A South Korean citizen has been confirmed dead in the powerful earthquake and tsunami that ravaged Japan’s northeastern coastal region last Friday, the Foreign Ministry said Monday. It is the first confirmed South Korean fatality.
The 40-year-old construction worker, only identified by his surname Lee, fell to the ground last Friday at a site in the Japanese prefecture of Ibaraki where a thermal power plant was being built.
His body has yet to be retrieved as rescuers are having difficulty reaching the devastated areas, officials said.
“The deceased Lee has resided in Japan for several decades. The Japanese authorities notified us of his death. We will try to contact his family, presumably living in Japan, to carry out funeral procedures,” a ministry official said, refusing to be named.
Also at the same construction site, an ethnic Korean was found dead. The 43-year-old man, surnamed Kim, is stateless as he is an ascendant of Koreans who lived without obtaining any nationality after being moved to Japan during its 1910-45 colonial rule.
South Korea’s 102-member rescue team arrived in Japan Monday after the team aboard three Air Force C-130 planes departed from an airport in Seongnam, Gyeonggi Province, earlier in the day.
The team includes professional rescue workers, medical staff, interpreters and Foreign Ministry officials. They were to join the efforts to rescue survivors and search for the missing in the ravaged coastal areas.
Seoul has made another offer to the Tokyo government to send another team of some 100 rescuers to the affected areas along with relief supplies and experts to help identify victims there, the ministry said.
The northeastern coastal part of Japan was directly hit by the 9.0-magnitude quake, the strongest in the country’s recorded history. The disaster is presumed to have killed thousands of people. Some reports said the death toll could be even more than 20,000.
The Seoul government is striving to verify the safety of South Koreans. More than 70 Koreans as well as two residents within a 30 kilometer radius of a badly damaged nuclear plant in Fukushima Prefecture have yet to be contacted, the ministry said.
There are 11,572 South Koreans living in the earthquake-hit region.
Meanwhile, Kim Jeong-nam, chairman of a South Korean chamber of commerce in Fukushima Prefecture, said the whereabouts of some 50 Koreans in the prefecture remain unverified. Some 3,000 people of Korean descent live in the prefecture, according to him.
During the Cabinet meeting, Prime Minister Kim Hwang-sik directed the government to do its utmost to support Japan’s ongoing rescue and recovery operations while stressing the need to ensure that South Korea is fully prepared against such a disaster.
“Thoroughly check if there is any possibility of South Korea suffering such a natural disaster (in the future),” he said during the meeting.”
“While making all-out efforts to ensure the safety of South Koreans in Japan, we should also do our best to support Japan. I ask the government to forge an atmosphere to offer physical and mental assistance to Japan so that we can further solidify the mature partnership with Japan.”
by Song Sang-ho (firstname.lastname@example.org