Half of the Australians registered in Japan’s tsunami-hit areas have been accounted for, the Australian federal government has confirmed.
Foreign Affairs Minister Kevin Rudd says 234 Australians are registered as being in the region affected by the earthquake, and 102 are confirmed to be safe.
But Australia’s ambassador to Japan, Murray McLean, says it is impossible to say how many Australians were in Japan when the tsunami hit.
McLean said that although 3000 are officially registered, the actual number of Australians thought to be living there is 10,000.
Of the 3,000 registered, 975 are yet to be tracked down.
The ambassador is urging unregistered Australians living in Japan to contact the embassy as soon as possible.
“At this stage we have 2,948 Australians registered as being in Japan, of which 1,973 have been confirmed as safe,” he said.
“That includes 102 in the most severely affected areas. We have 234 registered in affected areas.”
McLean says the embassy has received about 500 emails from Australians caught up in the disaster.
“We’ve got a bank of people on the telephones and computers responding to these people, telling them what the status of the situation is and to remain tight where they are if they are safe until there is transport available,” he told Fairfax Radio.
He called the current death toll of about 1500 “extremely conservative”.
“There’s been some terribly, stunningly awful visuals of where the tsunami hit and where a town of 20,000 people has been wiped out, so I’m afraid the figure will be in tens of thousands, rather than the one thousands,” he said.
He says efforts are underway to locate all Australians.
“We’ve got a consular response group up right in the Sendai area, which is the most critical area,” he said.
“They are – as of daybreak this morning – going out to emergency centres to visit hospitals, to visit morgues to establish whether Australians in any way are associated with these.”
Prime Minister Rudd, says the Australian consular team has been in direct contact with local authorities and hospitals.
“To date they have not found any foreign patients in the three hospitals that have been contacted so far,” he said.
“Conditions permitting the team today will proceed further north to some of the hardest hit areas.”
The family of a Melbourne man missing in Japan has been encouraged by reports that he survived the disaster, reports ABC News.
Jason Briffa had been working as an English language teacher in Sendai, the area hardest hit by the tsunami.
Two different people have told his family his name is on a list of survivors posted in Japan.
But they still have not heard from him.
ABC News has reported that Australians have started to arrive back at Sydney airport today, saying they feel lucky to have escaped the ever-unfolding tragedy in Japan.
Australians who have lost their passport during the disaster will not have to pay for a replacement.
The Federal Government will waive the AUD226 fee for adults as part of its consular assistance to those affected.
Rudd says it is a small gesture that he hopes will make things easier for Australians caught up in the disaster.
He also says an Australian search and rescue team will get to work in one of the hardest hit areas today.
“It’s on its way to Sendai, or just south of there, this morning,” he told Channel Nine.
“There’s about 72 folk with this, with embedded translators, interpreters from the Australian embassy.
“We’ve provided our own transport, our own buses and our own trucks to get gear there.
“They’ll be on the ground some time later today.”