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(LEAD) S. Korean rescuers on standby to help quake-hit Japan

All Headlines 11:03 March 12, 2011

(ATTN: ADDS diplomat's quote in paras 7-8, details in final para; AMENDS dateline)

SEOUL/TOKYO, March 12 (Yonhap) -- South Korea said Saturday its rescue workers and military cargo planes were ready to fly to Japan to help the neighboring country hit by the most powerful earthquake it has ever recorded.

A team of 120 relief workers, medical personnel and three military transport planes were ready to depart for Japan, awaiting a request from the Japanese government, officials at Seoul's Foreign Ministry said.

President Lee Myung-bak pledged full support on Friday to help the Japanese government recover from the major undersea quake that triggered a vast tsunami that devastated northeastern Japan.

"We are on standby to go to Japan within three hours after our government approves a departure," said an official at the Air Force.

Separately, South Korea's Foreign Ministry will send Saturday a five-member emergency team to Japan to assess any injuries or damages to its nationals staying in the quake-hit areas, officials said.

The team is scheduled to arrive in Sendai, a Japanese city closest to the earthquake's epicenter, on Saturday night, the ministry said.

Officials in Seoul and Tokyo said they were trying to check for possible South Korean casualties, but telecommunication problems were hampering their efforts.

"The embassy and other organizations are making utmost efforts to assess damages to our nationals and tourists, but we are experiencing difficulties because of disruptions in telecommunications and transportation," said Kwon Chul-hyun, the South Korean ambassador to Japan.

The possibilities of Korean injuries or deaths cannot be ruled out because about 910,000 South Koreans live in Japan, some 10,000 of them in the Sendai area hit by the quake, they said.

About 30 Korean nationals living in the Japanese prefecture of Iwate have not yet been contacted by a South Korean consulate in Sendai, according to officials.

Media reports said the Friday quake and tsunami have left over 1,000 people feared dead and forced evacuations of thousands of people around nuclear power plants north of Tokyo.


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