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Local Connections To Earthquake & Tsunami In Japan


What can San Diegans do to help the victims of the massive earthquake and tsunami in Japan? And, what challenges has the local Japanese community faced as it tries to contact family and friends back home? We speak to the president of UC San Diego's Japanese Student Association, the director of disaster services for the local Red Cross, and KPBS Science and Technology Reporter Peggy Pico.

If you want up-to-the-date information on the earthquake/tsunami relief efforts in Japan or if you are still trying to contact someone in Japan. Here's a link to the Consulate-General of Japan in Los Angeles' website.

What can San Diegans do to help the victims of the massive earthquake and tsunami in Japan? And, what challenges has the local Japanese community faced as it tries to contact family and friends back home? We speak to the president of UC San Diego's Japanese Student Association, the director of disaster services for the local Red Cross, and KPBS Science and Technology Reporter Peggy Pico.


Yutaka Ishida, Student in School of International Relations and Pacific Studies and President of UC San Diego's Japanese Student Association

Andy McKellar, director of disaster services for the Red Cross of San Diego and Imperial County

Peggy Pico, KPBS Science and Technology Reporter

Read Transcript

This is a rush transcript created by a contractor for KPBS to improve accessibility for the deaf and hard-of-hearing. Please refer to the media file as the formal record of this interview. Opinions expressed by guests during interviews reflect the guest’s individual views and do not necessarily represent those of KPBS staff, members or its sponsors.

The largest earthquake in Japanese history has caused devastation that quake prone country may want have ever imagined. Authorities now say at least 10000 people have died. Three nuclear reactors pose the risk of course melt down. The best guess is that 350000 people have been rendered homeless. For membership Americans, the experience has been [CHECK] have relatives in the country, and others expect to be involved in relief efforts of we'll hear from some of these people during the first half of our show. But we'd also like to hear from you. If you have relatives or friends in Japan, if you've experienced earthquakes there, [CHECK] tell us your story. Our telephone number here, the call in number is 1-888-895-5727. Call us at 1-888-895-KPBS. And the first guest on our show is Yutaka Ishida. He's a student in the school of international relations and pacific studies at UCSD, and he's president of UC San Diego's Japanese student association. And Yutaka, thank you very much for coming in.

ISHIDA: My pleasure.

FUDGE: And once again, caller is 1-888-895-5727. Yutaka, I'd like to start by talking a little bit by your family, and it sounds like you've been fairly lucky in terms of your immediate family. They have been a little ways away from the danger.

ISHIDA: Yeah. My mom and my sister live in the U.S. and my dad actually lives in Japan. On the first day, I thought he was in Tokyo, and I was worried. [CHECK] it turns out he was in Okinawa, come is the other side from Tokyo, so he was fine. But I was really worried about him.

FUDGE: One of those amazing stories coming out of this earthquake, and one of those amazing stories, you told me just about five minutes ago when I asked you if your father felt the earthquake.

ISHIDA: He didn't.

FUDGE: He didn't feel the earthquake. And he was in -- I'm sorry, Osaka?

ISHIDA: Okinawa. It's on the southern part of the island.

FUDGE: So other parts of the country were just devastated and hit by tsunamis, and he didn't even feel it.

ISHIDA: I don't think he did. I watched the news, I couldn't believe what's going on. It was like movie. And I just couldn't believe what's going on. Just the visual image of tsunami and earthquake.

FUDGE: You have lived in Japan, obviously, and earthquakes from what I hear are things that happen all the time.

ISHIDA: Yeah. I lived in Japan for 15�years. Earthquake was nothing to me, you know? It happens once a month. And -- but this one was different.

FUDGE: So you have heard from your father. And he's okay. Have you been trying to contact other people in Japan?

ISHIDA: So I contacted him through e-mail. But many people still can't reach thirds requirement families because the phone lines off in the northern part. E-mail is it is only way to contact them.

FUDGE: And in fact, some of the advice that we're getting is please do not use the regular phone lines to contact family in Japan, use twitter, Skype, or e-mail. And in fact, Google has created a site called Google person finder, you can type in the name of the person you're looking for issue and get some information about whether they're safe or not. Last week, you and your organization spoke to some reporters and spoke to some people about something you're trying to do to help the effort in Japan. What is that:

ISHIDA: So our organization, Japanese student association at UCSD has created a website called UCSD help Japan. Through that, we are trying to raise money and send the money to Japan where they need the money to get food, get supply, all those things.

