U.S. military helicopters to deploy to Japan’s earthquake-hit area – sources

TOKYO (Reuters) -U.S. military helicopters in Japan are set to deploy to the earthquake-hit Noto peninsula on the country’s west coast to help with relief efforts in communities cut off by the disaster, sources familiar with the matter said.

The quake has destroyed roads and evacuations by sea are difficult, meaning some vulnerable people can only be moved by air, said one of the sources with knowledge of the plan.

Details of the mission are expected to be announced later on Tuesday, the sources said on condition of anonymity as the plans have not yet been made public.

More than 220 people are confirmed to have died in the Jan. 1 quake that destroyed thousands of homes, vital infrastructure and knocked out power in the isolated area. Relief efforts have also been hampered by strong aftershocks that rescuers fear could trigger 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. U.S. forces have been stationed in Japan since World War II, marking the country’s biggest military presence abroad.

(Reporting by Yukiko Toyoda, Nobuhiro Kubo, Tim Kelly, Kaori Kaneko; Writing by John Geddie; Editing by Michael Perry)