By Jim Garamone
American Forces Press Service
WASHINGTON, March 25, 2011 - American service members in Japan continue to help the Japanese people recover from the catastrophic March 11 earthquake and tsunami.
At the same time, many family members have taken advantage of the voluntary authorized departure process.
Japanese authorities say that more than 10,000 people are known dead from the twin disasters and another 17,000 are still missing. More than 250,000 are living in evacuation shelters.
The nuclear emergency at the Dai-Ichi power plant continues, and Japanese authorities today asked those living between 20 and 30 kilometers from the plant -- about 12 to 20 miles -- to move.
American service members based in Japan were among the first international personnel to provide aid.
As of March 24, U.S. service members have delivered 1,707,815 gallons of water, 172 tons of food, 10 tons of medical supplies and 34 tons of other relief supplies. DOD personnel are working with Japanese emergency responders to search for bodies, clear airports and roads and deliver humanitarian supplies.
American helicopters have hop-scotched the area delivering supplies, transporting survivors or bringing in personnel.
Sixteen U.S. ships, including the aircraft carrier USS Ronald Reagan, are deployed in support of operations. Marines from the 31st Marine Expeditionary Unit and 3rd Marine Expeditionary Force are involved with the relief effort. Airmen from Misawa, and Kadena air bases also are involved at many levels.
A total of 4,744 U.S. family members have returned to the United States via the voluntary authorized departure program. About 8,000 American family members are still in Japan awaiting departure.
Service members and their families have had concerns about possible contamination of food and water in Japan, and U.S. Forces Japan has enhanced the measures the command takes to ensure the safety of food and water supplies.
The food and water on U.S. military installations are safe and in accordance with U.S. Food and Drug Administration standards, according to a release on the command's website.
The command will continue to test water supplies and will increase the number of tests as an added precaution, the release added.
"The safety and security of our service members and their families are our top priority," the release said. "We take extreme care to ensure our personnel are protected and will continue to monitor the situation."