When Jim Kakuk and I formed the Tsunami Rangers kayak team 25 years ago, we thought the word tsunami was cool. Most Americans couldn’t spell the word or even pronounce it. The only actual tsunami we knew anything about was the one that hit Crescent City in northern California back in March, 1964 after the big earthquake in Alaska. We were being fanciful by naming our sea kayaking team after a big wave and made a big deal about kayak surfing in normal waves. We had no clue of the true potential destructive power of a tsunami. But when the devastating quake and world’s worst tsunami hit Indonesia in 2004, causing well over 200,000 deaths, we were mortified.
Last year at about this time Jim and I were kayaking in New Zealand when a tsunami warning was issued, because of the massive earthquake in Chile. We took the warning seriously. Fortunately, no tsunami materialized. But it was sobering. In jest, our Kiwi friends blamed us, and we laughed with them. Then, less than a month ago a quake tore apart Christchurch. No one laughed. We worried about our friends in New Zealand.
Last Friday, a huge tsunami struck northern Japan. My first thoughts were of my Japanese paddling partners Haruo Hasegawa and Satoru Yahata. Were they okay? Though hundreds of bodies had already been found and thousands were missing, I focused on the people I knew. A disaster half the world away seemed at my doorstep.
As I watched the catastrophe unfold on television, the local newscaster interrupted and said that Crescent City and all American west coast communities were expected to get hit by a smaller version of the tsunami at any moment. Sure enough, the Crescent City harbor again was totaled by a tsunami (though it had lost its punch by the time it reached the California coast).
This terrible tsunami made me realize once again that our planet is fragile, and what impacts one nation affects us all. And though our first task is to take care of our families and preserve our local community, we must remember that everyone is part of our extended family. I speak for all of us Tsunami Rangers in offering our hopes and prayers for the people of Japan. We will aid them in whatever ways we can, as they would do the same for us.
I would like to add one more thing: for those of us who live in tsunami zones and earthquake-prone areas, please put together an emergency kit in your vehicle. Since these cataclysmic events come with little or no warning, now is the time to prepare. Want to know more? Ask me about it.
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