Kesennuma, Marine Corps officials help Okinawa prepare for worst-case disaster
GINOWAN CITY, OKINAWA, Japan -- On March 11, 2011, Marines stationed on Okinawa rushed to assist northeast Japan’s Tohoku region after one of the worst disasters of all time – a 9.0 earthquake, a 100-foot high tsunami and a nuclear crisis. And while Marines and sailors of the 31st Marine Expeditionary Unit were working on a small island called Oshima, part of the city of Kesennuma, they developed lasting relationships that have deepened over time.
City officials from Kesennuma and Oshima visited Ginowan City, Okinawa Jan. 29 as part of a continuing effort to help others prepare for a disaster. This event was the latest in a series of interactions over the past 3 1/2 years, all designed to improve cooperative relations between the Marine Corps and communities in Okinawa and throughout Japan, should a megaquake affect the area.
During the Great East Japan Earthquake and subsequent tsunami that devastated Japan March 11, 2011, many of the low-lying areas of Kesennuma City were destroyed by the disaster, the coastal areas of Oshima were heavily damaged, and the island was isolated and cut off from aid. Officials there understood the similarities that Okinawa’s coastal development has with Oshima, and what damage a major earthquake and tsunami could cause in Okinawa. Since residents of Oshima were the beneficiaries of Marine Corps humanitarian assistance and disaster relief efforts, they said they wanted to reach out to Okinawan and other officials to help them understand the great resource in their backyard.
“The Marines responded quickly to assist us in Tohoku, many hundreds of miles from Okinawa,” said Hironobu Sugawara, an advisor to the Oshima District Disaster Response Center. “Officials in Okinawa can be planning to work with the Marines ahead of time, at much less distance, which will save lives if there is ever a disaster.”
During the visiting lecture, which took place at the Isa District Community Center in Ginowan City, Kesennuma City officials emphasized the importance of preparing for the worst-case scenario. They said all their pre-disaster planning efforts, such as pre-stocking food and preparing emergency generators, were overcome by the severity of the earthquake and subsequent tsunami. They called on the officials of Ginowan City, which has areas elevated just 2 meters above sea level, to make additional preparations beyond what might be assumed.
Dr. Robert Eldridge, deputy assistant chief of staff, G-7, government and external affairs, Marine Corps Installations Pacific-Marine Corps Base Camp Butler, Japan, arranged the visit. Eldridge has developed a disaster cooperation program with particularly vulnerable communities around Japan to develop working relationships with the Marine Corps in advance of the next major disaster.
“We should not wait until a disaster happens to begin to work together,” said Eldridge. “Thankfully, here in Okinawa, our camps and installations are actively working with local communities to be able to respond together, saving even more lives in the end.”
The areas surrounding Camp Foster, including Ginowan City and Chatan, have emergency access agreements with the Marine Corps installation, and Ginowan also has one with Marine Corps Air Station Futenma. Communities in northern Okinawa around Camp Hansen and southern Okinawa around Camp Kinser have similar agreements. The communities regularly rehearse disaster drills with Okinawa residents walking through the bases to reach higher ground. Ginowan City, for example, is scheduled for a drill Feb. 21.
Approximately 70 Ginowan City officials and residents gathered to hear the lecture, and many asked questions and took notes.
The Kesennuma City officials also visited MCAS Futenma, where they interacted with other members of the Marine Corps.
For more information on the Marine Corps’ disaster preparation work, please visit: http://www.okinawa.marines.mil/Portals/190/Docs/HADR.pdf.