THE Queen led messages of sympathy to the people of Japan following the devastating earthquake, as Ministers said the Government was on standby to provide any relief effort in the coming days.
Foreign Secretary William Hague said the UK could send humanitarian assistance and search and rescue teams to help with the aftermath of the massive quake, which measured 8.9 on the Richter scale and triggered tsunami waves around the Pacific.
Speaking in Whitehall after chairing a meeting of the Government’s Cobra emergency response committee, Mr Hague said Britain was ready to send whatever help the Japanese authorities say they need.
There has so far been no confirmation of any British casualties from the earth tremor or the tsunami waves which it caused, he added.
In her message to Japan’s Emperor Akihito, the Queen said: “I was saddened to hear of the tragic loss of life caused by the earthquake which has struck north east Japan today.
“Prince Philip joins me in extending our heartfelt sympathy to your Majesty and the people of Japan. Our prayers and thoughts are with everyone who has been affected by the dreadful disaster.”
Her words were echoed in a message sent by the Prince of Wales and Duchess of Cornwall to the Emperor.
Prince Charles said: “I can only begin to imagine the horrifying situation with which local communities and your emergency services are having to deal.
“We have been following reports closely and I wanted Your Majesty to know how much our hearts go out to the families and friends of all those who have lost their lives, have been injured or have seen their property destroyed.
“You are constantly in our thoughts and prayers at this most dreadful and challenging of times.”
Prime Minister David Cameron described the earthquake as a “terrible reminder of the destructive power of nature”. Speaking during a visit to Brussels for an emergency European Union summit on the crisis in Libya, he said: “Everyone should be thinking of the country and its people and I have asked immediately that our Government look at what we can do to help.
“The first thing we should be thinking about today is sending our sympathies and our condolences to the Japanese people.”
UK airlines cancelled flights to the Japanese capital following the disaster and the Foreign Office has set up a crisis centre in London with a helpline on 020 7008 0000 for anyone in the UK concerned about the safety of friends and relatives in Japan. UK nationals in Japan are advised to contact the British Embassy in Tokyo on +(81) 3 5211 1100 or the Consulate-General in Osaka on +(81) 6 6120 5600.
Foreign Secretary Mr Hague said: “The Prime Minister and I have sent our condolences to the people of Japan for the deaths and injuries that have occurred.
“We are in touch with the government of Japan to offer our assistance and we have just been reviewing what assistance we could provide. That may take the form of humanitarian assistance, search and rescue teams or victim identification – whatever assistance is required and whatever the Japanese government would like us to send in the coming days.”
International Development Secretary Andrew Mitchell confirmed British rescue teams were on four hours’ notice to fly to the disaster zone.
“It is clear Japan has some of the most sophisticated search and rescue people in the world, but if we are asked for any technical or additional support, then of course we will give it,” he said.
“The British search and rescue team are on four hours’ notice if that is required. More widely we are watching carefully what is happening to this wall of water and tsunami spreading across the Pacific Ocean. As we see the scale of what develops, we will continue to hope for the best and prepare for the worst.
“Britain will be engaged in giving any support we can to those affected.”
Mr Mitchell said it was important help was co-ordinated so aid was targeted where it was needed.
Seismologist Brian Baptie from the British Geological Survey in Edinburgh, said: “This is a earthquake measuring 8.9 on the Richter scale.
“To put that into some sort of context, it’s 8,000 times larger than the one that destroyed Christchurch last month, and on a similar scale to the Chile earthquake in February last year.”