Tsuchiura was spared the devastating effects of the tsunami that ravaged several Japanese towns, but Palo Alto's sister city continues to cope with damage from the earthquake, electrical outages and the possibility of a forced evacuation.
The Palo Alto City Council was preparing to welcome 16 students from Tsuchuira, a city in Japan's Ibaraki Prefecture, with a special proclamation tonight (March 14), an annual tradition. Though the council still plans to recognize the exchange program, the students canceled their trip because of the 8.9-magnitude earthquake that destroyed parts of Japan on Friday, unleashing a tsunami, a series of sizeable aftershocks and threats of meltdowns at several nuclear reactors.
Keiko Nikajima, coordinator of the exchange program, wrote in an e-mail to host families Friday that the students from the program were not harmed in last week's disasters but that "water and electricity has been cut off to some areas of the city."
Nakajima, a Japanese teacher at JLS and Jordan middle schools, also notified Palo Alto's host families that the students won't be coming for their scheduled visit.
"Their situation is very uncertain and some damage has occurred in Tsuchiura City which is very near the epicenter of one of yesterday's tremors," Nakajima wrote. "The students are OK, but water and electricity has been cut off to some areas of the city.
"Your continued thoughts and prayers for the students and for the people of Japan are deeply appreciated."
One participant in the exchange program, Mickey Tsutsui, wrote in an e-mail that while he and his family are fine, the city is facing major earthquake damage. Tsutsui called the earthquake and its aftermath "the worst disaster we have ever had." Though the tsunami didn't reach Tsuchiura, the city suffered earthquake damage and power outages, Tsutsui wrote.
"In our hometown, there is no impact of the tsunami, but we have the roof and building collapse," he wrote.
He also wrote that residents will be forced to evacuate because of an explosion in the nuclear plant in the Fukushima prefecture, just north of Tsuchiura.
"Please pray for us, God be with us," he wrote at the end of the e-mail.
Palo Alto began its middle-school exchange program in 1995 when it partnered with Niihari Village, a Japanese town that merged with Tsuchiura City in 2006.