The 74 members of Virginia Task Force 1 deployed to Japan are seeing the devastation first hand.
Fairfax Co. Fire and Rescue Battalion Chief Chris Schaff joined 9NEWS NOW by phone Tuesday morning. He said half the team was resting after searching for survivors, while the other half was preparing to take over.
Click the image above for more of Travis J. Tritten’s photos of VATF-1 in action in Ofunato, Japan and additional details about the team’s initial missions.
“They have us doing search and rescue right along the shoreline where the tsunami came in, and actually working in that grid this morning and afternoon, and we’re going to push further down and closer to the coast tomorrow morning,” Chief Schaff said.
The team was also deployed to Haiti after the earthquake in January, 2010, where they made more than a dozen rescues.
Chief Schaff described how the conditions are different in Japan: “In Haiti, there’s not a whole lot of lumber they used to build, it’s mostly concrete. Here, there is a lot of lumber, so there is a lot of debris washed ashore. There’s houses that have been picked up and moved, as well as a lot of boats, large boats, that we’ve had moved a good distance from the shore, up on top of the houses and collapsed those houses. The crews are working in and around those, doing their search and rescue.”
At this point, they have not had an opportunity to rescue anyone, though Chief Schaff says the team is still very energetic.
Chief Schaff says they are also far enough away for the threat of nuclear radiation not be a concern. “We’ve got hazardous materials specialists that are also working with us from the team, and they’re keeping us abreast of the situation with the hazardous materials in the area we’re working in. That’s not a complication we’re dealing with right now, so we’re not really focusing that direction. However, we do have people that can take care of that should that need arise for us.”
A story from Soma, Japan by Susan Phillips WUSA9.com and AP:
Rescuers have found a 70-year-old woman alive four days after the disaster struck.
Osaka fire department spokesman Yuko Kotani says the woman was found inside her house that was washed away by the tsunami in northeastern Japan’s Iwate prefecture. The rescuers from Osaka, in western Japan, were sent to the area for disaster relief.
Kotani said the woman was conscious but suffering from hypothermia and is being treated at a hospital. She would not give the woman’s name.
Her rescue was a rare bit of news for Japanese traumatized by the disaster.