Preparedness drill takes place citywide.
YAIZU, Japan - Yasuo Nishijima looked awfully calm for a guy who'd just been tossed into the Pacific Ocean by a colossal tsunami. As the rescue boat closed on him, only his feet and head could be seen bobbing in the water.
But Nishijima's wet suit kept him warm. Crews on the boat quickly yanked Nishijima aboard, then loaded him via stretcher to a larger ship, owned by the state-run Yaizu Fisheries High School.
This was only practice. The dive instructor was one of 20,000 people who took part in an earthquake and tsunami preparedness drill Sept. 1, national Disaster Preparedness Day. Yaizu, a port city of 120,000 residents about an hour from Tokyo, lies in a region where geologists expect a massive earthquake and tsunami to strike any day, killing thousands of Japanese. The country takes such drills seriously, sponsoring one each year in a different city to commemorate the great Kanto earthquake of 1923.
Yaizu's was a major undertaking. The Shizuoka prefecture and city government spent more than $250,000 on the exercise. The governor attended, as did a representative of Prime Minister Junichiro Koizumi. Ships were evacuated out to sea. People were loaded onto a giant passenger ferry aptly named Kibo, or "Hope."
Students streamed away from the water by the hundreds, donning gleaming white helmets. Twenty-three disaster preparedness volunteer groups practiced pulling victims out of broken buildings and landslides, making emergency food and sandbags. Hospital workers set up triage. Helicopters picked up stranded evacuees and hoisted them to safety.
Self-defense forces, the Japan Coast Guard, the Japanese Red Cross, state and local police and firefighters all participated at 20 different sites.
Booths were set up to provide information on government programs that offer tax cuts to people for reinforcing their homes.
"The last time I've seen an event this big in Yaizu was when the emperor visited," said Tetsuro Kubota, a cab driver.
It's hard to imagine such a coordinated effort in Oregon, but evacuation drills are effective anywhere. When the National Weather Service issued a tsunami warning for the U.S. West Coast on June 14, Yachats and Seaside were two of the cities where a majority of residents did what they were supposed to: run to high ground.
They're also the only two towns on the coast to have sponsored citywide evacuation drills in the past year.
Winston Ross can be reached at (541) 902-9030 or rgcoast@ oregonfast.net.
Japanese crews load Yasuo Nishijima onto a ship during an earthquake and tsunami evacuation drill on Sept. 1.