Crescent City Mayor Blake Inscore and Del Norte County County Supervisor’s Chair Chris Howard recently returned from the trip to United Nations headquarters after being invited by Japan to attend the 2018 World Tsunami Awareness Day.
The two took part in several discussions. Howard spoke excitedly about the conference, noting they met with many world dignitaries, including the president of the U.N.
“It really was a pinch myself moment,” said Howard. “We were the only invited Americans in the room. We were the U.S. delegation, essentially.”
Howard later called the trip the highlight of his career.
The conference took place at the U.N. headquarters building in Manhattan, New York.
“Participants shared lessons learned and measures taken to develop and implement national and local disaster risk reduction strategies following an all-of-society approach and showcased how countries can draw upon the support of the United Nations and its partners to prepare for and reduce the risk posed by tsunamis” the U.N. website states. Panel discussions featured ambassador speakers from Chile, Indonesia, Japan, and the Maldives.
All speakers took a moment, on behalf of their countries, to express condolences to the country of Indonesia for the loss of life suffered there a month ago.
Maria Fernanda Espinosa Garces, president of the 73rd Session of the U.N. General Assembly opened by noting the tsunami in Indonesia took the lives of more than 2,000 people and serves as a stark reminder that such events can be unpredictable and devastating.
“With only moments’ notice, entire cities, villages, lives, and livelihoods can be, quite literally, washed away,” she said, noting in the last couple decades, tsunamis have taken the lives of more than 300,000 people.
Seven years and eight months after the tsunami destroyed his city, Rikuzentakata Mayor Futoshi Toba spoke on the progress of his city’s recovery and how a 47-foot tsunami wiped out most of his city in 2011.
“We lost about 1,800 lives, which is about 8 percent of the total population of 24,000,” Toba said. “Half of our residents lost their homes.”
Toba was named mayor only four weeks before the disaster.
He showed photos of most of the city underwater, in a massive field of floating debris, only a few rooftops were visible
He spoke of how he and many other city staff members spent the night on the roof of their city hall.
“Everyone I know lost someone close to them,” he said, his expression changing dramatically. “I myself lost my beloved wife.”
He said no one instructed him or his city how to deal with the disaster or rebuild from it.
However, he also detailed how they are building a better city. The “new” city was built atop 42 feet of soil, moved over years by a network of conveyor belts from a nearby mountain. A new shopping mall, kids park, library, Chamber of Commerce and commercial shops have been built there and construction continues to this day. Several partly destroyed building also remain in their 2011 state, to serve as memorials, he said.
Toba said he feels it’s crucial that his city share its experiences with the world. He said the new city is all-inclusive and welcoming to all people.
“Anyone is welcome at our country,” he said. “Anyone. That includes families with children, the elderly, women, single parents, foreigners, people with special needs, and LGBT.”
he said Rikuzentakata wants to rebuild as the model of a globally-inclusive society.
“The tsunami disaster also created new friendships,” he told the UN. “Crescent City and County of Del Norte, California, and the City of Rikuzentakata have recently established a Sister City relationship because both have had the same experiences of tsunami disaster. Rikuzentakata has also been focusing on new industry and businesses. We are inviting any startup company.”
Lastly, Toba wanted all to know the biggest lesson his city learned from the tsunami was “Whenever you feel a big earthquake, make sure to evacuate to higher ground as soon as possible.”
Crescent City mayor speaks
Inscore was invited to speak at the reception after the conference, where he noted the unique connection between Rikuzentakata and Crescent City.
“When the tsunami took place in 2011, we also suffered losses in our harbor,” Inscore said.
“As we just went on with our business, thinking ‘How are we going to rebuild?’ and ‘What lesson should we learn,” we were just doing what we knew to do,” he said, noting that two years later, the boat Kamome washed up on the shore in Crescent City. It was found the boat was owned by the marine sciences department at Takata High School in Rikuzentakata, Iwate. A group of students thought to clean the boat up and send it back to Takata High school, and with the help of community and civic leaders, it was done, he said.
“Out of that has come a relationship with the city of Rikuzentakata,” Inscore said, “and Mayor Futoshi Toba, in his incredible leadership in bringing a city back from disaster to a city, not only of hope, but of purposeful inclusion, a city for every person.”
Inscore said that out of the disaster has come hope.
“In that hope, we have a responsibility as a global community, to do the very best we can for the next generation,” he said. “To teach, to encourage, to stand side by side. Disaster preparedness, World Tsunami Day, is not a national issue and it’s not an international issue. It’s a human issue.”
Inscore urged community members to stand side by side with those who have lost so much in Japan, Indonesia, and say to the world, “we must do more,” so everyone will have hope that they will not be left behind and that someone cares for them.
“In this time when there is so much divide in my own nation, the world deserves leaders who are willing to set aside all of that for the sake of a world that truly cares. No one should be left behind,” Inscore said. “I’m a small part in a very big story, but I will say this. Small parts make a big difference when we all work together. You are now a small part in a big story. Make a commitment tonight that you, too, will never leave anyone behind. Do your part. Be a global community. Empower those who are younger than you. Bring them to the table and together we will look back from this event and say ‘We did what was supposed to be done — what needed to be done — what those who follow us deserve to be done.’”