Reunion relieves after family stranded in Tokyo

Trail’s sister city in Japan escapes damage from devastating quake

A Trail man has reunited with his family after the earthquake that rocked Japan Friday left his wife and two young daughters stranded at Tokyo’s Narita International Airport.

Thirty-year-old Dean Smith can breathe easy now that his wife Kyoko and daughters Sara and Maya are home safe.

“There was nothing I could do until she got a hold of me. Obviously I felt better when I heard from her but I was still worried,” said the Teck employee.

Kyoko – originally from Mugi, a town in the Tokushima district – was taking a bus to the airport, along with her daughters and sister, when the quake hit.

After camping out at the airport for a night, the family flew out of Tokyo and arrived in Vancouver Saturday, later taking a flight to Penticton where Dean picked them up.

“I was very, very happy to the see them, I couldn’t even believe that I was seeing them there,” he said.

While it’s nice to have her son’s immediate family home, Smith’s mother Marilyn fears for her daughter-in-law’s relatives.

“I’m glad they’re out but I’m really quite concerned about the rest of her family as well,” said the Genelle resident.

The massive 8.9-magnitude earthquake shook the Pacific Ocean near northeastern Japan Friday afternoon. The most powerful quake ever recorded there took apart homes and buildings, some which were swept away by a devastating tsunami that followed (see related story, Page 20).

About 40 kilometres south of Tokyo, Trail’s sister city Sagamihara was not damaged by the quake itself but locals still may opt out of future plans to visit.

While Trail hosts Japanese exchange students from Sagamihara annually, Greater Trail folks only make the trip overseas about every three years.

Considered the trip of a lifetime, students aged 13 and up stay with host families – seeing how they live, eating what they eat and enjoying the kind of recreational activities the locals do.

A group made up of 20 teens and six adults are scheduled to visit the sister city in October, but parents will meet tonight at 7 p.m. at the Trail and Leisure Aquatic Centre to determine whether they wish to follow through with their plans, according to co-coordinator Lana Rodlie.

“If the economics in Japan are that bad, it’s going to take them a long time to recover from this,” said Rodlie, calling the experience a “real eye-opener” for the kids that take part in the 10-day exchange.

Trail Mayor Dieter Bogs is scheduled to travel overseas to celebrate the 20-year relationship Trail has had with the city next month.

“We’ve been trying to make contact with our sister city,” Bogs said Friday. “We know that the tsunami didn’t effect them but in terms of what tremours they may have had, we’re trying to determine that.”

Sagamihara experienced tremors with an intensity of a little less than five on the Japanese seven-stage seismic scale, according to the city’s interpretor Chieko Bond, who acts as communication liaison between officials in both cities.

“It was very fortunate for Sagamihara that there were no casualties, nor any destruction of houses, roads or other public facilities,” she said via email Sunday.  “Right after the earthquake, all trains stopped operating and 140,000 households were left without electricity for a while.  Trains are mostly running on schedule now.”

Although the city did not incur damages, Sagamihara is responding to emergencies in cities nearby.

The city sent 17 firefighters Friday to assist with rescue operations in Sendai, near the quake’s epicentre  – about 125 kilometres off the northeast coast – and will send public nurses to the affected areas starting today.

The city has also started a fundraising campaign.

“One of the biggest problems now is the nuclear power plant in Fukushima Prefecture,” explained Bond. “Sagamihara is still about 450 kilometres away from the stricken areas and the nuclear power plant – equivalent of the distance between Toronto and Ottawa –therefore, there is no immediate danger to Sagamihara at this point.”

— With files from Jim Bailey