FUDGE: And once again, you're listening to These Days on KPBS. Give us a call if you have friends or family in Japan, and you've been trying to contact them. 1-888-895-KPBS. I have a friend whose parents live in Japan, and they live just outside of Yokohama, and they didn't have water for a while, and -- but apparently her parents are fine. Where are you from originally in the country?

ISHIDA: I'm from Chiba, which is southern part. It's a coast area too. Where the tsunami may have gotten to hit. And right now, soil liquefaction is happening just around my home town where, actually houses so --

FUDGE: Soil lick faction. Can you explain to us what that means and what that does to homes.

ISHIDA: So where I lived was actually in the ocean before, they put the -- they put the soil on the ocean so that we can live there. But when the earthquake hits that kind of place, the ground shakes and [CHECK] from the under ground comes up, and so sometimes buildings fall, and sometimes people can't live there anymore.

FUDGE: So this was a place that was built up as a place to live, and it used to be under water.


FUDGE: I see. Well, would seem to be a place that would be very vulnerable to tsunamis and that kind of thing. Have you been in touch with any folks who are from your home town? Do you know how they're doing?

ISHIDA: I haven't been able to do that. I know they're fine, but it's just -- things come up, like after shock of the tsunami and the earthquake, those nuclear reaction explosion, and soil lick faction. Of so I still don't know what's gonna happen in the next. And there was a volcano explosion in the southern part of Japan. I don't know if it's related to the earthquake or not, but there are problems coming up.

FUDGE: And once again, my guest is Yutaka Ishida, he's a student in the school of international relations and Pacific study, he's pred dent of UC San Diego's Japanese student association. And they're trying to raise some money. I think you told me that you're trying to raise $2,010,000 for the Japanese relief?


FUDGE: And are you going to give it to the red cross? Whatever your mans for that money?

ISHIDA: So we're still thinking what we took the money for, we are trying to contact the people actually in there so that -- staying there so that we know what they need. It might take a while. But we want to make a careful decision on where to put the money on.

FUDGE: When you were growing up as a kid, were you very aware of what you're supposed to do in an earthquake?

ISHIDA: Yeah, we do earthquake practice, I don't know, in regular basis, once or twice a year. But I don't think none of them worked this time. It was too big.

FUDGE: Some of our listeners may have heard that the seventh fleet on MONDAY said it would move its ships and aircraft away from the quake stricken Japanese nuclear power PLANT which is in danger of a melt down. The San Diego based Ronald Regan aircraft carrier is one of those ships that's been involved in relief efforts, and it has turned away from that part of Japan at the very least we're not entirely sure whether it's coming back to port here. Let's take a call from Keesha in San Diego. Keesha, go ahead, you're on the show.

NEW SPEAKER: Hi, I was calling because I'm interested in actually -- I'm not sure if this is possible, but going over to Japan and helping with relief efforts in person rather than just sending money.

FUDGE: I don't know if we have -- well of course thank you very much for calling. I don't know if we have any advice for you now or not. Let me just ask you, Yutaka, are you planning go back to Japan any time soon?

ISHIDA: That would be the summer. But not, like, me.

FUDGE: Okay. Would you have any advice for our caller, Keesha?

ISHIDA: I heard that it takes at least a week to get the volunteers. Like right now, they only need professionals. And a week later, they need a lot of volunteers to serve food, to help everyone in the region. So she should do it.

FUDGE: All right. And Yutaka Ishida is a student at UCSD, he is president of the UC San Diego Japanese student association. Joining me now is also Andy McKellar. Andy is director of disaster services for the red cross of San Diego and Imperial County. Andy thank you very much for being with us.

MCKELLAR: Good morning how are you?

FUDGE: I'm doing -- I'm doing fine. Well, first of all, what kind of assistance is the local red cross providing to Japan right now? And I ask that not knowing if you are providing assistance.

