Toshiro Tanimoto, a UCSB earth science professor, was in his office at the University of Tokyo last Friday at about 2:45 p.m. when he felt the shaking. For two to three minutes a magnitude 9.0 earthquake rattled his building. “A few minutes make you feel like forever when you are in the middle of shaking,” Tanimoto said in an email sent to The Independent from Tokyo. Not long after, the tsunami hit [Japan’s northeast coast].
As they have here in California, seismologists have warned for years of a large earthquake off the coast of Sendai, saying its probability was 99 percent, explained Tanimoto. “But no one expected the fault size could be this big,” he said. As news in Japan focuses on the Fukushima Daiichi nuclear plant, where there have been three explosions and a fire, concerns over radiation levels have risen in Japan, the western U.S., and beyond. Here in Santa Barbara, Michael Harris, director of the county’s Office of Emergency Services, said it is “very highly unlikely” the California coast will experience a radiological event. He said on Tuesday that his department is being kept in the loop by federal authorities working with Japanese officials.
While the focus has shifted to radiation worries at this point, the tsunami was on everyone’s minds Friday morning. Santa Barbara officials said to expect a tsunami to hit around 8:17 a.m. It did, but with only a trace amount of surge. The largest and most damaging surges occurred shortly after noon and continued until roughly 1 p.m. as the tide fluctuated by as much as seven feet. One swell broke the bait barge from its mooring, snapping it in two and causing the small shack atop it to tumble into the water. The surge also damaged the nearby crane barge used for harbor dredging, and caused a series of mini-whirlpools near the harbor entrance. The ordeal forced the temporary closure of the harbor. Other California cities weren’t as lucky, as harbors were left with a number of mangled, broken, and sunken ships. Statewide, damage from the tsunami has reached more than $40 million.
As they did during the Haiti disaster, Santa Barbara residents are once again answering the call to help a country in need, with groups like Aikido Kenkyukai Santa Barbara announcing fundraising efforts. The nonprofit will collect funds at various events and through its Web site. It holds meditation and prayer classes every Wednesday.
County firefighter Eric Gray and search dog Riley left Saturday to respond to the earthquake’s aftermath. The team is part of a regional task force consisting of 74 members and six dogs, specifically trained in urban search and rescue.
Goleta-based Direct Relief International is again responding as well. Brett Williams, director of international programs and emergency response for DRI, headed to Japan on Wednesday where he will be meeting and coordinating with organizations there. DRI, along with the Japanese American Citizens League, announced Tuesday the formation of the Japan Relief and Recovery Fund, a collaboration to support relief efforts in Japan. While Direct Relief is still figuring out exactly how to help, the organization announced it was committing an initial $600,000 in cash. Additionally, DRI has offered $15 million in medical inventory to assist with trauma care and health conditions if it is needed.
Thus far, the Japanese government has not been accepting in-kind material, but Williams — who headed the organization’s $60 million assistance effort in Haiti — said he will be linking up with organizations in Japan to see if his agency can direct resources from partner medical and pharmaceutical groups Direct Relief already works with which have offices established in Japan.
The country has a very robust supply chain, and word is that medical facilities, while busy, are not inundated with people. But as concerns continue about radiological exposure, and as electricity and water continue to be an issue, health concerns are expected to rise