NZ rescue team return the favour after Japan earthquake, tsunami

06:57, Mar 13 2011

A New Zealand search and rescue team heading to Japan to help after a magnitude 9 earthquake and devastating tsunami hit the country on Friday say they are pleased to be returning the favour after Japan sent teams here in the aftermath of last month's Christchurch quake.

The Fire Service Urban Search and Rescue team will leave the country tomorrow morning for Narita, north of Tokyo, where they will set up in the base camp for all international search teams.

Team leader Mitchell Brown said they would concentrate on areas swamped by tidal surges that topped 10 metres.

The team would be told exactly where they would be deployed once they arrived, Mr Brown told NZPA.

"So depending on a number of factors, obviously once we arrive and get set up, they will have a better priority idea on where we should be going to first with our necessary equipment, skills and techniques to do the job that we're tasked to do."

Regardless of where they went, it would be "pretty devastating", he said.

All members of the team going to Japan had spent time in the past three weeks in Christchurch, which was extensively damaged by a 6.3 magnitude earthquake on February 22.

However, the task ahead was the biggest they had ever been set, Mr Brown said.

"This is the first international deployment of the Fire Service's search and rescue team and that's at the request of the Prime Minister (John Key)."

It was important to the team to help the Japanese after the support they gave after the Christchurch quake, he said.

"We had amazing support from Japan sending 66 personnel to New Zealand in a very short period of time after the quake in February.

"For our guys, it's important that the New Zealand Government, the Prime Minister, has seen fit to offer this capability."

The Japanese Government accepted search and rescue team help from only four countries, which was "big recognition" for the country, he said.

Fears of radiation poisoning from damaged nuclear power plant would not be a problem for the team as it would be based more than 100km away, Mr Brown said.