RAAF response to 2011 earthquake and tsunami led to closer Australia–Japan ties

THE STRATEGIST – MARCH 2021

The 11th of March 2021 marks the 10th anniversary of the earthquake and tsunami that devastated northeastern Japan, killing more than 16,000 people and leading to the Fukushima nuclear accident. On hearing of the disaster, Australia’s well-practised and disciplined crisis-response mechanism swung into action. The government decided to send an urban search and rescue, or USAR, team, which was to fly to Japan on a Royal Australian Air Force C-17 heavy transport aircraft.

In Japan, unsurprisingly, there was a great deal of confusion. The devastation was widespread, communication systems were down and the government was mobilising national resources to respond to the catastrophic event. The Japanese were also attempting to coordinate the many offers of assistance they had received from around the world, all the while enduring multiple aftershocks. In the 24 hours following the initial quake, more than 70 aftershocks above magnitude 5.0 were recorded.

Australia was fortunate that a year earlier a RAAF group captain had been sent to Yokota Air Base, a US facility in western Tokyo, and appointed to head United Nations Command–Rear, a small unit responsible for supporting international forces should they need to respond to a crisis on the Korean peninsula.

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