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Wednesday, May 11, 2011

News photo
Needed help: Members of the Korean International Disaster Relief Team work to recover a body in a quake-damaged area of Sendai in March. COURTESY OF LEE DONG SUNG

Message from chief of S. Korea relief team


The Japan Times received this letter from Lee Dong Sung, chief commander of the Korea International Disaster Relief Team of the National Emergency Management Agency of South Korea, who led one of the first international relief teams to enter the devastated areas in northeastern Japan following the March 11 earthquake and tsunami. A career firefighter and a veteran worker in the field of disaster relief efforts, Lee said he felt sorry for the loss and despair of the unprecedented disaster but was moved by the resilience of the people who faced the calamity.

News photo
To the rescue: Lee Dong Sung (center) discusses strategy with teammates in March before starting a rescue operation in Sendai. COURTESY OF LEE DONG SUNG

First of all, I want to express my deepest condolences to the people who were influenced by the earthquakes and tsunami. I would also like to pay my specific appreciation and respect to the people who are courageously and indomitably confronting the disaster, which is considered one of the worst in history.

The Korean International Disaster Relief Team led by myself with 107 members and two rescue dogs conducted rescue operations for 11 days starting March 12 around the city of Sendai in Miyagi Prefecture, which suffered a deadly inundation by tsunami.

All of our rescue workers had plenty of disaster relief experience and carried advanced equipment, including a ground sonar system. Our rescue dogs were also fully mobilized. Instead of wasting time on food and sleep, we focused all our efforts on searching for people who were waiting for assistance amid the wreckage.

Because I have spent many years of my career in the field of domestic and overseas disaster relief, I was well aware that 72 hours after a disaster are critically precious, and in which time an On-site Operational Plan should be set up to apply rescuers and equipment in the most effective manner.

Contrary to our expectations, however, survivors were not rescued, and we only recovered a number of bodies.

Despite enormous efforts made by the Japanese government to restore the damaged Fukushima No. 1 nuclear power plant, there was a radiation leak, which led to the unwilling withdrawal of many international rescue teams.

But our team stayed on the face of the radiation threat, as I believed we needed to continue our operation regardless of the situation, as Japan is the closest and an intimate neighbor of Korea.

The Korean International Rescue Team so far has responded to calls from overseas a total of 15 times, and this mission gave us unprecedented experience in terms of scale of damage.

After the disaster occurred, Korean people never hesitated to express deep grief and regret, and willingly approached to share the pains of our neighbor.

After I returned from the operation, I realized that Japan and Korea are very important to each other, and such a relationship is indispensable in our global village.

To conclude, I truly wish for the immediate recovery of affected people who are experiencing pain and sadness. I would like to let them know that Korea is standing alongside Japan to bear the suffering together all the time.

Thank you.

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