MADRID (Reuters) - International humanitarian groups are finding pockets of suffering in northern Japan, but say most victims of the earthquake, tsunami, and snow blizzards are keeping warm and getting food, water and medical attention.
A week after the devastating quake and massive ocean wave wiped out towns on the northeast coast, international search and rescue teams are abandoning the search for survivors in below-freezing temperatures.
At least 6,539 people are confirmed dead, more than 10,000 are still missing and over 410,000 people are in shelters.
Teams from aid groups and charities are working their way north -- challenged by destroyed roads and scarce fuel -- seeking isolated groups of people who are most exposed.
“We’ve seen children suffering with the cold, and lacking really basic items like food and clean water. Tomorrow we’re giving out blankets, and our team in Tokyo is looking into what other goods we can supply,” said Stephen McDonald of the Save the Children charity in a statement on Friday.
“As we push up the coastline from Sendai, we are finding pockets of profound humanitarian need, and we’re going to do everything we can to meet them while remaining focused on our child protection work.”
Teams from Doctors Without Borders have seen a few cases of hypothermia and will distribute 25,000 blankets.
“In the 20 or 30 shelters we’ve visited the main problems are elderly people with chronic illnesses. They have run out of medication for diabetes and high blood pressure and we are trying to restart them on their medication,” said Japan director for Doctors Without Borders Eric Ouannes on the group’s website.
Ouannes said the most serious medical needs are covered, with only a few exceptions. There are working hospitals in the disaster zone, with doctors and medication, he said.
World Vision started distributing relief supplies on Friday in the city of Tome and will reach Minami Sanriku, one of the hardest-hit coastal towns in the country, on Saturday, the British-based aid group said.
”Blankets, bottled water and sanitary and hygiene supplies are among the items in World Vision’s distribution to assist more than 6,000 people in urgent need in Minami Sanriku, where 9,600 townspeople have been displaced into 40 shelters.
“This tsunami-swept town in Miyagi prefecture, like many other areas of Japan, is experiencing below-freezing temperatures and snowfall,” World VIsion said in a statement.
Britain’s Department for International Development (DFID) said the British search and rescue team in northern Japan had completed its unsuccessful search for survivors on Thursday and decided to leave the country.
“Heavy snow and falling temperatures six days after the start of the disaster mean there is now is an extremely low chance of finding survivors,” DFID said on Thursday.
The team, including 59 British fire service search and rescue specialists, two rescue dogs and a medical support unit, was dispatched to Japan following a direct appeal from the Japanese authorities.
Japanese authorities have accepted international support in a few specific areas -- particularly from search and rescue teams and nuclear specialists.
Given Japan’s capacity for dealing with major catastrophes, most international non-governmental organizations are focusing on getting to especially remote areas or on providing specialist help to the elderly or young children.
Reporting by Francois Servranckx and Olesya Dmitracova in London; Thin Lei Win in Bangkok; Fiona Ortiz in Madrid; editing by Douglas Hamilton