Thank you all for the prayers and well wishes for my family. Phone, power and Internet are down all throughout Japan and especially in the hard hit region of northeastern Japan where my parents and my mother’s family live.
The 8.9 quake that struck Japan on Friday afternoon their time was off of the coast of Sendai. It’s the capital of Miyagi Prefecture with a population of one million. On the news, you may have seen video of a tsunami inundated airport. That’s Sendai. (A “prefecture” is something like a province; we use the word I guess because it sounds oriental. The Japanese call them todōfuken. Each prefecture has an elected governor and legislative assembly.)
The dramatic video of monstrous mud flows with burning heaps moving miles inland are from coastal areas near Sendai in Miyagi Prefecture. If wonder how houses floating on water can burn so well, understand that most homes in northern Japan are heated with kerosene heaters, and most households keep one or two five gallon containers of kerosene inside the dwelling. Cooking and water heaters are often powered with liquid propane stored in tanks at the house. Those tanks are outside, but they’re chained to the house to prevent damage during a quake.
180 miles up the coast from Sendai is Hachinohe. A lot of video showing large ships swept over seawalls into bridges, buildings and cars by 13 foot surges comes from this city, and the tsunami pushed several miles inland at that city. Hachinohe is in Aomori Prefecture, which is the northernmost prefecture in Japan. It’s winter and snow is forecast for today there. Freezing temperatures only compounds the difficulty of rescue operations and flooding.
Just a couple of miles up the coast from Hachinoe is the Oirase River. My parents live about three miles inland from the Pacific Coast, but this Oirase River flows near their home in a very flat plain. Rivers — especially wide, flat rivers like the Oirase — are superhighways for tsunamis. River channels concentrate a tsunami’s power upstream for miles. Rokunohe is a tiny village of about 1,000 people and the Japanese news media haven’t reported anything from there yet beyond information about evacuations orders.
The joint US-Japan Misawa military base is only two miles from the coast a couple of miles north of the Oirase. Misawa is my old childhood stomping grounds. People at Misawa were concerned about a tsunami swamping the base and city, but all they have contend with is shivering in the cold as they work to restore power and heat.
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For instances like this, the best way to contact U.S. citizens abroad is through the State Department. My dad address is registered with the U.S. Embassy in Japan, and they have the local resources to make contact.
I still have other friends and family in Japan, and I can contact them in a roundabout way through the military if necessary.
The other big resource is the American Red Cross Safe and Well website. There are other resources as well through Google, Facebook and what not.
After Narita Airport closed due to the earthquake, several commercial flights diverted to Yokota Air Base, which is where I spent my teen years.