"Operation Tomodachi" #Japan #Earthquake and Tsunami Assistance

The State Department updated its Travel Alert yesterday requesting that non-essential USG travel to Japan be deferred in light of the natural and humanitarian disaster that affected the country:

The Department of State requests all non-essential official U.S. government personnel defer travel to Japan and also urges U.S. citizens to avoid tourism and non-essential travel to Japan at this time.  Flights have resumed at all airports that were closed by the earthquake, with the exception of Sendai Airport in Miyagi Prefecture, which remains flooded.  In Tokyo, most public transportation including trains and subways are operating.  Many roads have been damaged in the Tokyo area and in northern Japan. In Iwate Prefecture toll road highways are restricted to emergency vehicles only.

I am reposting below the contact info for American citizen services:

For calls from within the U.S.      1-888-407-4747
For calls from outside the U.S.     1-202-501-4444
American Citizen Inquiries:  JapanEmergencyUSC@state.gov
Warden Message: http://tokyo.usembassy.gov/e/acs/tacs-arch.html

The US Ambassador to Japan, John Roos, also gave an update on US assistance over the weekend on March 14, Japan time:

It goes without saying that we feel great sorrow, and our hearts go out to the people of Japan and to all of those who have been affected by the events of the last few days.  Japan is our close ally and partner. President Obama spoke with Prime Minister Kan soon after the earthquake.  On behalf of the American people, he conveyed our deepest condolences, especially to the victims and their families, and offered our Japanese friends whatever assistance is needed.  I have been in constant contact with our government in Washington and the government here in Japan, including during this evolving situation with the Fukushima nuclear power plant. The United States is absolutely committed to helping Japan in any way possible to respond to and recover from the tragedy of the past few days and as Japan continues to deal with its effects.
Our consular officers in the Embassy and consulates have been responding around the clock to inquiries. This is something that they are trained to do very well, and all American citizens should feel free to utilize their services. They are also reaching out to the American citizen community, trying to push out information about what to do and what the Japanese authorities are also making available.
Because of the longstanding and close working relationship between the U.S. military and its Japanese counterparts on a daily basis, the United States military has humanitarian assistance capabilities positioned in the affected regions that are ready to support emergency relief efforts and minimize human suffering.

U.S. military assets include a wide range of equipment, air, sea, and ground capability and expertise.  Initial actions which have been undertaken by the U.S. military include the following:

  • Yokota Air Base was instrumental in recovering airline traffic in the hours immediately following the earthquake.
  • We immediately moved U.S. Air Force and Marine helicopter and transport aircraft from Okinawa to our U.S. military bases on Honshu.
  • The USS Ronald Reagan was heading east and was immediately turned around to support our efforts here in Japan. They arrive tonight.
  • We are moving Marine command and control units ready to work with Japan’s Self-Defense Forces to coordinate our efforts on the ground.
  • We have units from all of our services, with a multitude of capabilities, from medical to communications to civil engineering poised and ready to support where needed.

Ambassador Roos who is on Twitter says that there are approximately 1,300 American citizens in the prefectures that were most affected by the earthquake and tsunami.  He also estimates that there are approximately 160,000 American citizens in Japan.  He tweeted that “We are working to send consular officers to these affected prefectures tonight to assist Americans in those areas.”  And that “There is no double standard – what we advise our Embassy personnel will be provided to all Americans.”

You can read more about the “no double standard” policy here (pdf)

Follow Ambassador Roos on Twitter here.

CNN reported that U.S. Forces Japan, based at Yokota Air Base near Tokyo, is the lead military command for coordinating humanitarian assistance.  And that shortly after the quake struck, the air base was designated as an alternate airfield for flights that could not land at Tokyo’s Narita Airport.  The military assistance operation is now officially known as Operation Tomodachi (friendship). Ambassador Roos also tweeted that over 6,000 personnel from the U.S. military are participating in some capacity in these disaster-relief operations.   

Below are some photos from the U.S. Pacific Fleet:

Created with Admarket’s flickrSLiDR.Operation Tomodachi (Friendship)|

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US Embassy #Japan: Is Authorized/Ordered Departure Coming Soon?

Note for govies: Wikileaks references included below. Read with caution!

Note2: US Embassy Japan went on authorized departure on March 17, 2011

Japanese Prime Minister Naoto Kan said in a news conference over the weekend that “The earthquake, tsunami and the nuclear incident have been the biggest crisis Japan has encountered in the 65 years since the end of world war two.”  