MCKELLAR: Well, we're not providing necessarily direct assistance of we haven't sent anyone over, we haven't [CHECK] to focus our donations to get to Japan. Given the distances, sending stuff from here isn't necessarily the best thing we can do for them. Japan has a pretty robust disaster response system. What they need is resource to mount that response. And resource costs money. What they'll do is take the money we send them and purchase that resource either in Japan or in the is southern area and put that resource towards their disaster response. That's probably the best thing we can do for them at this time.

FUDGE: It sounds like you're saying what they need is money.

MCKELLAR: Sure. I mean, if you look at just the photographs of what they're going through, I mean, I'm just looking at my screen right now, and I see a fracture on its side about a mile inland. Someone's gotta remove that. That costs money. And that's just one very small part of what they're looking at. So this is a big drain. We saw it here after Katrina. We know how much that cost. And if you look at the destruction, that level of destruction in Japan right now, it may well outstrip what we saw in Katrina. So imagine how much money that's going to cost to put things to right. And that resource is not -- is finite for any government. So whatever we can put into the pot to help supply the resources necessary, that's a good thing.

FUDGE: We just got a call from somebody who was interested in going to Japan as a volunteer. We've got a call from sonny in Mission Hills who might have something to say about that possibility. Sonny, go ahead, you're on the show.

NEW SPEAKER: Good morning, thank you for taking my call. I just wanted to advise Keesha, I think her name was, the prior caller, I think it's very admirable that she wants to go and help. However, the United States government is advising that no civilian Americans go to Japan. Of those are very dire circumstances over there. And there's no protection for them. Even government workers, unless it's absolutely necessary, government workers are being advised not to go.

FUDGE: Sonny, is this what you've heard through the media or are you involved with the government in some way?

NEW SPEAKER: No, I'm not. It's what I've heard through the media. Either little bullet notification through NPR, which is my only source of news.

FUDGE: Well, good for you. Well, sonny, thank you very much, and thank you very much for calling. Andy, I guess that makes sense to you huh?

MCKELLAR: Sure. People want to be careful about -- I mean people have this well intentioned meaning of going somewhere like Japan and sometimes they can add to the problems of the folks on the ground. You're showing up unprepared, untrained, you really want to help, but you don't have any particular skill set that they might need at that point. And you are also adding to the base of what they need to supply for. Now, here is one more person that we have to find food for, that we have to find water for, that we have to find shelter for.

FUDGE: And we're approaching the time that we need to take a break, but before we let you go, Yutaka is there anything you would like to say either below what you're trying to do now or the future of your country that has had some economic problems, we hear, now they have to dig their way out of this tremendous hole created by the earthquake.

ISHIDA: So once again, UCSD help Japan is trying to raise a fund to send to Japan. Not buying stuff and send its over, because it costs money too, as it would trying to get ahold of the local people, and trying to get -- trying to ask what they actually need. And so please join us on this project, disaster relief.

FUDGE: Is there a website they can go to.

ISHIDA: If you go to Facebook, and you see SD help Japan, you'll find it easily.

FUDGE: And Yutaka Ishida is a student in the school of international relations in Pacific studies. He's president of UCSD's Japanese student association. Yutaka, thank you very much.

ISHIDA: Thank you.

FUDGE: I'm Tom Fudge, you're listening to These Days. Wee talking about the disaster in Japan, and we invite callers to stay on the line. We'll get you -- to you after the break. And callers, give us a call if you have friends or family in Japan, 1-888-895-KPBS. We'll be back in a minute.

I'm Tom Fudge, you're listening to These Days on KPBS. And of course we're talking about the tsunami and earthquake in Japan, and the aftermath of it. Joining me by phone is Andy McKellar, he's director of disaster services for the red cross of San Diego. And Imperial County. We'd love to hear from our listeners if you have friends or family in Japan issue people you've been trying to get in touch with. If you're got a story that you can tell, call us at 1-888-895-KPBS. Let's take a call from Chris in San Diego. Chris, you're on the show.

NEW SPEAKER: Hi. Hi. Oh. I just wanted to let you know that I was listening to the gentleman from UCSD and in our church, Emaculate conception, Catholic church in old town just had a second collection for the people that Japan. And maybe other churches can do the same thing. And that's all I wanted to suggest. Of.

