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U.S. Forces Japan officials said they have supplies on hand to assist Niigata Prefecture with earthquake relief efforts but await word from the Japanese government on how they can help.

Items they could send include blankets and tents, said USFJ spokeswoman Capt. Richelle Dowdell. “We’re waiting to see what they specifically are going to need from us,” she said Tuesday.

In the event provisions are requested, USFJ officials don’t know if they would be delivered by military aircraft or trucks, Dowdell said, noting it depends on whether airports or roads into the hard-hit areas are open.

“We’re just standing by, waiting to assist,” she said.

Michael Boyle, a spokesman with the U.S. Embassy in Tokyo, said officials there expect to hear from the Japanese government this week about disaster assistance, “as quickly as they can fully assess what they have and what they need, if anything,” he said.

Although it’s been several days since the first deadly quake and series of powerful aftershocks jolted Niigata on Saturday, Boyle said both countries learned from the 1995 Kobe earthquake — which killed more than 6,400 — the importance of providing the right assistance to the right place at the right time.

“I think that’s what everybody is doing at this point,” he said. Military officials “don’t want to send tents if that isn’t useful. They want to send water if that’s what they need.

“The Japanese are very capable and they have a lot of resources themselves,” he said, explaining that since Kobe, people are more prepared to respond to such large-scale disasters.

U.S. Ambassador to Japan Howard Baker pledged $50,000 to relief efforts, a symbolic gesture indicating the United States is willing to help. Boyle said he believes Niigata has set up its own disaster relief fund and that the money likely will go there.

The death toll rose to 27 on Tuesday after two elderly men died, according to local news reports.

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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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