IEEE Spectrum also reported that starting Monday, Tokyo Electric Power Company (TEPCO), Japan’s largest electric utility, and Tohoku Power Company, plan to introduce rolling power cuts throughout their areas of coverage:

“TEPCO supplies electricity to Tokyo and seven surrounding prefectures with relatively large populations, including Kanagawa, Saitama and Chiba. The measure is necessary after several of the companies’ nuclear power plants in north-eastern Japan were impacted or shut down by the 9.0 magnitude earthquake that struck Friday, as well as the tsunami that struck soon afterwards. Yukio Edano, Japan’s chief cabinet secretary, said in a press conference Sunday evening that TEPCO estimates a shortfall of roughly 10 million kilowatts when Japanese industry and businesses go back to work on Monday. Under normal conditions, the company generates some 41 million kilowatts. TEPCO plans to divide its region of coverage into 5 areas and alternately cut power to each area for 3 hours.”

The US Embassy’s Warden Message dated March 14 says that all of Tokyo’s 26 cities and Tama-gun are affected. Neighboring areas may experience partial blackouts as well.

Now blackouts, I’m sure folks can handle.  But on 14 March at 11:01AM local Japan time, another hydrogen explosion occurred at the unit 3 reactor at the Fukushima Daiichi nuclear plant. IAEA says that all personnel at the site are accounted for but six people have been injured. Apparently, the core was not damaged.
Then ABC News reported that the aircraft carrier USS Ronald Reagan and other US Navy ships in the waters off the quake zone in eastern Japan were repositioned after the detection of a low-level radiation plume from the troubled Fukushima nuclear plant located 100 miles away.  According to Reuters, seventeen Americans were exposed to low levels of radiation that escaped from a quake-damaged nuclear power plant in Japan.

A wikileaked confidential cable from 2008 released by the Guardian earlier today has Japan’s Lower House Diet Member Taro Kono accusing the Ministry of Economy, Trade, and Industry (METI) “of covering up nuclear accidents, and obscuring the true costs and problems associated with the nuclear industry” (see paragraph 6). The cable which has former Ambassador J. Thomas Schieffer’s signoff also reports that “In describing the clout wielded by the electric companies, Kono claimed that a Japanese television station had planned a three part interview with him on nuclear issues, but had canceled after the first interview, because the electric companies threatened to withdraw their extensive sponsorship” (see paragraph 3). 

If you are not reading this from your official workstation and are not afraid to go blind, you can read the cable here.

Meanwhile, the French embassy in Tokyo has reportedly advised its nationals to leave the capital city because of threats posed by the nuclear plants 160 miles north of the capital.

According to Time.com, the German embassy made a similar announcement, saying German residents in Japan should assess if their presence in the country is necessary. If not, they should consider leaving, especially families with small children.

WSJ’s Japan RealTime  quotes this advise on the Swiss embassy website: “All Swiss citizens in the crisis-stricken areas as well as in the area of Tokyo/Yokohama (are advised) to think about whether their presence in Japan is currently necessary, and, should this not be the case, to consider temporarily leaving the country. This advice is particularly meant for families with small children.”

Today, YNet reported that the families of Israel diplomats serving in Tokyo decided to return to Israel  following the massive earthquake in Japan. A Foreign Ministry official told Ynet the decision is not related to fears of a nuclear fuel meltdown in Japan.  

The United States as well as the UK have so far only advised that non-essential travel to Japan be deferred.

If I remember right, the last time we had an embassy on evacuation due to a natural disaster was shortly after the Haiti earthquake in January 2010. Japan, of course, has a much better infrastructure and well-tested disaster preparedness than Haiti. Nonetheless, with continuing after shocks, rolling blackouts, reported food and gas shortage, and the threat of a nuclear meltdown, I’m wondering if the US Embassy in Tokyo is moving to an authorized or ordered departure for family members and non-emergency personnel any time soon.  It seems to me that with the scope of the disaster, and 160,000 as the estimated number of  Americans in Japan that the embassy potentially has to track down, not having to worry about family members and nonemergency personnel in harms way would make for less nerve-racking complications at work.   

The ambassador has extraordinary decision-making authority as the senior USG official on the ground during crises.  The ambassador with the approval of the Under Secretary of State for Management (U/S Pat Kennedy) can order the evacuation of USG personnel and dependents to a temporary safe haven in the region or back to the United States (US Embassy Tunis staff was temporarily evacuated to Morocco earlier this year).  The only ones exempted from this evac order if issued are private Americans and uniformed personnel of the US Armed Forces and designated emergency-essential DOD civilians who are not under the authority of the ambassador.

But so far, no authorized or ordered departure has been announced.  

Updated @ 2:34 pm with Kono info and link on confidential cable referencing the nuclear industry in Japan.

Related post:
US Embassy #Japan Evacuates to Safehaven in Asia | March 17, 2011