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Congresswoman Maxine Waters

Representing the 43rd District of California

Daily Breeze: South Bay residents try to reach loved ones

April 1, 2011
In The News
by Melissa Evans

Members of the South Bay's large Japanese community frantically tried to contact friends and relatives as news of the devastation from Friday's 8.9 earthquake unfolded.

Officials from Torrance and Gardena sent messages and called community members in their respective sister cities, Kashiwa and Ichikawa, trying to make sure they survived Japan's massive temblor and ensuing tsunami.

"So far I've heard from one person," said Hazel Taniguchi, past president of the Torrance Sister City Association. "The power is out, but they're OK. It's just awful. I just cringe thinking about it."

Gardena Mayor Paul Tanaka also sent a message to those in Ichikawa with condolences and said he hoped that everything is all right. Both cities are near Tokyo, which is situated several miles from the epicenter of destruction in northeastern Japan.

City Councilman Ron Ikejiri, meanwhile, had a more personal connection to those suffering in the coastal Asian country. Ikejiri has family and friends living in Tokyo and visited the country just last week.

"I started calling late (Thursday) night, but most of the mobile lines were down," he said. "I was able to reach one relative, and she cried the whole time. She's 74, and said she had never been through an experience like this. She thought it was the end."

Ikejiri said most residents of Japan are accustomed to constant shaking - when he was there recently, a small earthquake hit. But despite modern building codes, he said, the houses and businesses there are very cramped and tall.

More than 21,000 Japanese- Americans live in Torrance and Gardena alone, one of the largest concentrations anywhere in the United States, according to the most recent U.S. ensus figures.

Rep. Maxine Waters, a South Bay Democrat, lauded the "vibrant and active Japanese-American community" in Gardena and extended condolences to those who have been affected.

"I encourage them to reach out to my office and let me know how my staff and I can be of assistance to them as they seek information," she said in a statement.

Torrance is home to the U.S. headquarters of Toyota and Honda, which employ a combined 5,100 workers. Toyota released a statement Friday morning saying its "No. 1 priority is to support our employees, our partner companies, suppliers and dealers throughout this situation."

The automaker set up a companywide emergency task force to assess the situation and take necessary action. As of Friday, officials said there had been no injuries to workers in Tokyo or the company's other offices around the country.

Officials at the Miyako Hybrid Hotel in Torrance, which caters to Japanese travelers, said they were preparing to accommodate dozens of worried guests who were stranded in America. Most commercial flights to and from Japan have been canceled indefinitely.

"Our guests are going through a very vulnerable time," said Cherie Davis, general manager of the hotel. "Our prayers and wishes are with all of them. ... We're all feeling emotion about this. It's a very personal event for us."

Social media such as Facebook and Twitter played a critical role in allowing local residents to reach loved ones. Sandie Chin, 23, of Torrance said she has been tracking the status of her friends online.

"I'm devastated, just like them," Chin said. "I just hope they're all OK."

Nobu Kinjo, 42, a New York businessman visiting family in Torrance, has friends in Miagi, a place he called "ground zero" for the earthquake.

"I tried to call them, but all of the communication is down and none of the phone calls are going through," he said. "I just keep following Facebook and Twitter, but it's really hard to get a status update."

Kinjo is not only concerned about his friends in Japan, but also about what this will mean for the future of the country.

"I'm really worried about how this is going to affect Japan's economy," Kinjo said. "The economy is already suffering and this devastation is going to take a long time to clean up and rebuild the infrastructure. It just takes a lot of time and effort to get past something like this."

Ikejiri said in spite of the devastation, the Japanese people are extremely resilient and have a keen sense of caring for one another.

"There's something about Japanese people that's unique," he said. "They don't complain, they take things in stride, they hang in there. Something about the way they were raised allows them to bear the unbearable."

He said he was also struck by the caring and concern of those in Gardena - he received several messages from non-Japanese residents, wishing his family well.

"There's something about a tragedy like this that strikes a very human chord," he said. "It doesn't matter what your last name is, it's that people are suffering, fellow human beings, and we want to help."