To read a first-hand account of the UK rescue mission by Crew Manager Heather Heath, of Kent Fire and Rescue Service's Urban Search and Rescue team - click here


At 1446 local time on March 11 2011, an earthquake measuring 8.9 on the Richter scale occurred 130 km off the East Coast of Japan. It lasted for more than three minutes and was just 32 km deep, triggering a tsunami of waves which were up to 10 metres in height.  
The first of these waves hit some areas of Japan just 10 minutes later, others spread to 20 other countries including the Pacific Coast of North America and South America.  
This earthquake, the worst in Japan's history, and the resulting tsunami, destroyed more than 100,000 buildings, caused structural damage to roads and railways and left millions of homes without electricity.
At Fukushima nuclear power plant the emergency generators failed too, leading to overheating within four of their six reactors.
As worldwide coverage of the earthquake began, I switched on the news and waited with my pager to see if a request for help would be sent by the Japanese government.  It didn't take long for the pager to sound, asking to know our availability. Our government had offered assistance and we would wait to see if it was accepted. In the meantime, I texted Alan Downes, our team leader, to let him know I was available and made my way home to throw a few added extras into my partially packed bag.
That day was spent on tenterhooks, waiting for the phone call to mobilise. Instead we were stood down at 1945, with the understanding that it could all change.  At 0800 the following morning, on the way to visit my mum for her birthday and with a wedding to attend in the afternoon, my pager sounded once again. 
The message read: 'Can those selected to go to Japan respond to the Urban Search & Rescue Centre immediately'. I whipped the car around, and headed home to grab my bag. Hands-free phone calls were made to my husband, who was at work, my mum to tell her she would have to wait for her birthday presents, and my oldest school friend to explain that I wouldn't be able to attend his wedding that afternoon. Luckily for me, all three were very understanding!

Posted: 12.02am, 04.04.11