FUDGE: All right, well, thank you very much. Churches in San Diego taking collections for -- to help with the relief and Andy McKellar, where does this money tend to go? I suppose Catholic churches send it to the diocese, and they have their own charitable organization, their own relief organizations.

MCKELLAR: Sure. I mean, they will send it to where their relief organization thinks it needs to go. Our money will go to the red cross in Japan, and they will use it how they need to use it. So yeah, every organization has their own specific cause, if you will.

FUDGE: One question that always comes up in specific disasters like this is when you donate money to the Red Cross of San Diego, can you tell them, I want this money to go to Japan?

MCKELLAR: Yes, you can. You can also go on our national website, and if you go to cross, all one, you can donate specifically for the Japan earthquake and Pacific tsunami.

FUDGE: Andy, this may sound like a dumb question, but what are the immediate needs? What are the things that really have to happen right now in Japan to provide relief?

MCKELLAR: Well, I know that one of their big concerns right now is fresh water, that's always a big concern, sanitation will be the next one. Those'll be the two things they're gonna look at first. Also trying to find any survivors that are still? The wreckage, that will be your main focus at this point. They've got so much going on. They're looking in all directions at this point. But yes, for the folks that are survivors, they're gonna need clean water, proper sanitation. That's gonna be really key.

FUDGE: In this situation, have most of the water in the really quake -- hard hit areas of the quake, have most of the water systems stopped working?

MCKELLAR: Yeah. The information I have is that that's one of their main concerns in the Japanese government is fresh water supply.

FUDGE: One thing I've always been curious about is when the water supply is no longer working, where do you get fresh water?

MCKELLAR: You have to bring it in. There's all sorts of sources, you can bring it in, you can fly it in, you can start to look at desalinization if you've got the equipment to do that. Being that it's a relatively good sized country with good resource, they're able to have more resources than anybody else has in a lot of areas, I think but for -- speaking for Katrina, getting that stuff in, water in statistic was a matter of shipping it in many cases in bottles, mostly. Or in large containers. Trucking it in.

FUDGE: Let's take a call from Rick in San Diego, Rick, you're on the show.

ISHIDA: Yes, good morning. Just an anecdote that I have to mention is not one of the sad stories, but actually a happy story. I lived in Japan for 12�years, and I've been back? The states for quite some time, but a requested friend of mine just sent me an e-mail from Tokyo telling me that he had a baby born one hour before the earthquake hit. And as they were wheeling the baby back into the -- or not back but for the first time into the mother's hospital room after the delivery, the quake started. And I don't have all the details. I just have his e-mail and a brief conversation we had on Skype. But apparently they had no idea what was going on of they just thought it was another earthquake, a big one. 'Cause they were in Tokyo they department feel it quite as much up in the northeast. But apparently one happy story. Not the sad type of news that I think you've been getting.

FUDGE: Yes. Happy story of a child being born and being okay despite the earthquake. Listeners may remember our first guest said that he contacted his father who lives a little ways away from the earthquake zone and he says that he didn't feel it. He didn't even feel it. . He's probably out walking some place. Rick, thanks very much for calling of let's take another call. This is Johnny from San Diego.

NEW SPEAKER: Hi, good morning, Tom.

FUDGE: Morning.

NEW SPEAKER: Thanks for doing this program. I just wanted to comment on the concern for donations on these kind of disasters, and the residence cross's mandate. Red Cross's mandate is to take care of disasters on a daily basis, not just in an earthquake. [CHECK] money's not going all to this particular disaster, when in actuality, if you're homeless or anything like that, the red cross is there taking care of this on a daily basis.

FUDGE: Thanks very much, Johnny. Andy, I guess he's paying you a compliment.

MCKELLAR: Well, thank you very much, Johnny, I appreciate that. Sure, we do single family fires here in San Diego County all the time, about 300 a year. And most of that work is done by volunteers of we'll get a call from a fire department in any city across the county. And we have a family whose home has been destroyed. We'll send out a team of volunteer, we'll do casework for that family and get their immediate needs taken care of, while they try to get their lives back on track. Depending on the need, lodging, food, clothing, these sorts of things that will help them start on the road back to getting on their feel again. And we provide other services as well. If someone's lost medication, our nurses can get that replaced. If someone is in need of counseling, we can arrange for that as well. So there's all sorts of services we can bring to bare for people who have been affected by -- we still call it a disaster, because it is, when everything you own is bushed up, that's a disaster.

