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The U.S. government and the military in Japan stand ready to help earthquake victims in Niigata following Saturday’s deadly quake and aftershocks that killed at least 25 people and injured more than 2,700, U.S. officials said Monday.

U.S. bases in Japan reported neither significant damage nor injuries from the series of quakes, which were to the north and west of where most of the bases are located in the Kanto Plain. However, some areas, such as Yokota Air Base, reported the temblors sent base buildings and housing towers swaying and the contents of shelves and cabinets rattling.

The damage was far more severe elsewhere, with homes and businesses collapsed, train service disrupted and roadways ripped apart.

In a symbolic show of support, Howard Baker, U.S. Ambassador to Japan, on Monday authorized the immediate disbursal of $50,000 in disaster assistance to the hard-hit Niigata area, according to an embassy news release.

Baker told Japan Chief Cabinet Secretary Hiroyuki Hosoda on Monday afternoon that the United States would “do whatever it can to assist the government and people of Japan during this difficult time,” the release stated.

The ambassador can release up to $50,000 in special circumstances without authorization from higher government channels, said Michael Boyle, an embassy spokesman.

“It’s a symbolic gesture because the magnitude of the disaster is quite large,” Boyle said. “This is simply one of the things that ambassadors have at their disposal to assist immediately.”

As of late Monday afternoon, however, U.S. government and military officials in Japan had not been asked to help with relief efforts in Niigata, they said.

Any formal request likely would be made “government- to-government” — either through the U.S. Embassy in Tokyo or the State Department in Washington D.C., Boyle said.

“We have not seen or heard of any formal requests yet,” he said. “We will remain in close contact with the Japanese government to make good on that promise that the ambassador made.”

U.S. military and civilian agencies in Japan rendered assistance after the Kobe earthquake, which killed more than 6,400 in 1995.

Saturday’s initial tremor had a magnitude of 6.8, according to Reuters. The Niigata quake was Japan’s deadliest since Kobe. Aftershocks continued to shake rural Niigata prefecture as late as Monday with a magnitude 5.6 quake, Reuters reported.

The Japan Meteorological Agency said an increase in aftershocks meant there was a 40 percent chance of an earthquake of magnitude 6.0 or greater in the area in the next week, according to Reuters.

U.S. troops are not currently assisting with relief efforts, but, “we stand ready to assist if necessary,” said Capt. Richelle Dowdell, spokeswoman for U.S. Forces Japan at Yokota.

The Niigata temblor and its series of aftershocks jolted Tokyo, 150 miles to the south, and Yokota Air Base, about 28 miles northwest of Tokyo.

Tower residents at Yokota said they could feel their building swing back and forth during the initial earthquake.

“When it kept on swinging — it felt like a whole minute — we really started thinking this might be a lot bigger than we expected,” said Ken Weir, an overseas buyer for Army and Air Force Exchange Service, who lives on the ninth floor in one of Yokota’s West towers.

Weir was sitting in his easy chair, watching television, when his abode began to shake shortly before 6 p.m. Saturday. “We felt the first jolt and the building just kept on swaying,” he said. By the time the aftershocks quit — Weir and his wife counted about six — “we were ready to roll on out of here,” he said. “We had our bags by the door.” Those bags keep passports and other important documents and extra cash for an emergency.

“By far, in two tours here over 14 years, this was the worst one I ever felt,” Weir said.

Dowdell, of USFJ, said no damages or injuries were reported at U.S. bases in Japan.

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Jennifer reports on the U.S. military from Kaiserslautern, Germany, where she writes about the Air Force, Army and DODEA schools. She’s had previous assignments for Stars and Stripes in Japan, reporting from Yokota and Misawa air bases. Before Stripes, she worked for daily newspapers in Wyoming and Colorado. She’s a graduate of the College of William and Mary in Virginia.
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