Skip to content

UPDATED: Nelson’s message reaches Onagawa mayor

Initial contact has been made with the mayor of tsunami-stricken Onagawa, who says his “whole town lives in sadness.”
A message from Nelson mayor John Dooley

Initial contact has been made with the mayor of tsunami-stricken Onagawa, who says his “whole town lives in sadness.”

Nelson resident Namiko Jury contacted a radio station in nearby Ishimaki last week, and then forwarded some pictures and a message from Mayor John Dooley, which she translated.

It read: “Mayor Azumi, I want you to know the people of Nelson, Canada have you and your people in our prayers and in our hearts and minds. We intend to be there to help where we can. Please let us know how we can contact you.”

Staff at the radio station said it “warmed their hearts and they are sure it will make people in Onagawa feel better,” Jury explained. They broadcast the message, printed it out, and passed it on to an executive with a major company in Onagawa. He in turn presented it to mayor Nobutaka Azumi.

“Mr. Takahashi who delivered it to him for us said mayor Azumi nodded with [a] big smile,” Jury related.

Azumi has since appointed a Mr. Doi as a go-between with Nelson, and sent a message in which he said the tsunami caused more damage “than one could have ever imagined. Lots of our people have lost their families and the whole town lives in sadness.”

Most of the town is destroyed, and there is no electricity, water, or communication, Azumi wrote. They have been relying on satellites for phone and Internet service.

The schools and gyms are being used as shelters, and citizes “are having a tough time.”

Onagawa City Hall was destroyed, so an emergency response team is working from an elementary school on a hillside above the town.

“We’ve received lots of support from people within and outside of Japan,” Azumi said. “The citizens of Onagawa have rallied together as one to help rebuild the town, but we know the road ahead will be long and difficult.

“We have heard that the mayor and citizens of Nelson have been supporting and fundraising on our behalf. From the students who have visited Nelson, and from all the people of our town, we are most thankful … I have the utmost gratitude for the kindness of the people of Nelson.”

Jury also received a reply from a person working in Miyagi prefecture who appreciated Nelson’s message and efforts, and said mayor Azumi is busy caring for victims.

Also, NHK TV in Sendai is interested in interviewing Nelson resident John Craig, who is headed to Japan this week to act as a relief interpreter, and is determined to reach Onagawa and present a book filled with messages of hope.

Craig, a self-styled “Japanthropologist,” is something of a media celebrity in Japan, where he has lived most of his life.

However, he says “On this journey I am simply a Nelsonite going to Onagawa to deliver a message, a flag, and hopefully support an ongoing effort to connect Nelson and Onagawa for rebuilding.”

NHK also suggested that they may broadcast video of fundraising events in Nelson or messages from past host families.

More than 5,000 people are missing from Onagawa following this month’s deadly earthquake and tsunami.

However, all the children who visited Nelson last October are safe, according to two sources. They were in school when the tsunami hit, devastating the coastal town.

Onagawa is where Lt. Robert Hampton Gray of Nelson died at the end of World War II. He was posthumously awarded the Victoria Cross. In 1989, the citizens of Onagawa erected a monument in Gray’s honour, and they have sent several student delegations to Nelson over the past eight years.