Local community reacts, waits to learn fate of disaster victims


The local community reactions to the earthquake tsunami that struck Japan last Friday, has led to reactions of shock and disbelief that a nation like Japan could be so devastated despite its painstaking preparation for such an event. Local citizens say it is horrible to watch the footage of the well-documented disaster which took place in both urban areas and townships alike. Yet, they do watch, as if mesmerized by the powerful quakes and waves – and now wonder what to do, how to help?

Dr. Mirja P. Hanson, the Honorary Consul General for Japan in Minnesota, a title bestowed by the Japanese Consulate, said the local Japanese community is talking now about efforts as families attempt to contact relatives.

Hanson said that the upcoming Chicago relationship building meeting will likely have a different focus now, and will many local events planned for the near future with the sister city programs.

The Minnesota Japan sister cities include St. Paul and Nagasaki; Minneapolis and Ibaraki City; Duluth and Ohara; Bloomington and Izumi City; Red Wing and Ikata; Winona and Misato.

Sendai is a sister city with Riverside, Calif. Yokohama is a sister city with San Diego.

“Its hard to believe its been few days since Friday, it feels like three weeks,” said Hanson. “It is a marathon of what do you do – and definitely the list of people wanting to support and find out about people over there is growing.”

Local community members visit the Chicago Consulate Web site daily for updates and new contact lists or special sections.

“People are saying that they are not surprised but that they are heartened to hear about the respectful way that the Japanese preceded in an orderly fashion, stopping for street lights and not getting in each others way,” she added. “It is so different. There are no riots, looting or the need for police presence.”

Hanson said she has been getting calls from local firms wanting to help out, such as a company in Lakeville that makes flotation devices and thought they would prove useful. Other Japanese-speaking people have been calling to offer translation skills.

“People have been calling to see if they can get a family out of the disaster area and host them,” said Hanson. “It has really been the range of offers.”

Hanson said discussion have called attention to the potential radiation contamination in Japan – the nation that has already experienced the worst radiation as a result of the atomic bombs dropped on Hiroshima and Nagasaki in 1945. She said high school classmates have exchanged notes that the watching the disaster wreckage is like a Godzilla movie without the monster.

Japan America Society of Minnesota, an organization with many Japanese nationals and Americans who have lived and worked in Japan, is obviously following the events carefully and with grave concern.

JASM President Dick Stahl, and Executive Director Ben van Lierop, said the earthquake and tsunami was enormous in scale, but that they are so far relieved to learn from members that messages from family and friends say they are well.

“We are all concerned with the news of the huge earthquake that struck Japan. Some of us have family members there, and many of us have dear friends and colleagues who may be affected by the disaster that has taken place, especially in Northern Japan,” they stated. “We do grieve for loss of life and for those who are suffering at this time. We know that there are people in Japan who are doing their best to address these human and material needs.”

JASM Members Ross and Mandy Meisner are offering two free round trip economy class tickets from Minnesota to Japan on Delta Air Lines to an individual who has family in the Sendai area that has been affected by the recent earthquake and tsunami; or to an individual who may be in a position to help with earthquake/tsunami recovery whether search and rescue, engineering or healthcare.

For more information call JASM at 612-627-9357 or email at jasm@us-japan.org.

San Asato, a board member of JASM, said his family is from southern Japan and were not effected directly, and that they were able to connect and confirm the safety of friends and former neighbors in greater Tokyo.

Asato’s eldest son is a U.S. Navy reservist who has been called into active duty. He and members from his unit have already left for Japan.

“I am grateful that our son is able to part-take in U.S. Navy’s effort to assist in rescue and relief work.”

The White House Office of the Press Secretary released President Barack Obama’s remarks from a briefing.

USAID immediately began coordinating the overall U.S. government efforts in support of the Japanese government’s response and is currently directing individuals to www.usaid.gov for information about response donations.

The U.S. Ambassador declared an emergency and set up a Response Management Team to include the National Nuclear Security Administration, a semi-autonomous agency within the U.S. Department of Energy, which sent 33 experts from its Consequence Management Response Teams out of Nellis Air Force Base in Las Vegas, Nevada, on March 15, has arrived in Japan and deploy to U.S. consulates and military installations around Japan.

The teams have the skills, expertise and equipment to help assess, survey, monitor and sample areas for radiation. They include smaller groups that could be sent out to gather technical information in the area. The 33 team members joined another six DOE personnel already in Japan.

The team brought a high-resolution plotter/printer capable of generating data maps in its effort to assist Japanese personnel with nuclear issues.

The Department of Defense has the USS Reagan on station off the coast of Japan and the USS Essex en route, and is currently using an air facility in Misawa as a forward operating base. The American Red Cross International Services team is supporting the Japanese Red Cross Society to assess the impact, determine response efforts, and assist the people of Japan.

Bingham Cady, a professor of Mechanical and Aerospace Engineering at Cornell University, said Iodine 131 is the worst environmental actor emitting from the four stricken nuclear facilities in Japan’s northeast.

“It’s radioactive and has the potential to become airborne and travel downwind,” said Cady. “It will also stick to soil and settle on the ground.”

He said those in danger of exposure should evacuate the area that will remain contaminated for months or even years. He added that iodine pills should be distributed to prevent exposed humans from absorbing contaminated iodine.

“Because the emergency cooling systems failed at these four facilities, other facilities must rethink their own nuclear safety strategy and implement tighter testing requirements,” said Cady, helped operate Cornell’s now-closed on-campus nuclear reactor and has been a consultant for several nuclear energy companies.

Oregon Congressman David Wu (D-1st) said the tragedy in Japan is a stark reminder of the importance of disaster preparedness for America’s coastal communities and Pacific Island territories. He said the efficiency of response and evacuation efforts demonstrates the hard work that federal, state, and local officials have already put toward tsunami preparation. At the same time, he said the U.S. must be ready for a disaster scenario that presents much shorter warning times and a higher ocean surge.

Wu authored the Natural Hazards Risk Reduction Act of 2010, in part to enhance vital hazard research and planning programs to bolster national preparedness and effective response capabilities.

“Our thoughts today are with the people of Japan, who have suffered widespread loss of life and destruction of property,” said Wu. “The Asian Pacific American community stands ready to assist Japan in rebuilding and recovery efforts.”

China Foreign Ministry Spokesperson Jiang Yu stated on March 13, that a 15-member rescue team was sent by the Chinese Government by chartered plane for quake relief operation. He added that local provincial and city governments and civil groups of China have expressed condolences to Japan and offered their assistance and requested help in locating Chinese citizens in the disaster areas.

“There were no reports of Chinese casualties as of 12:00 p.m. on March 13 Beijing Time,” he said. “Considering the severity of the earthquake and the large number of the widespread Chinese nationals in Japan, the Foreign Ministry and Chinese diplomatic missions in Japan will continue to collect the information of the affected Chinese citizens in Japan and get prepared to provide assistance.”