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Head of Japanese team that went to Türkiye’s quake-hit region: ‘It was our turn to help’

The leader of a Japanese team who rushed to Türkiye to help with recovery efforts following the Feb. 6 earthquakes, said his team returned the favor because Turkish teams raced to Japan when a massive earthquake, tsunami and nuclear disaster hit that country. 

“Turkish search and rescue teams came to Japan in 2011, now it was our turn to help,” Hideaki Yamamoto told Anadolu.

Yamamoto, who is also a senior deputy director general of the First Middle East Division at Japan’s Foreign Ministry, said his team received news of the disaster early on Feb. 6.

“We felt that we had to be there from the very beginning to support the Turkish people,” he said.

The 7.7- and 7.6-magnitude quakes struck 11 provinces in southern Türkiye claiming more than 50,000 lives.

More than 13.5 million people in Türkiye have been affected by the quakes, as well as many in northern Syria.

As other members of the team who live outside Tokyo quickly joined, the group’s plane took off for Türkiye the same evening for the disaster zone.

Yamamoto noted the 9.1-magnitude quake and tsunami in Tohoku, which claimed nearly 20,000 lives, and said during that “difficult situation,” Türkiye dispatched support and now it was Japan’s turn.

Noting that the Japanese team, which was assigned to the epicenter of the quake in southeastern Kahramanmaras province, began life-saving activities as soon as they arrived, Yamamoto said under the direction of the Turkish rescue agency, AFAD, it began working at the site of a building collapse, described as a “pancake type.”

The team recovered the bodies of a boy’s parents from the debris.

The boy insisted on requesting that the team save his sister, whom he said was under the rubble, said Yamamoto. The team could not carry out the work due to the lack of equipment, he added.

Noting that he could not forget the incident, Yamamoto said if his team had the equipment from the start of the time it was in the region, maybe “we could have saved a life from that building.”  

Drawing attention to the harsh weather conditions in the region, Yamamoto said: “The temperature at night was like 5 below zero, so freezing. It was quite difficult for us. This cold was one of the biggest challenges we faced.”

Yamamoto said he was impressed by Turkish people and the warm hospitality of people in the region. “They brought hot soup, it was quite tasty.”

“We came to help the Turkish people, they helped us,” he said. “We were connected by hearts. I could feel it quite a lot. Maybe they expected us to work harder.”

Although during their work in Türkiye, the team could not save lives, Yamamoto said it allowed a small team of Turkish volunteers from Ankara to use their equipment on nearby debris.

Noting that the Japanese team’s search dog helped volunteers, Yamamoto said the Turkish team pulled a little girl from the debris. After she was rescued, the girl was taken to an ambulance and a Japanese doctor checked her health and she was OK, he added.

Yamamoto noted the team was very happy to have helped the Turkish volunteer team bring a child alive from the debris, even with only their equipment.

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