster. The tsunami is a major threat," said spokesperson Paul Conneally in Geneva.

"At the moment, it is higher than some islands and could go right over them. That is a scenario that nobody wants to see," he said.

More than 226 000 000 people in 11 Asian countries died in the 2004 tsunami.

Rescue teams

The biggest earthquake to hit Japan since records began 140 years ago struck its northeast coast on Friday, unleashing a 10m tsunami that swept away all in its path, including houses, cars and farm buildings.

All national Red Cross and Red Crescent Societies in the region including the Philippines, Papua New Guinea and Pacific Islands were mobilised to help their populations, according to the Federation, the world's largest disaster relief network.

The UN said 30 international search and rescue teams were on alert to go to Japan to provide assistance.

"We stand ready to assist as usual in such cases," Elisabeth Byrs, spokesperson of the UN Office for the Co-ordination of Humanitarian Assistance (OCHA), said in Geneva.

UN disaster assessment and coordination teams, who deploy in emergencies worldwide to try to locate and treat survivors, normally include sniffer dogs and medical teams.

"We are hearing there is a lot of disruption to lives and agricultural lands, as for physical damage, but we have no reports of major loss of life so far. Certainly there will be injured and a lot of destruction that will affect the economy." said Conneally, referring to Japan.

It was not clear whether Japan would request international assistance because its emergency services and civil defence mechanisms are highly developed, according to aid officials in Geneva.