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2011-03-24

Local family fear for daughter in Japan

By Carolyn B. Edwards BCC

When a record-setting earthquake and tsunami struck the eastern coast of Japan last Friday, March 11, at least one Bandera County family had reason to be concerned. Russ and Chris Penberthy’s daughter, Tasha, 32, works at Yokosuka Naval Base just south of Tokyo.
One resident in a Yokosuka apartment complex reported that the building shook violently for more than two minutes on Friday.
For a couple of days following the tragic news, the Penberthys tried in vain to get in touch with their daughter. Power was out, phones were not working. Finally, Tasha was able to get a message home via Skype to let her family know she was unharmed.
The magnitude 9.0 quake offshore created a 23-foot tsunami that roared over the coastline north of Tokyo, destroying cities and villages. By March 15, an estimated 10,000 people had died as a result of the event. Millions have been injured, or lost their homes or businesses.
Scientists have ranked the quake as the fourth largest since 1900.
“The energy radiated by this quake is nearly equal to one month's worth of energy consumption” in the United States, US Geological Survey Scientist Brian Atwater told The Associated Press.
Complicating the situation was a cold front, including snow, that swept across the island nation, leaving thousands of stranded people shivering in the outdoors.
In the days following the first quake and tsunami, aftershocks and additional quakes occurred. By Tuesday, March 15, dangerous levels of radiation leaking from a damaged nuclear plant caused the nation to order 140,000 people to seal themselves indoors. Four reactors were damaged in the quake. The Navy said very low levels of airborne radiation had been detected at the Yokosuka base. The base commander directed residents to remain indoors as a precaution.
Tasha Penberthy huddled in her apartment dressed in layers of clothing, with towels and blankets covering the edges of doorways and windows. Her backpack stood ready with her passport and essentials for immediate evacuation.
Penberthy is a Department of Defense contractor, who manages a Chili’s restaurant on the base. “She was at work when the quake hit,” reported her father. “She evacuated everyone out of the building when the quake struck about 2:40 pm. Then she went back in to shut everything down.”
From the relative safety of her apartment, Tasha has experienced a series of rolling tremblors since Friday. “She’s nervous,” said Russ. “She’s never been in an earthquake before and certainly never had to face nuclear danger. So, she’s concerned and scared.”
The Penberthys have been trying from here and from Japan to get Tasha out of the country, but it has proven almost impossible to get a flight out. Tickets are hard to get and have been increasing in cost daily.
Much to her parent’s relief, on Wednesday, March 16, Tasha was able to take the bullet train to Kyoto, about a hundred miles south of Tokyo. Early this week, her corporate boss transferred her to Okinawa where she will stay for awhile to see how things develop. “If things don’t get better, they will fly her to Korea to catch a plane home,” said her parents.
“Chris and I want to thank all of you so much for your concern and prayers for Tasha,” said Russ via email Monday.
The quake was caused when the Pacific tectonic plate slid under the North American plate. That shift moved Eastern Japan closer to North America by about 13 feet, say scientists. The quake also shifted the earth's axis by 6.5 inches, shortened the day by 1.6 microseconds, and sank Japan downward by about two feet.