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Locals worry for friends in Japan

A St. Albert man says he's relieved to know his brother in Japan is safe after the nation was rocked by a massive earthquake and tsunami last week. A magnitude 9.

A St. Albert man says he's relieved to know his brother in Japan is safe after the nation was rocked by a massive earthquake and tsunami last week.

A magnitude 9.0 earthquake struck just about 125 kilometres off the east coast of Japan near the city of Sendai last Friday, according to news reports — the strongest quake in that nation's recorded history. The quake sent a sizeable tidal wave, or tsunami, many kilometres inland, sweeping away cars and homes. At least 3,300 were reported dead as of Tuesday, with tens of thousands more reported missing or stranded in the quake zone.

Grandin resident Takashi Ohki said he learned of the quake at about 11:30 p.m. last Friday. He and his wife had just returned home, and he saw a shot of a big tsunami on the TV.

"I thought, well, this could be some kind of horror movie," he said. "Then I found out it was real."

One of the worst-hit cities in the quake zone was Sendai, Ohki said, home to about a million people and his younger brother, Kazuo. Ohki says he has yet to reach his brother by phone, but has heard by email that he was safe. "They didn't have electricity for three days, and no natural gas."

‘Unmitigated disaster,' says MP

Ohki says he has spent much of the last few days watching the news for reports on conditions in Japan.

The quake sent a wall of debris and water crashing some 10 km inland into Sendai, he says. "The tsunami washed away everything, crushed whole houses."

Residents reported floods up to four storeys high, and whole villages being swept away. "It's very scary." It also knocked out coolant systems at several nuclear power plants; officials are now struggling to prevent a nuclear meltdown.

According to the Department of Foreign Affairs and International Trade (DFAIT), are about 11,000 Canadians in Japan; at least one has died as a result of the quake.

Canada has offered to send its Disaster Victim Identification team to Japan if asked, as well as nuclear experts and military transport planes, says Edmonton-St. Albert member of Parliament Brent Rathgeber. "We send our condolences to the entire Japanese population for having to endure this kind of unmitigated disaster."

The local Japanese community is still in shock and disbelief about the quake, says John Priegert, manager of the Edmonton Japanese Community Centre. "The devastation is quite large." Offers of support are pouring in from residents and businesses across the city, and the Edmonton Japanese Community Association was working on a plan to co-ordinate the donations.

Cleanup and reconstruction efforts in Japan will likely take months, Rathgeber says. Anyone who wishes to help should make a cash donation to a reputable humanitarian organization such as the Red Cross.

Ohki says his brother planned to get to a relative's house outside of Sendai, where he hoped to contact him by phone.

Anyone with friends or relatives in the quake area should call DFAIT at 1-800-606-5499.

Kevin Ma

About the Author: Kevin Ma

Kevin Ma joined the St. Albert Gazette in 2006. He writes about Sturgeon County, education, the environment, agriculture, science and aboriginal affairs. He also contributes features, photographs and video.
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