Japan earthquake tsunami AP 11.3.11
Smoke billowing from houses in Natori, northern Japan, after the area was hit by a powerful earthquake and a tsunami on Friday March 11, 2011. Photo by AP
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ZAKA International Rescue Unit said Friday it will send a team of trained volunteers from Israel to help the search and rescue efforts in Japan, following the 8.9-magnitude earthquake and tsunami that rocked the country earlier that day.

Following a consultation with the Israeli Foreign Ministry and with emissaries from the Chabad organization in Japan, ZAKA arranged to send a team headed by the organization's co-directors Mati Goldstein and Dovi Maisel, on Saturday evening (after the conclusion of the Sabbath).

In addition, another team from the ZAKA International Rescue Unit based in Hong Kong will leave for the quake area after the conclusion of the Sabbath in their region.

The ZAKA International Rescue Unit volunteers will be met by the Israel Ambassador to Japan Nissim Ben Sheetrit. The specially trained ZAKA volunteers will join the international search and rescue efforts in an effort to save as many lives as possible.

The UN-recognized, Israel-based ZAKA International Rescue Unit has assisted at natural disasters around the world, including Haiti, the first Israeli delegation to arrive on the scene, the tsunami in Thailand and the hurricane in New Orleans.

In addition to ZAKA, a number of Jewish organizations from Israel and America offered their assistance on Friday.

According to the Jewish Telegraphic Agency, IsraAid, an Israel-based coordinating organization for 17 Israeli and Jewish humanitarian groups, said Friday that it has two teams of rescue personnel, emergency medical officers and water pollution specialists ready to deploy to Japan but was looking for ways to reach the affected area.

Airports in the affected area are flooded and Tokyo-area airports closed on Friday, so IsraAid said it was exploring the possibility of flying to a nearby country and then trying to make it to northeast Japan, the JTA reported.

The JTA also said the Chabad-Lubavitch movement reported that its emissary in Tokyo said the Jewish community there largely was spared any serious injury or damage from earthquake.

The Japanese consul in Israel, Mitoshiko Shinomya, told the Israeli news website Ynet that he was heartened by the Israeli government's offer of assistance. "Israel officially offered its help an hour after the earthquake struck,” Shinomya said. “It is very heart-warming, but at this point we do not know exactly what the extent of the damage is, so it is difficult for us to say what can be done.”

According to the JTA, the Jewish Federations of North America is setting up an emergency relief fund to help those in affected areas, and the American Jewish Joint Distribution Committee, a federation partner, opened a mailbox Friday for donations to be used for Japan/Pacific disaster relief. Donations can be made at https://jdc.org/donation/donate.aspx.

"JDC is now conducting an up-to-the-minute assessment of the situation in Japan and the Pacific Rim and has activated its network of partners to determine critical, immediate needs of the hardest-hit areas," the organization said in a statement Friday.