Utahns react to Japan quake

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SALT LAKE CITY — Utahns waking Friday to the news about the massive earthquake in Japan are being reminded of their personal ties with that country.

LDS missionaries and members

Minor damage to the Tokyo temple is being reported.


The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints issued the following statement shortly after noon Friday:

"Our thoughts and prayers are with the people of Japan following the recent devastating earthquake and tsunami.

"There has been a high volume of inquiries concerning the safety of missionaries serving in the area. The most immediate information is that five of the six missions in Japan have reported all missionaries are accounted for and safe. However, all communications systems in the Sendai area are down. We have not been able to contact each missionary in that mission yet. We continue to work diligently to account for the missionaries in this area and will update information as we are able to do so.

"Initial reports from missions in areas affected by tsunami activity show all missionaries are safe.

"We are also assessing how the church might help meet the needs of people affected by the earthquake and tsunami."

Elder Conan Graves, a public affairs missionary in Tokyo, spoke to KSL News Friday evening (MDT). He said two-thirds of the LDS missionaries in Sendai are safe, but communication throughout the Sendai mission is virtually impossible.

"Even the cell phones ... the cell phone networks are down," Graves said. "The regular telephone lines are pretty much down; electricity is out, the gas it out, the water is out."

Earlier in the day, Reid Tateoka, president of the Sendai mission, sent an e-mail that was posted on the Sendai Returned Missionary website that reads: "All is well as far as I know."

"We could not get back to Sendai and had to turn back to Koriyama after six hours of driving. We have no phone contact," the note says.

Utahns in Japan

Salt Lake attorney Jeff Hunt was in Tokyo with a business partner and client and was walking from the jetway onto a plane at Tokyo's Narita International Airport at the moment the earthquake hit.

"I never felt anything so strong. It felt like the worst turbulence you'd ever experienced, but the plane was on the ground. The plane was bouncing around, people were being thrown around and falling down and crying," Hunt said.

You could look at the radio and radar towers at the airport. They were just swaying in the wind like corn stalks.

–Jeff Hunt, SLC attorney


The pilot thought it was safer to have people on the plane than in the terminal. "Once we got seated on the plane, there was a massive aftershock," he said. "You could look at the radio and radar towers at the airport. They were just swaying in the wind like corn stalks."

The plane sat on the tarmac for perhaps six hours. "There was no security or escort to get us off the plane." Meanwhile, the airport itself was being evacuated. Once the runway was checked for damage, the plane, bound for Portland, was allowed to take off.

Layton resident Betty Tart first learned about the earthquake when her daughter Susan called from Hanamaki, Japan, early Friday. "She described the earthquake as like being a doll in a doll house and having a toddler pick it up and shake it."

Susan has been working in Japan as a teacher since 2009. "She's doing OK physically. With an earthquake of that size, even though they were some distance from the epicenter, they really felt it," her mother said.

Utahn Kami Ishikawa and her family live hundreds of miles away in Kawasaki, but they felt the quake.

"It started shaking -- and, you know, we feel shakes quite a bit -- but it just starting progressing, getting larger, getting stronger," Ishikawa said.

Parts of her city lost power for 10 hours and the trains stopped running. Her husband works in Tokyo and had difficulty getting home.

Ishikawa had to walk to reach her children at school.

"The hardest part for me was when I picked up my junior high school student and you could tell she had just been crying, sobbing," Ishikawa said. "Ironically, they were discussing earthquakes as it started."

Steven Norris is a Utahn serving in the U.S. Navy. He's been stationed in Japan for about a year and described the quake to KSL News.

"We've been feeling aftershocks from this 5-point whatever [earthquake] that hit a few days ago," he said. "We were still feeling aftershocks from that up until this big one hit; and with us still feeling aftershocks from this one, it's a mater of waiting and seeing what happens with this one."

Political reaction

Rep. Rob Bishop, R-Utah, issued the following statement Friday morning: "Natural disasters such as the earthquake and tsunami in Japan remind us that Mother Nature can unpredictably wield her power when the world least expects it. My heartfelt condolences go out to the residents and visitors of Japan and all those who have been affected by this tragedy. They will remain in my thoughts and prayers."


Utahns in military service

Initial reports indicate that American military forces stationed in Japan are situated by areas less affected by the earthquake and resulting tsunami, and that U.S. service members are or will be participating in relief efforts. There have been no reports of Utahns injured or unaccounted for.

West Jordan resident David Bresnahan's 21-year-old son, Michael, is stationed with the Navy in Okinawa. "He was able to send a text and e-mail to let us know he is OK," his father said, adding that his son, a Seabee, fully expects to be part of the emergency response effort. "There are tsunamis going all over the place, but they are not expected here," Michael's e-mail home says.

The United States maintains several large bases in Japan with 38,000 military personnel, 43,000 dependents and 5,000 Department of Defense civilians.

Defense Secretary Robert Gates issued the following statement Monday about 1:30 p.m. Eastern Time: "I've been kept informed all day long about the tsunami in Japan, the earthquake and tsunami. As best we can tell, all of our people are OK, our ships and military facilities are all in pretty good shape. We obviously have huge sympathy for the people of Japan and we are prepared to help them in any way we possibly can. It's obviously a very sophisticated country, but this is a huge disaster and we will do all, anything we are asked to do to help out."

Yokota Air Base outside of Tokyo is the main U.S. air base. Several large civilian airliners were diverted to the runway at Yokota because they could not land at Narita International Airport in Tokyo. Pictures posted on the base's website show at least five planes on the tarmac, including a Delta Boeing 747.

The United States is mobilizing efforts and redirecting its assets in the region to aid the Japanese.


The State Department issued a travel alert urging U.S. citizens "to avoid tourism and non-essential travel to Japan at this time. Tokyo airports are currently closed; other airports in Japan may be closed or have restricted access. Public transportation, including trains and subways, are closed in the Tokyo area, and service has been interrupted in other areas."

How to locate loved ones

Several resources are available for people who want to locate or contact family and friends in Japan following an earthquake and tsunami there.

The American Red Cross says it is unable to accept inquiries but provided the following information:

  • Inquiries concerning U.S. citizens living or traveling in Japan should be referred to the U.S. Department of State, Office of Overseas Citizens Services at 1-888-407-4747 or 202 647-5225.
  • For inquiries about relatives living in Japan who are not U.S. citizens keep calling or to try contacting other family members who live in the region. Even though communication networks are overloaded right now, the situation may change and access to mobile networks and the Internet may improve.
  • The Google Person Finder site is available at: japan.person-finder.appspot.com/?lang=en.
  • If you have the mobile phone number of your family member in the affected areas, you may utilize the following services to check whether he/she has registered his/her message(s) on this service. Services are available in English and Japanese.
    • DoCoMo: dengon.docomo.ne.jp/Einoticelist.cgi?es=0
    • Willcom: dengon.willcom-inc.com/dengon/Top.do?language=E Please note that when you enter the mobile phone number for search on the webpage, you should remove the country code 0081 and add 0 at the beginning. For example, if you dial the number internationally as follows, 0081-90-8877-6655, enter it into the website as: 090-8877-6655.

How to help

The American Red Cross is updating its online newsroom with people-finding links. Information about other legitimate relief organizations will be added to this list as they become available.

Consumers are advised that fraudulent solicitations are also circulating among e-mail, social media and other online sources.

Readers are welcome to send relevant information or photos to content@ksl.com or sfidel@ksl.com.


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