FUDGE: Andy, before we are the you go, Japan is a relatively wealthy and highly developed country. That must make relief easier that be if an earthquake like this hit in a very poor region of the world.

MCKELLAR: Oh, certainly. They have a lot of resource. Japan is a country with a lot of prize in itself, and they will put everything they can into setting the situation straight. And they're also very prepared. And as bad as it is, had they not been as prepared as they are, it would have been possibly worse. And in poor parts of the world, you're right. That could have been a much greater catastrophe [CHECK] as prepared as we were, we see how bad that disaster has been for them. And it's imperative that we do what we can, individually, to be prepared for things like this to happen. And as well as a region or a country.

FUDGE: Andy, thanks very much for being with us.


FUDGE: Andy McKellar is director of disaster services for the red cross of San Diego, and imperial counties of I'm Tom Fudge, you're listening to these days. We're talking about the disaster in Japan. You may have heard that an estimated 50000 people have been rendered homeless by this earthquake and tsunami. That's the latest estimation. At least 10000 people have died. There was earlier today, I think, a 6.2�percent fall in the Nikkei index. So obviously have is having an effect on Japan's economy. Could a devastating tsunami like this one, like the one that hit Japan hit San Diego in well, the answer to this 83 is yes best of your recollection it's unlikely. It's unlikely due to the nature of earthquakes on our side of the Pacific, and thanks to the ocean floor right off the coast of San Diego. KPBS science reporter Peggy Pico, [CHECK] and she joins us now to tell us what she has learned about the subject. And Peggy, thank you very much.

PICO: Hi of course Tom, [CHECK] as far as the tsunami, we can cover that real briefly. Due to the types of earthquake faults, and we'll get into that a little bit. That we have here, it is not the same as off the coast of Japan. That in and of itself, how big of an earthquake our faults can generate is a little less than what can happen off the coast there. The other thing is that we have the channel Islands, [CHECK] and that disburses as a wave as it comes in. And we also happen to have as part of the continental shelf, we happen to have a very deep slope. That falls off. And the way you can think about that [CHECK] depth in the swimming pool, and hits that wall, it sort of -- it slows it do you happen, and it sort of reverberators it back into the ocean, instead of slamming it onto the coast. These are the reasons why seismologists and oceanic experts believe we're not really likely to have a tsunami of that magnitude.

FUDGE: I see. So you're saying with our ocean floor, if the ocean off the San Diego coast were shallow for a longer distance, then we'd be in more major of a tsunami.

PICO: Right of that's my understanding, because the depth of the shelf, and like said, this comes from actually a seismologist who was telling me this. That the depth of the shelf actually acts like a sea wall, in and of itself underneath the water will.

FUDGE: Now, we did get the tsunami on the coast of California, some communities were hit harder than others, but there was no serious damage, and this woman, what is her name by the way?

PICO: Debbie Kill [[]], is a seismologist at the Scripps institute of oceanography, and we talked quite a bit for more than an hour, and she also gave me some resources that I looked up as far as the geological society.

FUDGE: But the location of the earthquake here was first degree for the coast of California in 134 way.

PICO: Yeah, especially Southern California. Now, northern California and Oregon, they got hit a lot bit different. [CHECK] went up around the north and came down and hit their beaches a little more head on because it hit us sideways, sort of, again, if you're standing in a pool, and someone flashes you, and you're standing right in front of them, you're gonna get the brunt of the wave as opposed to if you're standing at the side of them. Well, in San Diego, we were standing it's the side of that tsunami wave.

FUDGE: Let's take a call from carol who's in UTC. Carol, go ahead. You're on These Days.



NEW SPEAKER: I have a friend from Japan, he's a structural engineering professor in Tokyo, and at one of the universities there. He was here at UCSD studying earthquakes for a year and I met him through a friend. He wanted to have some -- you know, help with his English. So I talked to him a couple hours every week. Anyway, I called him to find out how he was, and we spoke on Skype, and he showed me his office. He was in his office when I talked to him, and the -- [CHECK] still on the show, I was surprised. He had been in a meeting with some people from New Zealand, he was planning a trip to go see how thins were there, when the earthquake hit. And he said that the earthquake -- let me get my thoughts together here. It was 200�miles between Tokyo and Sankei, where the epicenter was. And they have a warning system in Japan that tells them when there's an earthquake on the way. So they got a warning at 40�seconds, it said they were going to be hit in 40�seconds.

