Korea sends drinking water, donations to quake-stricken neighbor
The South Korean government is expected to provide its biggest-ever overseas disaster relief to Japan as the neighboring country suffers from the worst earthquake and tsunami in its recorded history.
Including the aid supplies, the amount of Seoul’s relief for Japan is likely to exceed the $12.5 million provided to quake-stricken Haiti in January last year.
Seoul is taking steps to tap its reserve fund as its emergency aid budget of $50,000 won’t be enough, a government official said.
“As we only have about $50,000 to spend, we will have to request for using the reserve funds,” the official said.
The South Korean government had provided $50 million -- $5 million for emergency aid and $45 million for reconstruction -- to Indonesia, Sri Lanka, India and Thailand when an earthquake-spawned tsunami swept the South Asian countries in December 2004.
It had offered $5.48 million to China when an earthquake struck its Sichuan province in May 2008, $5 million to the U.S. when it was hit by Hurricane Katrina in August 2005 and $2.5 million when the cyclone Nargis devastated Myanmar in May 2008.
The Foreign Ministry had set aside about $20,000 in disaster relief for advanced countries, $15,000 of which was spent to assist quake-ridden New Zealand last month.
South Korea is providing mineral water and other supplies as well as rescue workers and relief funds to help Japan pull through the calamity.
Three Air Force C-130 cargo planes carrying winter clothing, food, fuel and 20 tons of mineral water will depart from Gimhae airport near Busan on Thursday, the Foreign Ministry said Wednesday.
Seoul will promptly offer more drinking water, blankets and mattresses upon request from Japan, presidential spokesperson Kim Hee-jung said.
The government is considering transporting the supplies aboard private aircraft as soon as Tokyo says its airport and roads are ready.
It is also preparing to dispatch an additional 100-member rescue team, and DNA experts to help identify the dead.
Seoul on Wednesday held a meeting with organizations raising disaster relief money to discuss how to efficiently deliver aid to Japan.
The Community Chest of Korea said it had collected more than 380 million won ($335,000) from tens of thousands of South Koreans after sending half a million dollars to Japan on Sunday.
The Korean Red Cross said Wednesday it offered $3 million to Japan including the $1 million sent on Tuesday.
Representatives of the Red Cross, the Community Chest of Korea, the Korea Federation of Banks, the Federation of Korean Industries and the Korea International Cooperation Agency sat down with government ministry officials to assess the situation in Japan and discuss the details of assistance.
Second Vice Foreign Minister Min Dong-seok presided over the meeting joined by the ministries of defense, home affairs, land and the Prime Minister’s Office.
A team of Foreign Ministry officials dispatched to the Consulate General in Sendai have evacuated 214 South Koreans to the airport and other safe places so far. About 100 South Koreans are still taking shelter at the consulate.
Students join the fund-raising campaign to help Japan’s quake victims at Dongguk University in Seoul on Wednesday. (Yonhap News)
The South Korean rescue team continued searching for survivors in Japan’s northeastern coastal region Wednesday.
In the morning, the team consisting of more than 100 rescuers and medical staff searched in Shiogama City, one of the areas hard hit by the 9.0-magnitude quake, the strongest in the country’s recorded history.
The city in Miyagi Prefecture is about 50 kilometers away from a public stadium where the team, which arrived in Japan on Monday, set up its temporary base.
The previous day, the team began its mission to rescue survivors and search for those missing in Sendai City in the same prefecture.
A separate emergency team from Seoul is currently helping South Korean residents escape from dangerous areas. The team helped 146 South Koreans move to safer locations in Niigatta and Akita Prefectures from Sendai City on Tuesday.
The Seoul government believes it will take some time to verify the safety of all South Korean nationals in the affected areas as rescuers are having difficulty reaching and identifying the bodies under the rubble.
There are 11,572 South Koreans in the quake-hit northeastern regions including Miyagi, Akita, Fukushima and Iwate Prefectures according to government data.
Meanwhile, U.S. Forces Korea also joined efforts to support ongoing rescue operations.
According to Stars and Stripes, the U.S. military newspaper, the USFK deployed its U-2 reconnaissance plane from its Air Force base in Osan to the affected areas including Sendai City to help asses the extent of the damage left by the earthquake and tsunami.
By Kim So-hyun and Song Sang-ho