The Crescent City Council recently heard the first presentation by the city’s delegation making a June trip to Rikuzentakata Iwate Japan.
Mayor Blake Inscore, one of 15 delegates who made the trip to Rikuzentakata, started Tuesday by noting that not a single day of the six-day itinerary of classes, tours, and demonstrations was less than 14 hours long. In fact, a scheduling change meant delegates faced one 18-hour day, he said.
“We truly had a Sister City welcome,” he said, noting that the entire staff of Rikuzentakata City Hall came out to greet the delegates, forming a line that went around the building and took 20 minutes to exchange greetings.
From there, delegates toured the city’s fire hall, emergency operations center, harbor, abalone farms, mushroom farms, newspaper, chamber of commerce, elementary schools, and concluded with a trip to the National Diet — Japan’s bicameral legislature — and the U.S. Embassy in Tokyo.
Inscore told the story of how a boat from Takata High School washed ashore in Crescent City a year after the tsunami. It was cleaned up by Del Norte High School students, who decided it should go back to Rikuzentakata.
“It began with students saying, ‘We should do this,’” he said.
Inscore said the major reasons for the trip were emergency planning and disaster management.
City Finance Director Linda Leaver said she has been in Emergency Operations Center training for more than two years, went to Federal Emergency Management Authority training in Maryland last year and has also completed Community Emergency Response Team training, which was the reason she was asked to go on the trip.
“In order to prepare for any emergency, it’s important to understand what the risks are,” she said. “Dr. (Lori) Dengler, of Humboldt State University, has been involved in our EOC preparations and she has a website and a radio spot called ‘Living on Shaky Ground,’” She recommended the site as it has information for residents about the risks and how to prepare for them. It features a map of recorded earthquakes since 1900, noting that northern California will continue to experience them.
On March 11, 2011, Rikuzentaka experienced a 9.1 magnitude earthquake, generating a 48-foot tsunami.
Leaver showed a video, taken from the roof of the two-story firehouse as firefighters climbed a communications tower to escape the rising water, only 45 minutes after the quake. She also showed several photos of the city, taken before and after the tsunami.
She said in the city of 23,000 people, more than 1,600 were lost, along with a third of its firefighters.
City Manager Eric Wier said to see the scale of the devastation in person gives one a new perspective.
Recalling when he received notification of the tsunami and its pending arrival in Crescent City, Wier said, “I recall getting that call, and making that drive and I can’t even imagine going through what the people of Rikuzentakata went through.”
Wier spoke of FEMA training last year, noting trainers felt Crescent City is among the most prepared communities they had trained and evaluated.
He said while staff has studied and trained for a distant source tsunami, a near shore event would be entirely different.
“From the time we started this presentation until now (about 15 minutes), we would be underwater,” Wier said.
Wier stressed while staff and emergency personnel are well-trained, community training needs to continue so everyone knows where to go when they feel a quake. He stressed that signing up for Everbridge will allow instant notification in the event of an emergency, as well as the importance of having a family plan.
Wier also stressed the Japanese method of Tendenko — to save yourself during the tsunami so that you are not a victim and can return to help others later. He said while it is human nature to help, many in Japan died attempting to help others.
Wier noted the Crescent City Harbor District is seeking funds for a vertical evacuation center in the harbor.
Inscore spoke of the cultural, artistic and commercial opportunities spurred by the visit, ranging from seafood production to mushroom growing to exporting cheese.
Inscore spoke of future funding possibilities that came as a conditionally approved grant from the public affairs office of the U.S. Embassy in Japan, which will allow for a four day workshop with Rikuzentakata residents coming to Crescent City. The workshop will expose them to women in leadership, disaster management and educational components.
Inscore said available funding was $200,000 and the City felt it should not ask too much and apply only for $39,445.
“Then we received, from the cultural attache, Michael Turner, an email saying he’s very excited to work with us and that they have been talking extensively at the U.S. Embassy, Tokyo, about our application and are so excited about what we have suggested doing for the Japanese people, he asked if we would be willing to consider taking more money,” Inscore said, to laughter in the room. “Yeah, you can’t make this stuff up and it’s what I’ve said about this relationship all along, this story continues to write itself.”
He said Japanese officials have suggested longer visits, bringing Japanese media to cover the workshop.
“People are noticing the value of what the sister city (relationship) is becoming,” Inscore said.
Inscore noted a group of teachers are coming to the city in January 2019 and the workshop will follow in spring or fall.