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Japanese consul general thanks Los Angeles County Fire Department search-and-rescue team for aid

Members of a U.S. search and rescue team from Los Angeles County stand in snow while on a recovery operation in the aftermath of a tsunami that struck Kamaishi, Japan.

The Japanese consul general in Los Angeles thanked L.A. County firefighters for deploying a 74-person search-and-rescue team to Japan days after the nation was struck by a magnitude-9.0 earthquake and tsunami.

"Your knowledge and your experience were invaluable to a shocked nation," Consul-General Junichi Ihara told the L.A. County Board of Supervisors and county firefighters. "We are deeply moved by and grateful for your sympathy and support."

Ihara also declared Japan safe for U.S. tourists and said there should be no concerns about food exported from Japan. "We need exports and we need tourists from abroad," Ihara said. "Nothing harmful enters commerce."

County Battalion Chief Pat Rohaley said the L.A. County team witnessed immense destruction in their efforts in Ofunato and Kamaishi in Iwate Prefecture. They began their five-day search effort on March 14, three days after the earthquake.

Both towns are on the coast, at the innermost section of V-shaped bays that intensified the ferocity of the tsunami as it slammed ashore.

"Buildings were torn down to debris of wood and furniture," Rohaley said in an interview outside the county Hall of Administration. "Some buildings were intact, but toppled in the water." Rohaley said he had hoped that residents would be able to survive inside their homes to ride out the tsunami. But the two towns were simply overwhelmed by the water, and there was no way of escape.

"There was really no survivable space for victims to take shelter," Rohaley said. The county team recovered seven bodies but found no survivors. Rohaley said he has learned of the need to develop a tsunami response in Southern California. L.A. County is one of only two search-and-rescue teams that dispatched by USAID, an arm of the U.S. State Department.

The federal government pays for all costs associated with the deployment, which is estimated to be about $1 million in the case of Japan. County firefighters were also deployed to Haiti for 16 days at a cost of about $4.8 million last year, and in New Zealand for a 12-day deployment at a cost of about $2.6 million.

The costs were higher in Haiti and New Zealand due to the longer duration of the stay and the donation of various supplies.


L.A. County fire search and rescue team headed to Japan

L.A. County team completes first day aiding recovery effort

L.A. County search and rescue team back from Japan

-- Rong-Gong Lin II at the Los Angeles County Hall of Administration

Photo: Members of a U.S. search and rescue team from Los Angeles County stand in snow while on a recovery operation in the aftermath of a tsunami that struck Kamaishi, Japan. Credit: Matt Dunham / Associated Press

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