You can’t really compare the nearly 2,000 people who perished in Rikuzentakata, Japan, with the destruction inflicted on Crescent City Harbor, both during tsunamis after a massive earthquake in March 2011.
Members of the Del Norte High delegation are interviewed by a Japanese TV crew, including producer Leo Yang, right. Del Norte Triplicate / Bryant Anderson
Nonetheless, they share the distinction of being tsunami cities, and a local delegation of Del Norters that started a journey for Rikuzentakata on Friday hopes to strengthen that bond and swap information about preparedness and recovery.
“I want to see the recovery,” said Cindy Henderson, Del Norte County Emergency Services manager and one of the people on the trip to Japan. “The recovery is a whole different world that we never look at. I want to see how that’s going and bring back some ideas that we can start addressing now.”
The link between Rikuzentakata and Crescent City began when a 20-foot boat that was ripped to sea from the Japan town during the tsunami washed ashore south of Crescent City, less than a mile from the harbor that was destroyed by the same seismic event.
The Del Norte County Sheriff’s Office recovered the boat from some men attempting to salvage it, and once the vessel was traced back to Rikuzentakata, locals started making plans to return the boat to its owners, which turned out to be Takata High School’s marine sciences program.
The efforts prompted Recology and international shipping companies to offer their services to bring the boat back, and it finally reached its destination last October.
Despite not being able to accompany the boat on its return, the high school students and other Del Norte officials still wanted to forge a lasting relationship with Rikuzentakata, and they collected donations to support the trip.
In December, organizers received a large donation from the TOMODACHI initiative, a public-private partnership launched by the governments of the United States and Japan in the wake of the Great East Japan Earthquake of March 11, 2011.
“We are honored to represent Crescent City and the United States in Japan,” said Joyce Ruiz, a teacher who is accompanying the Del Norte High students on the trip. “I feel this a wonderful opportunity for the students to experience a different culture and hopefully make lifelong friendships.”
The group plans to invite students from Rikuzentakata to visit Crescent City in the future and intends on trying to offer hope to the town that has lost so much, Ruiz said.
The group also received a personal visit from the lead diplomats of the Consulate-General of Japan in San Francisco, who thanked the students for their efforts to return the boat.
The Del Norte delegation has received press coverage from one of the largest national television networks in Japan, TV Asahi, whose Los Angeles branch sent a team to Crescent City this week to interview the group before they left.
“As soon as we heard they were visiting ambassador Kennedy, (our office in) Tokyo was very interested,” said Leo Yang, the producer from TV Asahi’s LA branch that was in Crescent City this week.
On Tuesday, the TV crew asked the students about how they felt about the trip and the saga of the boat discovered at South Beach.
The trip got off to a rough start Friday when the airplane that was meant to pick up the group in Crescent City got stuck in San Francisco and the group missed their connecting flight by about five minutes, according to Del Norte High principal Coleen Parker.
If the group cannot get onto a plane for Japan today, then it would disrupt the entire schedule of meetings that the group has planned for next week, Parker said.
“We’ve been standing in line for three and a half hours trying to figure out what to do and waiting and waiting and waiting,” Parker said from the San Francisco Airport on Friday evening.
The delegation includes Parker, Henderson, Ruiz and her husband Ed Ruiz, sheriff’s Commander Bill Steven and the six Del Norte High students: Halie DeArmen, Connor Field, Dakota Ford, Juan Ramirez, Jon Steven and Griffin Walker.