Concerns deepen for UK citizens caught in Japan's disaster zone

The Foreign Secretary, William Hague, said yesterday there were "severe concerns" about British citizens who have not been located in Japan since last week's earthquake and tsunami, as the evacuation of all foreign nationalities increased.

Mr Hague said 50 more consular staff had been sent to the affected regions of Japan to visit hospitals and shelters in the hope of tracking down more of the 17,000 UK nationals who are thought to have been in the country when the disaster struck. So far there have been no reports of British fatalities. "Our consular teams in London and Japan have been working round the clock," he said. "We're following up all the leads from the helpline we have set up."

The Government advised British citizens to consider leaving Tokyo and the area north of the capital on Wednesday, because of continuing worries about radioactivity. The Foreign Office has chartered aircraft to fly anyone directly affected by the events from Tokyo to Hong Kong free of charge. Others have been recommended to use commercial flights, and many airlines are using larger aircraft to cater for the thousands waiting to leave.

Many other countries are conducting similar efforts, despite Red Cross reassurance that Tokyo was still safe. The US made its first evacuation flight yesterday evening, while thousands of French and Chinese citizens have already flown out. Australia has also advised its people to return home.

The Foreign Secretary's sombre words in Parliament came soon after it was confirmed that a British search and rescue team, which arrived in northern Japan on Sunday, would be flying home having not found a single survivor. The group of 70 specialists searched residential and industrial properties in the city of Kamaishi, but heavy snow and falling temperatures had decreased their chances of success still further in recent days. Earlier in the week they found several bodies in the town of Ofunato.

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."

Around 380,000 people remain in temporary shelters following the destruction wreaked last Friday. By yesterday evening the official death toll had swollen to 5,400; but, with 9,500 still unaccounted for, the count is expected to keep growing for some time.

Economic analysis of the losses caused by the disaster remains in terms of broad estimates, but it is thought that the loss of output caused by damage to the country's infrastructure and services is around 50 per cent higher than that inflicted by the Kobe earthquake of 1995.

It is yet to become clear what kind of financial assistance or backing the world's third largest economy might need, and a conference call of G20 deputies yesterday evening was largely reduced to a brief discussion of the possible global risks posed by the continuing crisis followed by a further expression of solidarity with Japan.

A full G20 meeting is due to take place in Washington next month, and it is likely that only then will world leaders be fully able to understand what kind of additional problems they will have to tackle in already challenging financial conditions.

Start your day with The Independent, sign up for daily news emails
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
News
ebooksAn unforgettable anthology of contemporary reportage
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Recruitment Genius: Business Development Executive / Digital Marketing Executive

£26000 - £35000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: A luxury beauty house with a nu...

Recruitment Genius: Housekeepers - Immediate Start

£8 per hour: Recruitment Genius: This company are currently recruiting new exp...

Recruitment Genius: Head Concierge

£25000 - £28000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This award winning Property Man...

Recruitment Genius: Content, SEO and PPC Executive

£20000 - £25000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: A fantastic opportunity has ari...

Day In a Page

On your feet! Spending at least two hours a day standing reduces the risk of heart attacks, cancer and diabetes, according to new research

On your feet!

Spending half the day standing 'reduces risk of heart attacks and cancer'
Liverpool close in on Milner signing

Liverpool close in on Milner signing

Reds baulk at Christian Benteke £32.5m release clause
With scores of surgeries closing, what hope is there for the David Cameron's promise of 5,000 more GPs and a 24/7 NHS?

The big NHS question

Why are there so few new GPs when so many want to study medicine?
Big knickers are back: Thongs ain't what they used to be

Thongs ain't what they used to be

Big knickers are back
Thurston Moore interview

Thurston Moore interview

On living in London, Sonic Youth and musical memoirs
In full bloom

In full bloom

Floral print womenswear
From leading man to Elephant Man, Bradley Cooper is terrific

From leading man to Elephant Man

Bradley Cooper is terrific
In this the person to restore our trust in the banks?

In this the person to restore our trust in the banks?

Dame Colette Bowe - interview
When do the creative juices dry up?

When do the creative juices dry up?

David Lodge thinks he knows
The 'Cher moment' happening across fashion just now

Fashion's Cher moment

Ageing beauty will always be more classy than all that booty
Thousands of teenage girls enduring debilitating illnesses after routine school cancer vaccination

Health fears over school cancer jab

Shock new Freedom of Information figures show how thousands of girls have suffered serious symptoms after routine HPV injection
Fifa President Sepp Blatter warns his opponents: 'I forgive everyone, but I don't forget'

'I forgive everyone, but I don't forget'

Fifa president Sepp Blatter issues defiant warning to opponents
Extreme summer temperatures will soon cause deaths of up to 1,700 more Britons a year, says government report

Weather warning

Extreme summer temperatures will soon cause deaths of up to 1,700 more Britons a year, says government report
LSD: Speaking to volunteer users of the drug as trials get underway to see if it cures depression and addiction

High hopes for LSD

Meet the volunteer users helping to see if it cures depression and addiction
German soldier who died fighting for UK in Battle of Waterloo should be removed from museum display and given dignified funeral, say historians

Saving Private Brandt

A Belgian museum's display of the skeleton of a soldier killed at Waterloo prompts calls for him to be given a dignified funeral