Berkshire families worry about loved ones after Japanese quake


Saturday March 12, 2011

LANESBOROUGH -- Thursday, the Japanese city of Kesennuma was a thriving fishing town, a bustling area for Tokyo and Kyoto to pick up tuna as large as a pig.

By Friday, much of it was under water.

In the aftermath of a tsunami triggered by an earthquake that registered magnitude 8.9, Kesennuma native and current Lanesborough resident Ritsuko Robinson says she's still unnerved by the destruction.

"It's a nightmare," Robinson said. "I'm still shaking -- I was crying all day."

Robinson said that her family owned a bed and breakfast in Kesennuma for more than 40 years. Four decades of hard work, now crushed under the weight of a tidal wave laced with oil, spreading a nightmarish mix of water and flames across the bay.

"It's all in the water now -- there's just nothing there," Robinson said. "It's all wiped out."

Robinson said she "woke up Friday morning and heard that Japan had had an incredible earthquake ... I called immediately to my hometown -- [the phone] doesn't even ring."

After feverishly texting her friends and family in the region, Robinson finally got a spot of good news from her niece in Tokyo. While they had to leave basic items such as clothes or even a cell phone, her entire immediate family -- even Robinson's 90-year-old mother -- had evacuated the inn safely.

Yet they're not all out of danger yet: Robinson's brother, who volunteers for the local fire department at Kesennuma, has taken a 20-passenger vehicle from the inn to try to bring refugees to higher ground.

"All my best friends, and American friends who married Japanese people, we couldn't reach anybody," Robinson said. She's concerned that with all the tectonic activity in the area, another similarly powerful earthquake could happen at any moment. "I couldn't reach one single person -- I'm so nervous. All communication is out."

Robinson's husband, David, said that the images they saw on television were particularly frightening -- especially because they had been planning to visit the city next month.

"She gets the Japanese TV channel, and it had some aerial views of her town, and of that bay -- it was just literally just a sea of flames," he said. "The whole screen was just filled with red flame."

Meanwhile, a Hinsdale family received word from their daughter who is working as an English teacher in western Japan.

According to Teri Davis, they received an e-mail from her 24-year-old daughter Audrey Davis on Friday who said there had been a few earthquakes, and a tsunami on the eastern coast. Power was out but she was OK at the time she sent the e-mail.

Since then they haven't heard a word, and they have been unable to reach her by phone.

"We're kind of in the dark," Davis said. "We can't even reach her by phone. It makes you feel sick to your stomach, to be powerless like that."

It was also a tense night for Deb Foss of Williamstown, whose son, Daniel Foss Goodman, lives in Ami, about an hour drive from Tokyo.

"It was not a fun few hours, I'll tell you that," Foss said. "I don't remember ever having such fear grip me."

She spent much of early Friday morning trying to get word to Goodman, who is also an English teacher. She saw on his Facebook page that some of his friends in Japan were also trying to reach him, saying that his area had been hit pretty hard.

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Finally, at around 10:30 a.m., Goodman was able to post a message on Facebook.

"He said he was fine, and that he was on a soccer field when the quake hit," Foss said. "He said it was all of a sudden, and that the ground shook violently for about three minutes, and every 20 minutes after that came the aftershocks."

Thankfully, power was restored after about eight hours, and Goodman conveyed to friends and family that he is safe.

"The cell phone service is down and probably will be for some time, so thank goodness for Facebook," Foss said.

For folks with family members in Japan, the U.S. State Department is advising them to contact friends and family as soon as possible.

Anyone wishing to donate money for the relief effort can do so through the International Federation of Red Cross and Red Crescent Societies via text message: Text "redcross" to 90999 to make a $10 donation.

The aid group AmeriCares is also accepting donations at

And, another aid organization, has also established a Japan Earthquake and Tsunami Relief Fund.

World's worst earthquakes since 1900

Scientists said Friday's earthquake off the coast of Japan was that country's largest and ranks as the fifth-largest earthquake in the world since 1900.

Japan's magnitude-8.9 quake unleashed a 23-foot tsunami and was followed for hours by more than 50 aftershocks, many of them of more than magnitude 6.0. Dozens of cities and villages along a 1,300-mile stretch of coastline were shaken.

Here are the world's top four earthquakes since 1900:

1. Chile | May 22, 1960 | Magnitude 9.5

The largest earthquake in the world to date: Approximately 1,655 killed, 3,000 injured, 2 million homeless, and $550 million in damage in Chile. An ensuing tsunami caused 61 deaths and $75 million of damage in Hawaii; 138 deaths and $50 million damage in Japan; 32 dead and missing in the Philippines; and $500,000 damage to the West Coast of the United States.

2. Alaska | March 28, 1964 | Magnitude 9.2

The largest earthquake in Prince William Sound in Alaska and ensuing tsunami took 128 lives (tsunami 113, earthquake 15), and caused about $311 million in property loss. Earthquake effects were heavy in many towns, including Anchorage, Chitina, Glennallen, Homer, Hope, Kasilof, Kenai, Kodiak, Moose Pass, Portage, Seldovia, Seward, Sterling, Valdez, Wasilla, and Whittier.

3. Off the West Coast of Northern Sumatra | Dec. 26, 2004 | Magnitude 9.1

In total, 227,898 people were killed or were missing and presumed dead and about 1.7 million people were displaced by the earthquake off the West Coast of Northern Sumatra and its subsequent tsunami in 14 countries in South Asia and East Africa.

4. Kamchatka | Nov. 4, 1952 | Magnitude 9.0

The tsunami generated on Kamchatka, a peninsula in far eastern Russia, by a magnitude 8.2 earthquake struck the Hawaiian Islands. No lives were lost, but property damage from the waves was estimated at $800,000 to $1 million.

Source: U.S. Geological Survey, Associated Press, AP Graphic


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