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The North Bend Eagle


Ferguson feels powers of Japanese quake

by Mary Le Arneal and Nathan Arneal
Published 3/16/11

Jeanette Ferguson was in the process of packing up and moving to a new house Friday afternon when the ground began to shake.

While most Americans have seen brutal images of destruction in Japan on TV as a result of the record-breaking earthquake last week, Ferguson was witnessing it first hand.

Quake map

The 1995 North Bend Central graduate lives in Ushihama, Japan, about 30 miles west of Tokyo. She has been a teacher in the Department of Defense Dependents School system for 11 years and is currently teaching middle school family consumer science on the American Air Base at Yokota.

Friday’s quake struck at 2:56 p.m. Japanese time, or 11:56 p.m. Thursday North Bend time. At its epicenter, about 300 miles northeast of Tokyo, the earthquake measured a magnitude of 9.0, the largest earthquake ever to hit Japan. The shock waves that reached Ferguson in Ushihama still measured a 5.2, giving her what she described as a “wild ride.”

“I was on the phone with the Internet company when the quake hit,” Ferguson said. “The operator asked me if I felt the movement and just then the ground rocked like crazy. I was outside along with my Japanese neighbors where the rocking and rolling lasted for several minutes. Several big aftershocks made us all feel seasick, the ground was swaying so much.”

At 5:30 a.m. Friday, Bruce and Pat Ferguson of Webster were awakened by a phone call. It was their daughter Jeanette, telling them she was safe. For a moment, Bruce wondered, “Safe from what?”

“I didn’t even know anything had happened,” Bruce said. “I got up and looked on the Internet, and wow, that was really something. We were just glad to hear she was safe.”

Jeanette Ferguson was able to call her parents again Friday night, but the connection was bad.

“She said it was the worse earthquake she’d ever experienced,” Bruce said.
American TV images highlighted an oil refinery in Ishihara that was burning and a nuclear plant that was leaking radiation as a result of the damage. Ferguson told her parents she was about 40 miles from the refinery and 110 miles south of the nuclear plant. She said she was aware of the situation at the two plants, but had not been effected by either at that time.

Ferguson currently is serving as president of the Northeast Asia Teacher’s Association. She had a meeting planned in Tokyo with representatives of the 21 Department of Defense schools in Japan. She had been busy trying to get in contact with the faculty representatives who were to attend.

“We have one teacher who made it down to Tokyo from Misawa (about 175 miles north of the epicenter) but is in a shelter,” Ferguson said. “The Navy base south of us was without power as was the north Air Force base of Misawa. We are worried about them as they are right on the eastern coast. We are just now getting back cell service but it is hit and miss.”

By Sunday, residents were being told to conserve energy and stay off the roads. The area around the nuclear reactor was being evacuated, though Ferguson’s area was not threatened.

“There have been lots of aftershocks to keep us on our toes,” she said.

Monday, Ferguson reported rolling blackouts in her area because of the damaged nuclear power plant. The blackouts are expected to last several weeks, she said.

The Yokota Air Base, where Ferguson works, has been flying supplies to affected areas around the clock as a part of Operation Tomodachi. Tomodachi means friend in Japanese. The base has also been hosting hundreds of stranded commercial airline passengers who were diverted from their original destinations after the quake.

“Food is scarce and gas is about out,” Ferguson said. “Saturday after the quake was calm but yesterday (Sunday), it’s been crazy.”

Ferguson’s school is holding classes as usual, even though the school has no power. This week, students are undergoing standardized testing. The school on the base in Misawa, in northern Japan, has canceled school for two days.

There hasn’t been any major structural damage in Ferguson’s area, but effects of the disaster can be seen everywhere.

“The stores off base are low on food, but that is suppose to pick up (Tuesday),” she said. “Gasoline lines have been long, an hour or longer waiting. We are lucky here on base as we are the hub for the Pacific bases, so we fare pretty well.”

The worst of it may not be over, though. Japanese news stations are reporting that residents should expect a 7 to 9 magnitude quake to hit the Ferguson’s area within a month.

“The (magnitude) 5 we experienced here was scary,” Ferguson said. “I can’t imagine the 9 they had up in Sendai.”

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