Catholic News Service photos
A man cries next to his destroyed house where his dead mother is buried in the rubble in Onagawa, Japan, March 17.
Catholic News Service photos
A man cries next to his destroyed house where his dead mother is buried in the rubble in Onagawa, Japan, March 17.


Junko Ito, a reporter for the Tokyo-based Catholic Weekly, filed this first-person report.

TOKYO — March 11, when we had the earthquake, I was in Nasu, Tochigi prefecture, which is in an inland area of northeastern Japan. It is 100 miles away from the area that was seriously damaged by the tsunami and earthquake.

I asked for a bed at a convent, the Congregation of Sisters of Bethany, and stayed there for three days because train service was postponed and there was no public transportation. Window glass was broken, TV sets had fallen down, books and broken dishes were scattered all over the place. Electricity and gas supplies were cut off.

It was very cold at night; we even had a light snow. Sisters were moving around with flashlights, saying "I'm freezing!" The aftershocks continued all night and the following days, too.

The next morning, the Sisters went to the support facility for handicapped people, where they work. Members of the staff prepared and delivered emergency food. A sister said she found it difficult to take care of some of the handicapped because they were so confused with the unusual situation.

One sister drove to the neighbor's to check the damage. Most of the gas stations were closed, and people were anxious about how much gas remained.

The third day, March 13 was Sunday. People — about 30, the usual number—  got together at the Nasu church for Mass. The chapel was not so damaged.

A contribution box for the most damaged area was set at the entrance. Two young men will be baptized at Easter so, during the Mass, people prayed for victims and the young men. They shared their experience about the earthquake and encouraged each other, too.

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The earthquake sent tsunami waves around the Pacific Rim. Docks and ships in Brookings were roughed up, but no serious damage has been reported from Oregon coast Catholic churches. In Oregon, the waves were highest in the southern part of the state.

In Brookings, Star of the Sea Church is a designated Red Cross Emergency Center, so more than 60 evacuees from low-lying wandered up to take refuge at the church when the warning sirens began sounding at 4 a.m.

Father Luan Nguyen served coffee and juice, and then evacuees were sent over to Trinity Lutheran Church's free soup kitchen for lunch.

Denise Nash, the parish's secretary and bookkeeper for 20 years, said police had roads blocked near the shore, including the street to her house. She said she had just come from Highway 101, where she could see that the ocean was choppy and the waterline along the Chetco River was higher than usual.

Brookings fielded better than its neighbor to the south, Crescent City, where four people were washed out to sea - three injured and one feared dead. Local residents report that three dozen boats were damaged in the harbor after tidal surges destroyed most of the docks.

A couple swimming between Brookings and Gold Beach were swept out to sea, but quickly rescued, according to the Pistol River Fire Department.

Port Orford experienced higher-than-normal tidal surges, but reports from St. John Parish there are that everyone is OK, said Father Michael Patrick, pastor of Holy Trinity in Bandon. St. John is their mission church.

"Here the sun is shining, the sea is glittering and people are just going about their duties," Father Patrick said. Holy Trinity did cancel Mass for the day.

Schools in North Bend and Bandon were closed due to an inservice day, but Coos Bay schools were cancelled.

Holy Redeemer Church in North Bend is an evacuation site because it sits on a hill. Approximately 20 people showed up at 5 a.m., when the parish opened its doors. Bobbi Wilson and other parish staff helped serve breakfast - pancakes, eggs and coffee, for evacuees. The all-clear was given at 11:30 a.m.

In Coos Bay, most people waited at home later than usual to be sure the water had calmed before they departed for work, said Sally Krajcir, parish coordinator at St. Monica Church there.

"I think some folks were curious and drove down by the beach, but most people were cautious and stuck close to home during the early morning hours," she said.

Waldport and Florence parishes reported that there were no problems. St. Anthony Church chose not to cancel Mass, and St. Mary Our Lady of the Dunes Church was also back to business as usual.

Cities on the north Oregon coast saw little if any effect, but eerie sirens did wake many people in the wee hours and reverse 9-1-1 calls advised residents to flee uphill. Some heeded.  

"A few parishioners went to stay in other parishioners' homes on higher ground," says Father Jerry Quintal, administrator of St. Joseph Church in Cloverdale, which serves the beachfront towns of Neskowin and Pacific City. "They didn't know how wild the ocean would get."

Father Quintal stayed in phone contact with parishioners who live near the Pacific to make sure everyone was alright.

The expected arrival of earthquake-caused waves coincided with low tide. Coast residents say that might have spared them.

At small St. Peter the Fisherman Church in Arch Cape, Vera Korchinski, usually a sound sleeper, awoke to a mournful siren at 6:30 a.m. She's the wife of Deacon Vern Korchinski, who serves in the area.

Vera Korchinski says she decided to stay put, since her house near the church is on relatively high ground, 40 to 50 feet above the beach. St. Peter was opened early so that people who lived at sea level could come up and take shelter. Many did, but returned home after a few hours when it became clear that the tsunami's force had gone south.

At Lincoln City, Deacon Bill Ennis and wife Brenda, who is the church secretary, decided that if water came up, they could invite people to their home high on a hill. Some members of St. Augustine Parish and employees at the Ennis' business did decide to evacuate in the early morning, but the waters did not rise. The church held its mid-day Communion service as usual.

In Astoria, at the mouth of the Columbia River, waters did not surge.

But some parishioners who live below the flood plain came to Star of the Sea Church at 4 a.m. and woke Father Ken Sampson. They asked if they could spend the rest of the night praying in the church. He welcomed them.

Star of the Sea School delayed classes for two hours because of uncertainty. Tom Rogozinski, the principal, lives on the Columbia about five miles inland and says he later watched and noticed no effect on the river. School familes from Warrenton, which is close to the beach, say they saw no effect of the tsunami.  

Just south in Seaside, the town was evacuated and closed off in preparation for waves that never came. Morning Mass at Our Lady of Victory Church was canceled and the secretary headed to Portland. But Father Nicholas Nilema asked volunteer Bernice Cade to come answer phones. Cade said she had earlier received a call at home from authorities urging her to leave, but she felt protected because she is on relatively high ground. She heard news that gas stations were uncommonly busy early in the day as people prepared to depart.

In Tillamook, there was Mass as usual at Sacred Heart Church. Robin Reddish, office manager, reports that sirens did go off in town, but that few people left. Tillamook schools opened as usual.

At Newport, where there is no siren system, "we slept like babies," says Janet DeSau, secretary at Sacred Heart Parish. A mobile siren did roll through town later. Sacred Heart is in an area that signs call a tsunami safe zone — there is blue tape on signs, as opposed to red tape in lower areas.

"We heard the waves might be two feet," says DeSau. "Well, the beach wall would have taken care of that."

Ed Langlois and Clarice Keating of the Catholic Sentinel contributed to this report.