March 11, 2011 / 2:41 PM / 9 years ago

U.S. readies earthquake relief response

WASHINGTON (Reuters) - The U.S. Defense Department said on Friday that was preparing American forces in the Pacific to provide earthquake and tsunami relief, while Washington urged U.S. citizens to avoid traveling to Japan.

Whirlpools are seen following a tsunami and earthquake in Iwaki city, Fukushima Prefecture, March 11, 2011. REUTERS/YOMIURI

Pentagon spokeswoman Navy Commander Leslie Hullryde said the U.S. military effort included at least six U.S. Navy ships but said defense officials have not yet received a request for assistance from the Japanese government.

“We are positioning our forces so we are ready to respond and provide disaster relief, if requested,” she said.

The U.S. State Department said it has moved its embassy operations in Japan from Tokyo to an alternate location as a precaution.

“Our embassy has been in touch with the Japanese government and stands ready to provide any assistance in response to this horrible tragedy,” the State Department said via a recorded telephone message in Washington.

There have been no reports of Americans being killed or injured in the quake.

The State Department issued a travel alert strongly urging U.S. citizens to avoid tourism and non-essential travel to Japan.

“Tokyo airports are currently closed; other airports in Japan may be closed or have restricted access. Public transportation, including trains and subways are closed in the Tokyo area, and service has been interrupted in other areas. Many roads have been damaged in the Tokyo area and in northern Japan,” the alert said.

“Strong aftershocks are likely for weeks following a strong earthquake such as this one,” it added.

The State Department also said it would set up an email address and telephone number to handle inquiries from people with relatives living in Japan.

President Barack Obama and Vice President Joe Biden sent statements of condolences and offers of aid to the Japanese people in the aftermath of the massive quake and tsunami.

(Reporting by David Morgan and Patricia Zengerle; Editing by Doina Chiacu)

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