My friend Barry Kawaguchi has had the uncanny experience of having been through a major tornado in Texas and an earthquake in Japan and come through shaken up (no pun intended) but unscathed.
Internet service in Japan was down for a while, so this week I finally was able to get a message to Barry, who was born in Utah, lived in Texas and now works in Tokyo. His lovely wife, Yumiko, a concert pianist and piano teacher, is originally from Japan and has family there.
I met Barry when he was the chief of the Fort Worth Bureau of The Dallas Morning News. He and Yumiko had moved to Texas from Cleveland, Ohio, where tornadoes were rare. When he told Yumiko he had a job offer in North Texas, her first reaction was, “Twisters!”
Sure enough, Barry had only been in Fort Worth a few months when a tornado roared through downtown. He was still at the office that night when glass began flying and dove under his desk. When he emerged from the building, broken shards and pieces of buildings littered the sidewalks and roads. He certainly had a story to tell his friends back up north and to his in-laws in Japan.
I figured Barry had felt the quake since he works in Tokyo. Barry is an editor for the English-language edition of Asahi Shimbum, the largest newspaper in Japan with a circulation in the millions. I’ve written a few stories for them, including one about the Fort Worth longhorn herd that clip-clops down the brick street on Exchange Avenue in the Fort Worth Stockyards. It was amusing to see a photo of longhorns and cowboys in a Japanese newspaper with the story in English but the headline and caption in Japanese.
Barry and Yumiko visited Glen Rose some years ago and loved it here. They especially enjoyed a drive through Fossil Rim Wildlife Center — and marveled at how much open land there is in Texas — followed by lunch at Hammond’s Barbecue. Barry, a meat lover, could not get enough barbecue. He eats a lot of fish now, but he still talks about Hammond’s. I may have to ship him some barbecue and show that Glen Rose cares about our friends abroad.
A telescope aficionado, Barry turned us on to telescopes, too. We hauled our big “light bucket” outside to look at the full moon one night. He couldn't believe how dark the night sky is out here away from the city lights.
Anyway, I just received an e-mail from Barry on Tuesday morning. His description of what happened during the earthquake is frightening — and keep in mind he’s hundreds of miles away from the center of devastation. He and Yumiko actually live near Yokohama to the south, but Barry couldn’t get home immediately after the earthquake.
Here’s part of his dispatch:
“When the quake struck at 2:46 p.m. on March 11, a Friday afternoon here, our building swayed violently for several minutes. A British colleague told me he was sure our building was going down. A lot of women were crying and I watched the books and papers on the desk next to me fall to the floor. I was amazed to look out the window and see that all the buildings withstood the quake, although we could see huge smoke in the distance from a fire.
“That night, we were all trapped in our office. I had to sleep on the floor next to my desk on some cardboard, since the trains had all stopped. All the restaurants were closed, so our cafeteria hauled out big bins of rice and Japanese pickles, and we had simple bowls of rice for dinner and water and tea. It felt like North Korea!
“My co-workers who lived in Tokyo could walk home, but I was stuck at the office for the night, and finally made it home at 1 p.m. the next day. Yumiko was fine at home, she had cooked a ton of food for a party for her students that night, which was cancelled, but the house made it through fine. I already had two earthquake survival kits from Costco, bottled water all over and 10 flashlights and extra batteries in case something like this happened.
“Fortunately, we have not had to use those. The trains have been messed up since then, none are on their normal schedule, but I've been able to make it to work each day, with the exception of Monday after the quake.
“There are rolling power blackouts each day, but we have been spared, since we live near a major water plant.
“The gas station nearest our house finally reopened yesterday! And finally, we are seeing bread and rice back on the shelves, although no bottled water anywhere. At the office, half of our elevators have been shut down and all the lights in the hallways and heating. So, we are on a major power conservation effort here.”
I had no idea it had been that bad in Tokyo. I had gone to see Barry and Yumiko in July 2009 and had been in his building, which seemed like a fortress. For a major international city to be shut down like that is truly a sign of how powerful nature can be.
Ironically, the earthquake struck on the same date (although hours earlier because of the time difference) that a massive wildfire spread through Bosque and Somervell County. We got a taste of disaster on a much smaller scale and were spared death and destruction. Thanks to our early responders, our county officials, our city workers and our friends from other counties who marshaled the troops and came to our defense, no homes were lost.
I thought about all this as I stood in the visitor’s center of the Comanche Peak Nuclear Power Plant last week and heard Congressman Joe Barton talk about how safe the plant is. Of course, the idea that an earthquake and tsunami could strike a nuclear facility in North Central Texas sounds like a far-fetched scenario in a science fiction film. But what about a fire and a tornado and pipeline explosion — all at once? They’ve all happened here, just never at the same time. Just what IS the worst-case scenario? In Japan, it was an unimaginable double catastrophe.
The message we should all take to heart from our recent near-disaster and the shocking events in Japan are that we can never be too prepared. Just like Barry with his Costco earthquake kits, it makes sense for all households and families to have an emergency kit with water and a plan. I witnessed some of the confusion and frantic last-minute preparations during the recent fires when residents had little warning and had to get out of their homes fast.
I also urge churches, non-profits and civic organizations to think about helping those in Japan. Our little church in Walnut Springs, Memorial Methodist, has voted to send some money to the town hit the worst, Sendai. It may seem like we have many problems and worthy causes here at home to attend to first, but it’s an acknowledgement that we were spared and we care about those who weren’t. Who knows, someday someone on the other side of the world may be called upon to help us.
And, as Somervell County Fire Department Chief Mark Crawford says in the column below, please come downtown on Saturday night and thank the first responders personally. We dodged a major bullet. Others weren’t so fortunate.