Herts fire chief returns from Japan

RESCUERS led by Hertfordshire’s fire chief returned home from Japan after searching for survivors in towns devastated by the earthquake and tsunami.

The team, marshalled by chief fire officer Roy Wilsher, searched costal towns roughly 130 miles from Sendai, the earthquake’s epicentre, including Ofunato and Kamaishi but, despite their best efforts, didn’t find anyone alive.

Temperatures have plummeted in the country’s north-east since the 8.6 magnitude quake and tidal wave hit earlier this month and officials say there is an extremely low chance of finding anyone alive in the rubble.

Speaking to The Comet, Mr Wilsher said: “It was absolute devastation, street after street and town after town of ruined buildings, ruined streets and ruined industrial areas.

“Unfortunately we didn’t find any survivors but we discovered a number of bodies that could be returned to families for burial.

“We were searching areas that the Japanese hadn’t been able to get to. It showed Japan that the world thinks of them and they are not alone.”

Mr Wilsher said despite the carnage, the Japanese people are keeping calm and are trying to get on with their lives. “I think one of the lasting impressions is just the dignity of the Japanese. There’s no external show of grief but you can clearly see it in their eyes,” he said.

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“They were very polite, just trying to get on with their lives.

“I remember one man politely asking, through the interpreter, if we had found the bodies of any young women and he was looking for his wife… there was no show of emotion or grief, just asking if we could help him.”

The team flew out on March 12 and arrived home last Saturday, however Mr Wilsher, who commanded the operation to battle the fire at the Buncefield oil storage depot in 2005, says it is hard for him to explain the disaster to people who haven’t been there.

He said: “I think really it’s the scale more than anything. If you were doing a training exercise and the instructors said there’s been an earthquake on that scale with a tsunami and a nuclear power station and it’s minus 15 at night you would think the trainers had gone a bit far.

“But the Japanese are dealing with all that at the same time.”

The British effort, comprised of 59 fire and rescue staff and four medics, worked alongside American and Chinese teams but withdrew after Japanese disaster authorities decided their specialist skills were no longer needed.

Andrew Mitchell, secretary of state for international development, said: “We are all extremely proud of the work of the UK Fire and Rescue team.

“Sadly, the chance of them finding further survivors is now extremely low and so their specialist skills are no longer necessary in Japan.”