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The United States have sent two military helicopters to Japan to assist in relief efforts following the earthquake that hit Noto peninsula on the country’s west coast.

Communities are cut off by the disaster and are in desperate need of supplies.

“Two Blackhawk helicopters will supplement Japan’s fleet assisting to move supplies and personnel,” US Ambassador to Japan Rahm Emanuel said on social media platform X, formerly known as Twitter.

The US aircraft began relief operations two days ago, Japan Minister of Defence Minoru Kihara said at a press briefing.

The powerful January quake destroyed roads linking the isolated peninsula to the rest of Japan and made evacuations by sea difficult, leaving vulnerable people only able to be reached by air.

The scale of the US assistance could expand over the coming days, a source said who did not want to be named as they are not authorised to speak to the media.

More than 220 people are confirmed to have died. The quake destroyed thousands of homes, vital infrastructure and knocked out power in the area.

Relief efforts have been hampered by strong aftershocks that could trigger fresh landslides and further damage weakened structures.

Authorities have been warning survivors, many of whom are living in evacuation centres, to guard against freezing temperatures with heavy snow hitting the area in recent days.

The quake is Japan’s deadliest since 2016 when quakes in the southwestern region of Kumamoto claimed 276 lives.

US forces, which provided aid for that disaster and in 2011 helped survivors of the quake that killed nearly 20,000 people and triggered the Fukushima nuclear disaster, have been stationed in Japan since World War II, marking the country’s biggest military presence abroad.

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