TOKYO — Cooperation between Japan's Ground Self-Defense Forces and the U.S. military has been expanding to support victims in areas of eastern Japan devastated by the earthquake and subsequent tsunami on March 11.
U.S. forces have massed ships and helicopters near the disaster areas and devoted their efforts to cargo transportation, search, rescue and recovery work and carrying SDF members to their destinations.
Especially noteworthy among the relief activities are early efforts by the U.S. military to restore the damaged Sendai Airport, one of the most important transportation bases in the devastated region. The airport, directly hit by the tsunami, could not be used because of the rubble and wrecked automobiles strewn across its runways.
U.S. Marines stationed in Okinawa prefecture have started to remove the debris. The expectation is that the airport could serve as an emergency landing field for helicopters and other aircraft carrying relief materials.
The U.S. military also was transporting food, water, medicine, blankets, clothes and supplies by helicopters belonging to its fleet, including the USS Ronald Reagan, a nuclear-powered aircraft carrier, in seas off the Sanriku coast.
A U.S. Marine Corps amphibious landing ship, the USS Tortuga, transported about 280 members and 94 vehicles of the SDF earlier in the week. On Saturday, U.S. forces supported helicopter transportation in seas off Hachinohe in Aomori prefecture.
Three U.S. naval vessels, including the amphibious assault ship USS Essex with 2,200 members of the 31st Marine Expeditionary Unit aboard, are involved in relief activities in the Sea of Japan off Akita prefecture.
The U.S. military is also helping Japan deal with the reactor accidents at the Fukushima nuclear power plant by providing 100 sets of nuclear protective gear to members of the SDF and other organizations. U.S. troops, however, have been ordered by the Defense Department to stay at least 50 miles away from the plant.
Grim statistics: Japanese government agencies said there are now 7,700 people confirmed dead, 2,603 injured, 11,651 reportedly missing, and 362,580 evacuated and living in shelters.
Faulty planning cited: Hidehiko Nishiyama of Japan's Nuclear and Industrial Safety Agency said backup power systems at the nuclear plant were improperly protected, leaving them vulnerable to the tsunami that followed the earthquake. A spokesman for the operator, Tokyo Electric Power Co., said the complex was designed to withstand a tsunami of up to 16 feet. Media reports say the tsunami was at least 20 feet high near the plant.
Recovery plan reported: Japan's government is creating a lending plan worth up to $122 billion to help companies recover, the Nihon Keizai Shimbun newspaper reported. The government has yet to give an estimate of recovery costs. Goldman Sachs last week estimated quake damage at $200 billion.
Prefab homes planned: The construction of temporary housing has begun in the city of Rikuzen-Takata, with government and industrial organizations speeding up efforts to house people displaced by the disaster. Meanwhile, Japan Post Group announced that it will offer inns and hotels operated by its parent company as temporary housing for up to 22,000 people affected by the quake.
Automakers hurting: Most of Japan's auto industry remains shut down, while factories from Louisiana to Thailand are low on Japanese-made parts. The idled plants are costing companies hundreds of millions of dollars.
Information from the Associated Press, McClatchy Newspapers and the Washington Post was used in this report.