Friday, March 11, 2011

U.S. readies relief for quake-hit ally Japan

President Barack Obama sent condolences to the people of Japan on Friday and said the United States would provide any help its close ally needed after a massive earthquake and tsunami killed hundreds.
The Defense Department was preparing American forces in the Pacific Ocean to provide relief after the quake, which generated a tsunami that headed across the Pacific past Hawaii and toward the west coast of the U.S. mainland.
The U.S. Air Force transported "some really important coolant" to a Japanese nuclear plant affected by the quake, Secretary of State Hillary Clinton said.
Authorities said hundreds of people were killed in Japan and the toll was expected to surpass 1,000.
"This is a potentially catastrophic disaster and the images of destruction and flooding coming out of Japan are simply heartbreaking," Obama told reporters.
Obama was awakened by his chief of staff, Bill Daley, at about 4 a.m. EST (0900 GMT) and called Japanese Prime Minister Naoto Kan later in the morning.
"On behalf of the American people, I conveyed our deepest condolences, especially to the victims and their families, and I offered our Japanese friends whatever assistance is needed," Obama said at a midday news conference.
Obama said Kan told him that so far there were no signs of a radiation leak at the nuclear plant hit by the quake, adding the United States sent the coolant as a precaution.
Defense Secretary Robert Gates told reporters traveling with him in Bahrain that U.S. troops and military facilities in Japan were in good shape and willing to help.
"It's obviously a very sophisticated country but this is a huge disaster and we will do all, anything we are asked to do to help out," he said.Daley told a meeting of the President's Export Council it appeared Hawaii was spared serious impact from the tsunami.
There is still some risk to the U.S. west coast, "but I think the enormous fears that were there hours ago, for some of us hours ago, have diminished greatly, which is quite a relief for all of us," he said.
The U.S. military effort included at least six Navy ships, Pentagon spokeswoman Navy Commander Leslie Hullryde said.The State Department said U.S. embassy operations in Japan were moved from Tokyo to another location as a precaution.
There have been no reports of Americans killed or injured in the quake. A State Department travel alert strongly urged Americans to avoid nonessential travel to Japan.
"Strong aftershocks are likely for weeks following a strong earthquake such as this one," it said.

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