FUDGE: In 40 seconds. Okay, well, if you're facing a tsunami, I'm sorry, was the warning of the earthquake or was the warning of the tsunami?

NEW SPEAKER: Of the earthquake.

FUDGE: The earthquake. Okay. Peggy, there are warning systems for both. That's definitely the tsunami warning out of the FSC up in Alaska, there's a warning system. And there's buoys out in the ocean that measure these ebbs and tides. [CHECK] and tsunamis are actually a series of waves, and so the first one hits and it backs up almost like a rear end collision, it backs up all the other waves that are coming behind it. So we do have a warning system here on the Pacific coast for tsunamis as well. I'm not sure of the length on that, but it is available.

FUDGE: The seismologist you talked to compared the tsunami to the ringing of a bell. What did she say about that.

PICO: Well, she actually compared the earthquake to that.

FUDGE: Okay.

PICO: So moving onto the earthquake side of it, I don't know if we can play her clip. Can we do that?

NEW SPEAKER: When you ding a bell, you can tell what's inside it, what it sounds like. Ding. [CHECK] basically this earthquake has shaken the earthquake like a bell, and that will help us to understand more approximate what's in the interior of the earth.

PICO: That's Debbie Kill [[]], the seismologist at Scripps institute of oceanography, and what she was meaning by that is, [CHECK] I had no idea it went around the globe. And what they're discovering because of that is what they call is this chatter between earthquake faults and they're doing that here in San Diego around the San Andreas fault, where the two plates all around the world chatter, almost like teeth chattering back and forth, and they vibrate, [CHECK] and they can tell them a lot about earthquakes and sort of the aftermath and effects is will reverberate around the world.

FUDGE: Why do earthquakes in the western Pacific seem to be so much western the ones we have here California.

PICO: Well, specific in Southern California, our earthquakes move side to side. So if you put it this way, it's like a sliding closet door. [CHECK] and that's gonna cause some movement. The depth of that is maybe 10 to 20�kilometers. So it doesn't go very deep, but it moves sideways. So you're gonna have some damage. The likelihood that we would have anything over a 7.5 or 7.8 is very slim, because it's a sideways movement. As opposed to the [CHECK] and you shove your feet forward, and you push all that earth forward. Or you can think of it as the trap door. Part of the earth droops, and the other part slams on top of it, displacing a lot of the earth, and it's the depth of that. [CHECK] 40 and 400�kilometers.

FUDGE: Wow. Amazing difference.

PICO: There's the difference, right.

FUDGE: I guess we can feel lucky for this. Before I let you go, you're sister lives in Northern California, and when the tsunami came, she went to the beach to see it. And that's not a good idea, right?

PICO: That is not a good idea, and boy, was she chewed out by me and the whole rest of the family. There was actual sign, and they thought the worst of the wave was over, and they were standing over the docks, and there were sign, she poised by ask the sign, big smile on her face, tsunami warning. And all of a sudden, without warning, they saw the tide go out. And she knew what that meantime. [CHECK] that's how drastic the tide going out was. Some all the speakers came on, the plea, the fire, everybody just said run. Run! And they did, and they were running and running. Now, the waves hit the dock, and it, you know, displaced some docks and some boats, and no one was injured in Santa Cruz, although we know up in Oregon that was different. But yeah, you hear a tsunami's coming, what I told my sister was, it's like saying, you know be a tornado's coming, maybe we oughta go out and check it out. You really can't predict mother nature [CHECK] don't need to stick your head in a volcano to see it erupting.

FUDGE: And with that, let me thank Peggy Pico. She's the KPBS science and technology reporter talking about the risk we face in California to earthquakes and tsunamis. And Peggy, thanks a lot.

PICO: Good to be here.

FUDGE: Stay tuned, These Days is gonna take a break. And when we return, we will talk about the California budget, hoping that it's -- that's not a disaster waiting to happen. So stay tuned. We'll be back in a minute.

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