Search on for earthquake zone Irish
Diplomats keep trying to contact small group still unaccounted for
THE Department of Foreign Affairs in Dublin is still trying to contact a small group of Irish people believed to have been in the affected areas of the massive Japanese earthquake and tsunami this weekend.
The death toll is expected to rise to thousands in the coming days as workers battle to prevent a meltdown at the Fukushima nuclear power plant.
Japanese authorities were preparing to distribute iodine tablets to counteract radiation after an explosion at the nuclear power station destroyed a building housing the reactor. However, radiation levels were decreasing yesterday, officials said.
In Dublin, the Radiological Protection Institute of Ireland (RPII) said the potential for the explosion at the nuclear power plant in north-eastern Japan to have implications in Ireland is remote.
A meeting of government departments and agencies took place yesterday morning and included officials from the RPII, the Department of the Environment, Heritage and Local Government, the Department of Foreign Affairs, the Office of Emergency Planning and Met Eireann to discuss the situation.
Dr Ann McGarry, the RPII chief executive, said: "The distance between Ireland and Japan means that in the highly unlikely event of contamination reaching Ireland, the levels would be insignificant. We are monitoring developments through official channels and will provide an updated assessment, as appropriate."
She said air monitoring stations were in place and based on the information available they did not see any immediate implications for Ireland, although the situation was unpredictable with aftershocks continuing in Japan.
The Department of Foreign Affairs said the consular crisis centre and the Irish Embassy in Tokyo have been able to account for almost all of the Irish nationals believed to have been in the affected areas.
A spokesman said they continue to try to make contact with a small number of others as communications links are restored.
While the department would not say how many people were involved, it is understood to be about half a dozen. The department said after the explosion at the nuclear plant in Fukushima there was an evacuation order in place for 20km around the plant and it advised against all travel to this area.
"The most serious damage has been localised in the Sendai area where communications lines remain down. There has been an improvement in the situation in Tokyo with transport links and communications largely restored."
The department said an offer of help from Ireland remained on the table after Minister of State for Trade and Development Jan O'Sullivan said the country stood ready to provide assistance.
She had asked humanitarian experts from the Irish Aid Rapid Response Corps to be on standby for possible deployment to the region.
Meanwhile, the estimated 2,000 Irish nationals in Japan were continuing to cope with the affects of the disaster and its aftermath.
One of them, Andy O'Doherty, from Greystones, Co Wicklow, told the Sunday Independent that even though most people were not working yesterday there was still an atmosphere of fear in Tokyo.
He was in Tokyo city centre when the earthquake struck. He said there were five people in his office, including one Japanese, and they had taken cover under tables and then ran out of the building.
Mr O'Doherty, who first went to Japan six years ago and is now into his third stint there, said they were expecting more aftershocks.
He is chairman of the Irish Network Japan and they had decided to cancel today's St Patrick's Day parade in Tokyo.
Social networking sites like Facebook and the use of emails had proved their worth in the aftermath of the disaster, he said, as many other communications links went down.