At approximately 2:50 p.m. local time on March 11, a series of powerful earthquakes hit the northeastern part of Japan. The strongest of the earthquakes has been measured at an 8.9 magnitude and was felt as far away as Beijing.The earthquakes, along with resulting tsunamis and fires have so far claimed at least 300 lives, with that number expected to exceed 1,000.
The Japanese government’s response to the earthquake that struck Miyagi Prefecture was exceptionally swift. Within an hour, eight fighter planes of the Air Self-Defense Force had been launched to do damage assessment, and the Ground Self-Defense Force had received marching orders to move to the scene of the devastation. Within four hours, 300 aircraft and 40 ships of the SDF were put in action. According to Kyodo, all ships docked at Yokosuka were ordered to sail north to Miyagi.
At least four nuclear power plants were located in the worst affected areas. Three were apparently shut down without incident. The coolant system of the fourth reactor, Fukushima Daiichi, was crippled during the earthquake and there are reports that pressure on the plant’s safety systems is twice the rated requirement. There are reports of elevated levels of radioactivity inside the plant control room, and a community evacuation is in progress. Of particular note is the movement of a special Nuclear, Biological and Chemical-trained GSDF company-sized unit to Fukushima Daiichi. This unit, which may be the Central or 101st NBC Protection Unit, is part of Japan’s rapid-response Central Readiness Force and is equipped with NBC protection vehicles and advanced personal protection gear.
This part of Japan is considered the farthest from any conceivable military action, and as a result there are few Self-Defense Force facilities and resources in the area. Matsushima Air Base, located just north of Sendai on Ishinomaki Bay, was “completely submerged” by tidal waves. According to the Asahi, 18 F-2 fighters were submerged by the wall of water, as well as T-4 jet trainers and U-125 search and rescue aircraft. Eight thousand troops, likely the GSDF 6th Infantry Division, based at Otakineyama, are reportedly headed into the hardest-hit zones.
U.S. forces in the area have not sustained casualties or damage. USS Blue Ridge, command ship for the U.S. 7th Fleet, had just docked the day before in Singapore and is reportedly taking on disaster relief supplies before it returns to Japan. The aircraft carrier USS Ronald Reagan is en route to the area, as is the 31st Marine Expeditionary Unit, embarked upon the USS Essex Amphibious Ready Group. Some 50 31st MEU personnel were scheduled to participate in a disaster relief exercise — along with personnel from the Self Defense Forces — in Indonesia beginning March 14.
Update: 3/14, 4:40 PM Japan Time
(From this point on, only military assets to be reported)
The Self Defense Forces are deploying 100,000 troops to the affected quake region. These troops will be drawn from all over Japan, including Kyushu and Hokkaido. 100,000 troops represents approximately 40% of the total strength of the Self Defense Forces. The Northeastern Army (approximate to a Western corps) is the designated headquarters for the relief effort. Technically much of the affected area is actually in the geographic area of responsibility of the Eastern Army, but the Eastern Army is headquartered in the heavily damaged city of Sendai.
In addition to the water damaged sustained at Matsushima Air Base, it has emerged that 300 base personnel who were on leave at the time of the tsunami are among the missing from surrounding communities.
Also, for the first time the SDF’s reserve forces are being mobilized, on a volunteer basis. Some 6,500 reservists have volunteered. Compared to other countries, the SDF has a small number of reservists, some 60,000 for a nation of 120,000,000.
Eighty-one dockworkers swept to sea aboard a ship during the tsunami were rescued by helicopters from the Maritime Self-Defense Force. At the same time, GSDF helicopters airlifted schoolchildren stranded at a school in Watari.
MSDF S-70 helicopters are operating off the U.S. aircraft carrier USS Ronald Reagan.
Two SH-60 anti-submarine helicopters from Naval Air Facility Atsugi delivered 700 kilograms of rice and bread donated from Ebina City to Miyagi.
Aircraft carrier USS Ronald Reagan has arrived on station, accompanied by USS Chancellorsville and USS Preble. Ronald Reagan will act as a sea base for U.S. and Japanese helicopters involved in the relief effort. (What happened to the fixed-wing planes? Did they go to Atsugi?) The Ronald Reagan Carrier Strike Group was exposed to radiation from mainland Japan at a rate of one month’s worth of naturally occurring radiation per hour.
In his March 11 briefing, Secretary of Defense Robert Gates alluded to a second aircraft carrier being available for the Japan mission if necessary.
Seventh Fleet command ship USS Blue Ridge embarked a Humanitarian Resistance/Disaster Relief Kit and left Singapore Saturday morning local time. Estimated to arrive off the coast of Japan late this week.
Update: 3/13, 5:30 PM Japan Time
One hundred thousand members of the Self-Defense Forces are now being committed to relief and recovery efforts in the Tohoku region.
Tsunami victim rescued at sea 15 kilometers off the coast of Japan by Maritime Self-Defense Force destroyer.
U.S. relief and assistance effort now officially “Operation Tomodachi” (“friend”).
U.S. P-3C Orion aircraft based in Japan are doing damage assessment overflights.
CH-46E helicopters from Marine Corps Air Station Futenma are shifting north to NAF Atsugi in Tokyo to support relief efforts
USS Ronald Reagan arrived on station off the coast of Miyagi Prefecture.
Amphibious ship USS Tortuga will onload 700 Japan Self-Defense Force personnel in Hokkaido (northern island) and deliver them to the earthquake area.
Rest of the World
A 15-member Chinese International Search and Rescue Team (again, with the giant flag last seen in Haiti) has arrived in Japan.
Germany has sent a 40-man Heavy Urban Search-and-Rescue team.
Turkey reports two teams totaling eight persons leaving for Japan.
Update: 3/12, 7:30 PM Japan Time
Twenty thousand JSDF are now deployed in support of relief efforts, along with 190 aircraft and 25 ships.
Forty-eight school kids were rescued by the Maritime Self Defense Force after 24 hours on a disabled ship.
A 66-person search team from Japan is preparing to return from New Zealand to help in their home country.
The aircraft carrier USS Ronald Reagan and her strike group are expected to arrive off the east coast of Honshu Island March 13, and is prepared to serve as an afloat refueling platform for the JSDF and other helicopters.
The status of the USS Essex Amphibious Ready Group unclear but known to be headed to the earthquake area.
The aircraft carrier USS George Washington, home-ported in Yokosuka, Japan, was rumored to be docked at a maintenance pier when the earthquake hit, having spent much of the winter on joint U.S.-South Korean and U.S.-Japanese exercises. Whether or not it, too, will be deployed to assist in relief efforts is unknown at this point.
Two U.S. Navy SH-60 helicopters from NAF Atsugi (near Tokyo) delivered 1,500 pounds of rice and bread to Miyagi Prefecture.
The destroyers USS McCampbell and USS Curtis Wilbur are positioning to assist authorities with at-sea search, rescue and recovery operations off Miyagi prefecture.
The U.S. Agency for International Development is sending two teams of 72 personnel, dogs and 75 tons of rescue equipment.
Rest of the World
Sixty-eight teams from 45 Countries are on standby, according to the U.N.
Australia is sending 72 relief personnel on military aircraft.
China says one of its International Rescue Teams is ready to deploy to Japan, if asked.
New Zealand is sending a 48-person urban search-and-rescue team.
Singapore is sending a five-person, five-dog search team.
South Korea is sending five rescue workers and two search dogs, and is prepared to send 120 more relief workers and three military transport aircraft, if asked.