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(3rd LD) S. Korea sends rescue team to quake-hit Japan

All Headlines 15:02 March 12, 2011

(ATTN: ADDS details in para 12, new photo)

SEOUL/TOKYO, March 12 (Yonhap) -- South Korea said Saturday a special team of rescue workers and search dogs left for Japan to help the neighboring country hit by the most powerful earthquake it has ever recorded.

Seoul's Foreign Ministry said it sent the five-member team, two dogs and rescue equipment to Tokyo at the request of the Japanese government. Another 120 relief workers, medical personnel and three military transport planes were on standby to head for Japan.

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

Early on Saturday, Masatoshi Muto, Japan's ambassador to South Korea, met First Vice Foreign Minister Park Seok-hwan in Seoul and thanked Seoul for its support in relief efforts, ministry officials said.

At the meeting, Park said the South Korean government will "do everything it can" to help Japan recover from the quake.

Separately, the South's Foreign Ministry will send Saturday an 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.

In particular, one Korean national living in the Japanese coastal city of Rikuzentakata in Iwate prefecture, which was completely destroyed by the tsunami, is unaccounted for, according to the ministry.

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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