In the midst of the crisis in Japan and a natural disaster not foreign to Alaska, Kenai Peninsula Borough officials are collecting donations to send to emergency responders in its sister city of Akita.
Akita, about the size of Anchorage, is located on the northern side of Honshu, Japan's main island, on the west coast across from where the earthquake, and ensuing tsunami, engulfed sections of northeastern Japan.
Kenai Peninsula Borough Mayor Dave Carey said the borough would be sending funds over to Akita's fire department to aid in their rescue efforts. The borough has established a tax-exempt fund through Soldotna's Bridges for donations to assist Akita, Japan, and its tsunami relief work.
"Sending packages is not an option now because things are disrupted," he said. "We feel that by providing them funds, and every penny will go to their fire department, they know where they need help."
The Akita fire department sent their first team over to the eastside of Honshu last week to assist the efforts there helping the injured and recovering bodies, Carey said.
As of Friday, more than 7,300 have been confirmed dead with nearly 11,000 others missing in the March 11 disasters, according to The Associated Press.
Carey said he has been in touch with Akita city officials via email, to hear about the extent of the damage there, as well as determining the best way to help the country. Akita city itself received minor damage resulting from the earthquake, and no buildings fell, he said.
"When people are undergoing huge amounts of distress it's appropriate to show a huge amount of compassion," Carey said.
That compassion is what the Kenai Peninsula Borough wants to show to its sister city of Akita and its countrymen.
The borough has been sister cities with Akita for some 15 years. It's the borough's only sister city, a bond that was formed to learn about the culture and economy of Akita that has similar industries to the Central Peninsula.
Carey visited there last summer as part of a small delegation made up of borough employees and assembly members to visit Akita and attend a Hiroshima memorial.
"I was very impressed," he said about the country. "They talk about how orderly and how everyone helps each other. Very much I saw that the six days we were in Japan."
"We were treated very, very well everywhere that we went," he added.
The disasters in Japan also have Carey thinking about the borough's own emergency preparedness.
"It's something we all need to be thinking about," he said. "When I came in I was very aware of the need for making sure we have as high a level of emergency preparedness as possible."
He said every family should have emergency bags that will sustain them for 72 hours with food, blankets, flashlights and other supplies.
"My concern is I believe people think government will be there to take care of you," he said. "If there was a widespread disaster we could be alone by ourselves on the Peninsula."
He said during the 1964 earthquake the Peninsula was shut off from Anchorage.
"In a natural disaster one never knows what may happen," he said.
But Japan is a reminder of what could happen.
"We all share this lament together and I believe we here in the borough understand the pain and damage earthquakes and tsunamis cause. We've had both here," he said. "I would hope anyone who can would help with what is going on there."
People wishing to donate to the borough's Akita Earthquake Fund can bring donations to the borough building or mail to the Borough Mayor's Office, 144 Binkley St., Soldotna, Alaska 99669; or to Bridge Community Resource Network, Box 1612, Soldotna, Alaska 99669. Bridges is located in the Credit Union 1 Mall in Soldotna.
Brielle Schaeffer can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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