Prayers offered for Japan's earthquake victims as tsunami damages Hawaii, U.S. west coast

March 11, 2011


Anglican Communion churches and agencies are planning how best to respond to the 8.9-magnitudeearthquake that struck off the northeast coast of Japan at 2:46 p.m. local time (12:46 a.m. EST) on March 11, triggering a tsunami that swamped Hawaii beaches, causing property damage there as well as on the west coast of the United States.

Estimates place the death toll at least 1,000 people, most drowned by the wall of water that swept across the northeast coast of the island nation. More than 200 bodies have been found in Sendai, a northeastern port city and the closest major city to the epicenter.

A collection of videos showing the tsunami that struck Japan is here.

Oahu residents were allowed to return to their homes Friday morning local time. Consecutive surges caused by tsunami waves reportedly  caused close to $500,000 damage to boats and docks at the La Mariana Sailing Club in Honolulu's Keehi Lagoon. More that 100 spectators gathered at the lookout high atop Diamond Head saw the ocean recede twice in 12 minutes, exposing large stretches of reef,according to the Star-Advertiser newspaper in Honolulu.

An Episcopal priest in Kailua on the east cost of Oahu, the Rev. Kate Lewis, told ENS via e-mail that warning sirens began sounding at 10 p.m. local time. She had not heard of any damage to Episcopal churches, some of which are very close to beaches.

The Rev. Thomas Buechele, recently retired vicar of St. Augustine's Church in Kapa'au on the northern tip of the Big Island, told Episcopal News Service via e-mail at 1:20 p.m. EST that he knows of no damage to Episcopal churches on that island. Buechle said residents are equally concerned about a new eruption at the Kilauea Volcano that is causing a series of small earthquakes. He experienced a magnitude-6.2 quake while at St. Augustine's in 2006.

"There are some risks living in paradise, but the faith is strong, and everybody pitches in to help," he concluded.

The U.S. National Weather Service issued tsunami warnings from Alaska to southern California, telling those on the coastlines to move inland to higher ground. Beaches and coastal highways were closed in many areas. In Washington state and in British Columbia, officials ordered limited evacuations.

The tsunami waves reached the U.S. west coast during the late morning EST. The Oregonian newspaper in Portland reported that five-foot waves hit the coast in Curry County, making for conditions similar to a rough winter storm. Around noon EST, buoys 20-40 miles off the Oregon coast were reporting waves cresting at 6 feet, the newspaper reported.

The Los Angeles Times reported that the tsunami caused significant damage in Crescent City, Santa Cruz and other parts of northern California. More than 36 boats were crushed and most of the docks destroyed in the Crescent City marina. Ocean water surged into town by way of a creek north of the harbor. Crescent City was devastated by a tsunami in 1964 that killed 11 people and a 2006 tsunami did $10 million damage to the same harbor.

Presiding Bishop Katharine Jefferts Schori said that the Episcopal Church is praying with and for the people of Japan as that nation  "seeks the lost and begins to bury the dead.

"May they rest in peace, and may all those who mourn find comfort," she said. "We know the aftermath will be long and difficult, and we assure you of our solidarity. We are grateful that most other parts of the Pacific have withstood the passage of the first tsunami. May we all be reminded that we live on a fragile earth, in continual process of creation and destruction, and that we share a common responsibility for healing wherever we are able."

Archbishop of Canterbury Rowan Williams sent a message of condolence to Archbishop Nathaniel Uematsu of the Nippon Sei Ko Kai, the Anglican Church in Japan, expressing support and prayers for the Japanese people.

"The news of the horrific earthquake in Japan has shocked us all. We await further and more detailed news with apprehension, but I want to say immediately that our hearts and our prayers go out to all who have been affected and that we as a church will do what we can to offer practical as well as spiritual support at this time of great suffering and great anxiety for so many," Williams said.

Those thoughts were echoed by Anglican Church of Canada Archbishop Fred Hiltz who wrote to Uematsu,saying that "we hold before God all those who are engaged in the relief efforts as well as you and all who are ministering to the needs of a stricken, grieving nation."

Episcopal Relief & Development called for prayers for those affected by the quake and resulting tsunami. A statement on the agency's website said that staff have contacted local partners and are standing by, ready to offer assistance.

The Very Rev. Samuel T. Lloyd III, dean of Washington National Cathedral, said in a statement that "this globally unfolding disaster reminds us again that we are all connected, no matter our distance, with bonds that must strengthen when buildings and infrastructure pass away."

Uematsu, who was attending a meeting in Kyoto when the earthquake struck, said in an e-mail to Episcopal News Service that the scale of damage and devastation has caused great difficulty in communicating throughout the province. As of 10:30 a.m. EST, he said that he had not heard from the Diocese of Tohoku, which he said "has been hit most by the earthquakes and tsunamis, and I am very concerned for Bishop John Kato and churches and people in his diocese."

Chikako Miriam Tsukada, a member of the Episcopal Church's Episcopal Asiamerica Ministries and convener of its Japanese Convocation, is currently in Tokyo, which "is calm and safe, but a lot of people can't go home as a lot of public transportation is not working," he said in an e-mail to church partners.

"Some government offices, hotels, halls and college campus are open for those people so that they can stay safe in the building overnight," he reported.

However, he expressed concern about the northern part of Japan, in particular Miyagi and Aomori, which "is suffering a lot [and] lots of people are still missing. Please keep Japan in your prayers."

"It was the biggest shake I have ever experienced," Shinya Samuel Yawata, secretary for the Nippon Sei Ko Kai, told the U.K.-based USPG mission agency, according to an Anglican Communion News Servicereport. While the provincial office did not suffer any damage and is still functioning, Yawata said that the diocesan office in Tohoku in the northeast region of Japan could not be reached. "So we do not know how bad it could be, but I am afraid there probably is much damage in that area."

Rachel Parry, the USPG's regional manager for Asia, said on the organization's website that "we keep all the affected people in Japan, and in particular our fellow Anglicans, especially those who have not yet been able to be reached in Tohoku diocese, in our thoughts and prayers."

Yawata said that all phone lines are down because of heavy usage. "In Tokyo and the vicinity there is slight damage and some fires, but it is not detrimental," he told the Anglican Communion News Service.

Several aftershocks have been reported in Japan, while other countries in the Pacific Ocean prepare for the impact of the resulting tsunami.

Sally Keeble, director for the Anglican Communion's Alliance for Development, Relief and Advocacy, said that she is working with agencies in all countries likely to be affected by the earthquake. "We will be coordinating contact points for people who might wish to offer help or who might need to be in receipt of help," she said, according to ACNS. The alliance also will be contacting Anglican and Episcopal agencies to find out what they are doing to assist, she said.