When a gargantuan 9.0 magnitude earthquake rocked Japan at 2:46
p.m. Japan standard time Friday, Keiko Sato was in a chamber of
commerce meeting and had nowhere to hide.
When a gargantuan 9.0 magnitude earthquake rocked Japan at 2:46 p.m. Japan standard time Friday, Keiko Sato was in a chamber of commerce meeting and had nowhere to hide.
“I was so scared. The building is so old,” she said. “I thought the roof was going to fall down on me.”
As the worst temblor in Japan’s recorded history sent massive shockwaves undulating 200 miles inland toward Gilroy’s sister city Takko-Machi, Sato said the one table in the tatami-style room was too small and narrow to provide any protection.
“I couldn’t do anything. I was just holding the table. I was just watching outside, watching the electricity pole and the lines, and they were swinging and shaking,” she recounted over the phone Saturday evening.
Sato handles relations for the Garlic Center in Takko-Machi, which has a population of roughly 7,000 people. She’s visited the Garlic Capital more than 30 times and wanted to thank Gilroy residents for their “warm” thoughts and prayers.
Even though Takko-Machi is a rural, mountainous city a couple hundred miles inland from the epicenter of the disaster site, Sato said they’re still experiencing aftershocks; an unsettling element during the weekend since power wasn’t up and running until Sunday morning.
“We can still feel it even though we’re inland,” she said. “When we did not have power, the whole town was so quiet and when the aftershocks came, the houses made noises, and it scared us a lot,” she wrote in an e-mail Sunday.
Sato said she’s distressed for her friends in the cities of Minamisanriku and Fukushima.
Minamisanriku, a thriving village with a popular fish festival Sato visited in January, has a population of 17,000 people.
As of Sunday, about two-thirds of the population was feared missing or dead according to some reports.
“I’m very scared … feel bad, I don’t know. I have no words for them,” Sato said Saturday.
Fukushima, the site of a nuclear power plant explosion, has also been riddled with tragedy.
“I could not get a hold of them yet,” said Sato of her coastal friends. “I am so worried about them. I’m just praying for them.”
Since the incident, Jessica Brewka – 2009 Garlic Festival Queen and coordinator for International Relations in Takko-Machi – has been providing updates to concerned Gilroy residents via Facebook. She relayed only one location was affected by a slight landslide, but Takko-Machi had been spared from major damages or injuries.
The imminent concern, according to Brewka, is getting supplies into town such as gas, oil and food since infrastructure is heavily clotted.
“This is especially worrisome considering that most of our heaters run on kerosene and continue to dip below freezing every night,” she wrote.
That, and reports of a 70 percent chance there could be a magnitude 7.0 earthquake in the next 72 hours or so, according to Brewka.
“Slowly but surely everything is coming together and people are finding their ways back home, but everyone is on edge waiting for more,” she said on the phone Monday.
Brewka said aftershocks haven’t ceased, and issues at the nuclear power plants are causing energy scarcity concerns.
“Everyone we know is fine, but still shaken up,” said Hugh Smith, president of the Gilroy Sister Cities Association. “The real hardship they’re having is getting food and supplies.”
He also said electricity has been spotty, and mentioned the most practical donation is money.
“Because of transportation being so bad there right now, there’s no point trying to send anything else,” he said.
Greg Bozzo, owner of G.B. Horticulture and 2010 Garlic Festival president, lived in Takko-Machi for several years and said all of his friends over there were OK, but greatly “shaken up.”
He said he hasn’t talked to anybody over the phone, but has been communicating with them via Facebook.
“Takko-Machi is about 250 miles north of where the tsunami hit, and inland,” he pointed out.
A four-legged individual with garlic roots is also headed overseas to partake in rescue efforts.
Pearl, a 4-year-old black Labrador retriever and former shelter dog named dog of the year by the American Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals, is a graduate of Sundowners Kennels in Gilroy. She’s been deployed to Japan with handler Capt. Ron Horetski of the Los Angeles County Fire Department.
Pearl is one of six Canine Disaster Search Teams trained by the National Disaster Search Dog Foundation currently en route to the devastated region.
Panic on the home front
A mass exodus from Watsonville and surrounding beachfront areas took place as early as 5:30 a.m. and ended about noon Friday when denizens reacted to the Pacific Ocean tsunami alert.
About 9 a.m. the garlic city was teeming with hundreds of folks who had flocked to Gilroy and were camping out at convenience stores, the Wal-Mart parking lot, In-N-Out Burger, Mi Pueblo and the Gilroy Premium Outlets.
“As soon as everybody heard, the gas stations were jammed with cars,” said a woman from the Rivas family who came over at 6:30 a.m. “Everything was very, very slow.”
Many described the scene in Watsonville as “chaotic,” mentioning Hecker Pass and Highway 129 were filled with bumper-to-bumper traffic.
Brenda Prado, who also fled Watsonville for the day, said the roads were congested and filled with errant drivers – some even driving on the wrong side of the street as they tried to exit town.
“People weren’t even making stops,” she said. “They were just running lights.”
Meade Fischer, a Watsonville resident, blamed Friday’s hype on an uninformed populace.
“While this tsunami did extensive damage to the boat harbor (in Santa Cruz County) it didn’t endanger any coastal neighborhoods. It didn’t even inundate the beachfront streets,” he wrote in an e-mail Monday. “In Watsonville, over three miles from the beach, which is backed by 30-foot sand dunes, thousands of people crowded the streets, stopping traffic for miles, in an effort to get away.”
The tsunami Friday sent waves surging onto the Santa Cruz County coastline where a forceful shove from the sea sunk 17 vessels and damaged up to 50 more at Santa Cruz Small Craft Harbor. No injuries were immediately reported countywide. Harbormaster Lisa Ekers pegged damage at $17 million.
McClatchy News Service contributed to this report.