Japan earthquake, tsunami update

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The Church continues to make every effort to track down the missionaries and Church members in Sendai, Japan — an area crippled by a magnitude 8.9 earthquake that struck the coast of northern Japan Friday, March 11, and triggered a massive tsunami.

Conan Grames, director of public affairs for the Asia North Area, said the Church has been able to contact at least two-thirds of missionaries and has not received reports of injury or serious damage. “They’re continually trying to make contact with all missionaries,” he said.

Hundreds of deaths have been confirmed in the fifth largest earthquake since 1900 and is the largest earthquake to ever hit Japan.

Further, strong aftershocks continue to shake the area, where thousands were displaced, hundreds of buildings and homes were destroyed and more than four million people were left without power.

Waves of water swept away homes, cars and people in Japan's worst earthquake on record.
Waves of water swept away homes, cars and people in Japan’s worst earthquake on record. Credit: AP Photo

Elder Grames said he and his wife, Cindy, are based in the area office in Tokyo.

“It started out as a really violent shake,” he said of the earthquake. “I’ve lived here 15 years, I’ve been through many earthquakes in Japan. When it started out, I said to Sister Grames, ‘This is a bad one.' We sat in our chairs maybe 30 seconds. It was growing in intensity so we decided it made good sense for us to get under our desks. So we did…. As we were under desks the earthquake continued to grow in intensity. It was shaking back and forth. There was a lot of noise. The shelves rattling, books on the desks were shaking. Of all the earthquakes I’ve ever felt, this lasted the longest time. It must have been a couple of minutes, at least, that we were under our desks and this was going on.”

Elder Grames said the soon learned most of the damage from the quake occurred in Sendai, located almost 200 miles from Tokyo.

“Communications throughout the Sendai mission are virtually impossible,” he said. “Even the cell phone networks are down, regular telephone lines are down, electricity is out, gas and water is out. The situation is really difficult in terms of all utilities and transportation.”

Elder Grames did communicated with Japan Sendai Mission President Reid Tateoka via e-mail. President Tateoka was traveling at the time of the earthquake and had set up an emergency center in a hotel in Koriyama. President Tateoka was able to communicate enough to know that the mission home in Sendai is in good shape.

Elder Grames said that as far as he knows there has been no reports of death or injury among Church members. He said all of the six missions in Japan — with the exception of the Sendai mission — have contacted all their missionaries and reported them safe and unharmed.

Further, he said, all the stake presidents in the area have been asked to communicate with the Church about loss and injury of members.

Elder Grames said at this point it is not possible to send relief to Sendai because the roads are closed and the bridges are out. “The airport was flooded,” he explained. “The transportation in and out of Sendai seems virtually impossible at this time.”

Elder Grames said the government is sending in a special force to help those in need and the Church has set up an emergency team in the Church Office Building in Tokyo.

“At this point, we’re focused on communication, trying to find out what the needs are, what the damages are,” he said. “And then we can hope in the near future to turn to offering assistance where it’s most needed.”

In addition, according to a Church Welfare report:

— Contact with all mission presidents in Japan has been established.

— All missionaries outside the Sendai mission are safe and accounted for. The Church is still waiting to hear from missionaries in Sendai, where communication and public transportation has been shut down.

— All missionaries in Japan living along coastal regions have been moved to inland locations.

— All members of the Asia North Area presidency and their wives are safe.

— Minor damage is being reported to the Tokyo temple.

— Tokyo temple housing is being used for to house members unable to return to their homes.

— Local Church leaders are working to contact all members.

— All employees in the area office are reported safe.

— The LDS Disaster response team at Church Headquarters is monitoring the situation and has been in constant contact via “Skype” with the Asia North Area.

— All missionaries are safe in areas outside of Japan.

— Leaders in all area offices are on high-alert and are working with local leaders to contact members and make them aware of potential tsunami danger.

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