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
Voices
Homeless Veterans charity auction: Cook with Angela Hartnett and Neil Borthwick at Merchants Tavern
charity appeal
Sport
Amir Khan is engaged in a broader battle than attempting to win a fight with Floyd Mayweather
boxing Exclusive: Amir Khan reveals plans to travel to Pakistan
Arts and Entertainment
Strictly finalists Simon Webbe, Caroline Flack, Mark Wright and Frankie Bridge
tvLive: Simon Webbe, Caroline Flack, Mark Wright and Frankie Bridge face-off in the final
Sport
Ched Evans in action for Sheffield United in 2012
footballRonnie Moore says 'he's served his time and the boy wants to play football'
PROMOTED VIDEO
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
ebooks
ebooksA year of political gossip, levity and intrigue from the sharpest pen in Westminster
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: Finance Director

£65000 - £80000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: Finance Director required to jo...

Recruitment Genius: Medico-Legal Assistant

£15000 - £25000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This is a unique opportunity fo...

Ashdown Group: (PHP / Python) - Global Media firm

£50000 per annum + 26 days holiday,pension: Ashdown Group: A highly successful...

The Jenrick Group: Quality Inspector

£27000 per annum + pension + holidays: The Jenrick Group: A Quality Technician...

Day In a Page

Amir Khan: 'The Taliban can threaten me but I must speak out... innocent kids, killed over nothing. It’s sick in the mind'

Amir Khan attacks the Taliban

'They can threaten me but I must speak out... innocent kids, killed over nothing. It’s sick in the mind'
Homeless Veterans appeal: 'You look for someone who's an inspiration and try to be like them'

Homeless Veterans appeal

In 2010, Sgt Gary Jamieson stepped on an IED in Afghanistan and lost his legs and an arm. He reveals what, and who, helped him to make a remarkable recovery
Could cannabis oil reverse the effects of cancer?

Could cannabis oil reverse effects of cancer?

As a film following six patients receiving the controversial treatment is released, Kate Hilpern uncovers a very slippery issue
The Interview movie review: You can't see Seth Rogen and James Franco's Kim Jong Un assassination film, but you can read about it here

The Interview movie review

You can't see Seth Rogen and James Franco's Kim Jong Un assassination film, but you can read about it here
Serial mania has propelled podcasts into the cultural mainstream

How podcasts became mainstream

People have consumed gripping armchair investigation Serial with a relish typically reserved for box-set binges
Jesus Christ has become an unlikely pin-up for hipster marketing companies

Jesus Christ has become an unlikely pin-up

Kevin Lee Light, aka "Jesus", is the newest client of creative agency Mother while rival agency Anomaly has launched Sexy Jesus, depicting the Messiah in a series of Athena-style poses
Rosetta space mission voted most important scientific breakthrough of 2014

A memorable year for science – if not for mice

The most important scientific breakthroughs of 2014
Christmas cocktails to make you merry: From eggnog to Brown Betty and Rum Bumpo

Christmas cocktails to make you merry

Mulled wine is an essential seasonal treat. But now drinkers are rediscovering other traditional festive tipples. Angela Clutton raises a glass to Christmas cocktails
5 best activity trackers

Fitness technology: 5 best activity trackers

Up the ante in your regimen and change the habits of a lifetime with this wearable tech
Paul Scholes column: It's a little-known fact, but I have played one of the seven dwarves

Paul Scholes column

It's a little-known fact, but I have played one of the seven dwarves
Fifa's travelling circus once again steals limelight from real stars

Fifa's travelling circus once again steals limelight from real stars

Club World Cup kicked into the long grass by the continued farce surrounding Blatter, Garcia, Russia and Qatar
Frank Warren column: 2014 – boxing is back and winning new fans

Frank Warren: Boxing is back and winning new fans

2014 proves it's now one of sport's biggest hitters again
Jeb Bush vs Hillary Clinton: The power dynamics of the two first families

Jeb Bush vs Hillary Clinton

Karen Tumulty explores the power dynamics of the two first families
Stockholm is rivalling Silicon Valley with a hotbed of technology start-ups

Stockholm is rivalling Silicon Valley

The Swedish capital is home to two of the most popular video games in the world, as well as thousands of technology start-ups worth hundreds of millions of pounds – and it's all happened since 2009
Did Japanese workers really get their symbols mixed up and display Santa on a crucifix?

Crucified Santa: Urban myth refuses to die

The story goes that Japanese store workers created a life-size effigy of a smiling "Father Kurisumasu" attached to a facsimile of Our Lord's final instrument of torture