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The North Bend Eagle


Ferguson safe from radiation for now, told to stay in Japan

by Nathan Arneal
Published 3/23/11

More than a week after a devastating earthquake and ensuing tsunami, things are still shaking in Japan. Meanwhile, a North Bend family is safely back home after the tsunami forced them to evacuate their Hawaiian hotel.

Jeanette Ferguson, a North Bend Central graduate teaching on an American air base near Tokyo, said aftershocks are still common as the country continues to clean up while keeping an eye on nuclear power plants damaged by the quake.

“Right now the main concern is the radioactive material,” she said. “So far we have the all clear here.”

Yokota Air Base, where Ferguson works, is about 110 miles south of the damaged nuclear reactors.

“Our base command says that the levels of radiation are within ‘normal’ range,” she said, “but, of course, that could change at any time, and that does cause a bit of fear.”

Many families of military personal are leaving Japan. Ferguson said that the student population in her elementary school is down about 10 percent and the high school is down 20 percent since the March 11 earthquake.

Ferguson can’t leave herself, though, as she was classified as essential personnel. She expects even more students will be leaving as additional flights back to the U.S. become available.

Rolling three-hour blackouts continue as well as Japan tries to cope with the loss of power formerly generated by the damaged nuclear plants. Ferguson said gasoline at local stations require a three-hour wait and costs around $9 per gallon.

Area residents are also preparing for a possible aftershock approaching the magnitude of the original 9.0 earthquake.

“We are preparing as best as we can with lots of can goods and water,” Ferguson said. “For those of us working for the government we are preparing our NEO (Noncombatant Evacuation and Repatriation Operations) packet, just in case there is a mandatory evacuation. If there is, we may have a day to prepare or only a few hours. But we are staying positive and don’t foresee anything like that in our future.”

North Benders Doug and Jill Hoops were enjoying their last night in Hawaii when the earthquake struck half an ocean away.

There were attending a Physician’s Mutual party on the beach. When Doug noticed the vice-presidents of his company take off running at about 10 p.m., he knew something was wrong. Moments later an announcement was made.

“They said, ‘This is not a joke. In a few minutes the sirens are going to go off,’” Jill Hoop said. “‘We are in a tsunami warning.’”

With the tsunami expected to hit Hawaiian shores at 3 a.m., the tourists were told to return to the hotel, gather a change of clothes and any necessary medications and meet in the lobby.

After those instructions were followed, the Hoopses and the rest of their tour group were put on a bus and taken to a golf course. There they were given water and towels and were able to watch TV.

They called home and told Doug’s mother Nancy to call their three children, Tyler, MacKenzie and Marissa, and get them together in case something were to happen.

“Our kids were together the whole night,” Jill said.

They were moved once more that night to even higher ground and ended up spending the night in the library of an elementary school.

In the morning they returned to the golf course for breakfast and to wait for permission to return to their hotel.

With images of the destruction in Japan flooding the airwaves, Jill said they feared the worst. Would there even be a hotel to return to?

“Our room was on the second floor facing the ocean,” Jill said, “so we were afraid everything was going to be gone, but it didn’t get that high.”

When they were allowed to return to the hotel around 10 a.m. Friday, the saw tsunami waters had flooded the restaurant and bar and damaged the lower level of the hotel but had since receded to normal levels, leaving the Hoops’s room untouched.

The next worry was the airport, which was right on the water’s edge. However, their flight was only delayed a couple of hours.

Back in North Bend, Jill Hoops said she’d take Nebraska’s tornadoes over Hawaii’s tsunamis any day.

“I don’t ever want to go through that again,” she said.

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