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Tsunami workers recognised in Australia Day awards

January 26, 2013

Twelve Australian diplomatic and foreign affairs personnel have today received Australia Day honours for their efforts in search and rescue and in finding missing Australians in the aftermath of the earthquake, tsunami and nuclear crises in eastern Japan in March 2011.

Foreign Minister Bob Carr said personnel from the Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade had volunteered to travel to devastated areas in Sendai and Minami Sanriku to help with recovery efforts.

“These 12 Australians are among the heroes of the tsunami recovery effort,” Senator Carr said.

“Their work included language support for search and rescue units in eastern Japan and helping locate the 100 Australians believed to be in the area and unaccounted for.

“This was dirty, distressing work. The teams went from hospitals to emergency shelters and morgues to ensure all Australians were accounted for.

“They did so knowing they were at personal risk from further earthquakes or radiation from damaged nuclear facilities.

“Today’s awards are an appropriate recognition of their dedication in the most catastrophic conditions, at personal risk and in the interests of their country.

“I congratulate these 12 officers on their outstanding contribution to the international community and to assisting Australians in need overseas.”

Former Ambassador to Japan Murray McLean has been awarded an AO (Officer in the General division) and 11 consular and other departmental officers received medals in the Order of Australia (OAM).

Senator Carr also applauded the efforts of Departmental staff in Japan and Australia who worked around the clock to assist distressed Australians in getting home or locating their friends or family.

Thirty-nine additional officers were deployed to Japan to assist existing embassy staff, maintaining 24 hour operations at the Embassy and at Narita airport during the height of the crisis. Additional staff in Canberra had maintained a 24-hour a day crisis centre to handle calls and provide consular assistance to Australians in Japan and their families and friends across the region.

The Great East Japan Earthquake occurred on March 11, 2011, causing tsunami conditions and damaging local nuclear facilities. More than 15,000 people were reported killed and property damage exceeded $US235 billion, making it the costliest natural disaster in history.

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