A delegation of nine arrived home to Crescent City Saturday after a nearly week-long trip to soon-to-be sister city Rikuzentakata, Japan.
Delegates were Mayor Blake Inscore, Mayor Pro Tem Heidi Kime, Brad Kime, Del Norte County Supervisors Bob Berkowitz and Lori Cowan, Ken Cowan, Debbie Olson and Lylan and Hanna Hoener, managers of Trees of Mystery.
Inscore said the trip brings the two cities a step closer to signing a sister city agreement.
He said the sister school agreement was finalized last year, but the city was invited back to formalize a sister city agreement.
“It’s an interesting difference between the cultures,” he said of the Japanese approach to the agreement. “You don’t make that kind of request in an email.” He said the formal request was made in person and Mayor Futoshi Toba agreed to bring a delegation to Crescent City soon to sign an agreement.
Inscore said the agreement will focus on what the two cities have in common, including damage done by tsunamis and a boat that drifted into Crescent City from Rikuzentakata two years after a 2011 tsunami in Japan. “There’s a lot we can learn from them,” Inscore said, “and that they can learn from us, just in embracing another culture.”
According to an itinerary provided by Supervisor Chris Howard, the group arrived in Tokyo and took a bullet train to Rikuzentakata on Feb. 11 and was allowed to wander and shop the following day. That evening, they were treated to a welcome ceremony at their hotel.
“Be prepared to make some speeches,” the schedule said.
The group was scheduled to meet with Rikuzentakata Mayor Futoshi Ito on Feb. 13 and was to view a disaster simulation event in the afternoon.
Valentine’s Day found the delegation in a cooking class and on Feb. 15, they visited a mother/child play group at the community center.
On the last day, the delegation visited Rikuzentakata’s high school and left for Tokyo after lunch. The group flew home the following day.
A common threat
Inscore spoke of a presentation by the former fire chief of Rikuzentakata, who was on duty in 2011 when the tsunami hit Japan’s east shore. Inscore said another presenter was not in the city during the tsunami but is now in charge of disaster preparation and training.
“He talked to us about the ongoing drills and what they’re doing looking to the future and making sure people understand what needs to be done and where to go,” Inscore said. “When it comes to their disaster drills, they have 100 percent (community) participation.” Inscore said it may be a challenge to get such community buy-in when it comes to carrying out local tsunami drills.
Inscore said Crescent City’s computer tsunami model is based on information from the 1964 tsunami, which doesn’t account for the magnitude sustained by Rikuzentakata. He estimated that if Crescent City were to see similar wave heights, Crescent Elk Middle School, a designated tsunami evacuation area, could be in 15 feet of water.
Inscore said Rikuzentakata was unprepared for the 2011 tsunami, partly because their tsunami model had just been updated in 2006, based on information from the 1960 Chilean quake and tsunami.
“We’re basing it on the 1964 quake and our tsunami zone is up to 9th street,” Inscore said, adding that if Crescent City were to see a tsunami like 2011, there would be almost no safe areas in town.
“It’s a staggering proposition,” he said. “We need to find a better way to communicate because if it were to happen right now, we could lose 7,000 to 8,000 people.”
He recalled hearing the Japanese phrase, “tsunami tendenko,” meaning that every person should escape by themselves.
“You can only go back and help if you live,” he said.
Inscore said he would like the the former Rikuzentakata fire chief to give his presentation in Crescent City to show what a “mega disaster” looks like firsthand.
However, he said it could be “a tough sell” to get full community buy-in when it comes to tsunami preparedness drills in Crescent City.
The Crescent City Council meets today and will likely share more information about the trip at the close of the meeting.
Reach Tony Reed at firstname.lastname@example.org