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Western Japan far away but not unaffected

Residents on west coast of Japan gather news from TV and ponder how to help.

Japan quake tsunami west coast 2011 03 14Enlarge
Residents of Hakusan City in western Japan watch images of the catastrophic earthquake and tsunami damage on television. (Sonia Narang/GlobalPost)

KANAZAWA, Japan – Here on the western coast of Japan, news of the 9.0-magnitude earthquake and tsunami that struck just a few hundred miles away reached many the same way it did people overseas: through news reports and on TV.

Throughout the weekend, Japanese news channels showed images of the devastation 24 hours a day. Residents in and around Kanazawa watched television inside their cars, homes and offices. Many couldn't believe what they saw and stared at video footage in disbelief.

But while they may be far away, residents here are not unaffected. Cities and towns all over Japan are sending rescue teams of firefighters and emergency workers to the disaster zone.

On Monday, over 20 aftershocks rattled Japan, some as big as 6.2 on the Richter Scale, and explosions at nuclear power plants in Fukushima turned this into a disaster that just will not stop.

In Hakusan City, a medium-sized city of 120,000 people near Kanazawa, fire station officials said they dispatched a team of rescue workers who will join about 100 firefighters from this area to assist with the recovery effort.

“It doesn’t seem like this is really happening.”
~Katsuji Asano, 28

Inside the administrative office of a drum shop here, employees watched television and reacted in utter surprise to news of blasts at nuclear power plants and towns wiped away by the tsunami.

“It doesn’t seem like this is really happening,” said Katsuji Asano, 28, whose family runs a Japanese drum-making business. “Since we live in an area where we didn’t feel anything, watching the news really hits us, since it’s the only way we know what’s happening,” he said.

The news was hard to take for many people here. “When I turn on the television and watch the news, it seems like it’s happening in another country,” said Mizue Yamada, 25, who had planned to perform in a concert in Fukushima this weekend. If she had departed her home here just a day earlier, she would have been near the epicenter.

Many in western Japan are in tears, unsure how they can help, since they cannot go to the quake zone due to inaccessible roads. “I couldn’t stop crying when I saw the news,” said 65-year-old Junko Yoneda of Hakusan City. “I’m very thankful to all the other countries who are sending people to help,” she said.

Hiroko Kawasaki, a 51-year-old Osaka resident, is originally from Sendai, the worst-hit city on the eastern coast of Japan. Even now, she is unable to reach family members in Sendai, since phone lines are still down in parts of Japan.

“I’m trying to contact them on the internet, but many elderly people do not use computers and the electricity is out,” she said. “They need water, food and fuel. I would like them to live through this and see them in the near future.”

Kobe residents overwhelmed with memories of 1995 quake

Many residents of Kobe, a large port city in central Japan, still have memories of the Great Hanshin Earthquake, which obliterated Kobe and killed over 5,000 people in 1995.

Kana Hattori, who grew up in Kobe and lives there now, survived the 1995 earthquake. Hattori said the images of Friday’s earthquake bring back terrifying memories.

“I was 13 years old when that earthquake happened,” she said. “It was horrible and scary. It happened at 5:46 a.m. and I was still sleeping.”

“When I saw the devastation and fires caused by the recent earthquake on television, it reminded me of the Kobe earthquake,” Hattori said. “I felt so uneasy. I was crying and praying for the people there,” she said.