By Stan Friedman
CHICAGO, IL (March 11, 2011) – Evangelical Covenant Church missionaries in Japan report they are safe following a deadly 8.9-magnitude earthquake and resulting tsunami that slammed into the island sweeping away homes, cars, buildings and ships.
So far it appears Ellen and Jay Haworth have been most directly impacted by the quake. Ellen is spending the night in her car because of extensive damage in the family’s home, which has no electricity. Jay was scheduled to arrive back in Japan today after visiting his son in the United States, but his flight was diverted to the Narita International Airport, which remains closed.
Since most trains quit operating following the earthquake, Jay was unable to complete the three-hour trip to his home, said Gary Carlson during a Skype conversation with Covenant News Service early this morning. Carlson and his wife serve as co-country coordinators for Japan in the Department of World Mission.
The earthquake was followed by another measured at 7.4 magnitude and a 23-foot tsunami as well as more than 20 aftershocks. Most of them registered at more than a magnitude 6.0. Early news reports say at least several hundred people were killed with scores of others still missing. The death toll is expected to rise. The tremors shook cities and villages along a 1,300-mile stretch of coastline.
Yasushi Shimizu, president of the Japan Covenant Church, says he has heard nothing from denomination churches, largely because telephone service has been disrupted for both landlines and mobile phones.
Shimizu also was still waiting to hear from his wife, who had traveled into Tokyo from their home in Matsuda, Kanagawa Prefecture. Because of the lack of train service, she likewise has been unable to make her way home.
The Carlsons reported they are safe, but noted they had to quickly leave their home during both earthquakes they experienced. They also report a number of aftershocks.
The couple lives in Fujisawa south of Tokyo. The first earthquake occurred off the coast of Sendai, a city located about five hours north of them. The second 7.4-magnitude quake occurred off the coast of Ibaraki Prefecture, about is about three hours north.
The Carlsons live five miles from the coast. “We had a tsunami warning for our city, but it didn’t amount to much,” Gary said. The tsunami didn’t threaten other Covenant missionaries because they live much further inland, he added.
Following are the latest updates on each of the other missionaries, who serve inland, far from the coast:
Tim and Andrea Johnson: The family is fine. Tim was in Gunma for a camp board meeting, emailing this morning to say he was stuck in a McDonald’s doing email because the roads are either closed or very crowded.
Jim and Hydi Peterson: Jim was at a pastors meeting and is unable to return home because of the train service disruption. Hydi also was in Gunma at the camp meeting and unable to return home.
Grant and Miho Buchholtz: They report they are doing well. Grant had returned home from language school before the earthquakes hit. Miho said she was emotionally shaken. She is Japanese and grew up experiencing earthquakes, but says this episode was far bigger than any she has felt before.
In an email, the Buchholtzes write, “Earthquakes are quite common here, but typically mild. Just the other day, Grant felt one at school, but the class kept going without even an acknowledgement of what was happening.”
Today was different. “The light fixture and TV were swaying. Things fell off the shelves,” they write. Gas service to their home was automatically shut off – a protective measure put in place to prevent fires that typically occurred in similar past situations.
Lines at train stations were long, stranding many people. Businesses closed due to lack of electrical service.
“This event reminded us of how dependent we are on God,” the Buchholtzes said. “Nothing is in our control during this tragedy. We just pray and wait for it to end.”
Residents were busy helping one another. “We were blessed to have a church member come over to check on us,” the Buchholtzes said. “This was a complete surprise, but something that made us feel grateful for our church. This little act of care made us feel very loved.”
The couple still had one very important piece of business to complete, however. Although stores closed due to a lack of electricity, at least one government agency did not. “We had to go out to file our taxes as this was the only time that we had the time,” they write. “The office had no power, but surprisingly was still open.”
Covenant News Service will publish updated information through Twitter, Facebook, and it regular news report as it becomes available.