Welcome, friends from Tsuruta.
On Friday, a group of students and adults arrived in Hood River for a week, the latest visit in the Hood River-Tsuruta Sister City Program, which will celebrate its 35th anniversary in 2012.
The Japanese visitors will stay with local host families and get to know the community while also enjoying attractions in the Hood River Valley and the Gorge.
The joy that always accompanies a visit by our friends from Tsuruta is this time leavened by sadness in light of the devastation of the 8.9 earthquake that hit the northern Japan island of Honshu, where Tsuruta is located.
The Tsuruta contingent flew out of Tokyo before the quake and tsunami hit, but Narita airport has been closed indefinitely.
Tsuruta itself reportedly escaped major damage, but the epicenter of the quake is just off the east coast of Japan near Sendai, only about 120 miles from Tsuruta. That is roughly the same distance as Hood River to Seaside, where residents are under tsunami alert and bracing for waves of seven feet or larger.
The airport at Sendai is inundated by mud and debris, just as many locations in Japan are flooded by water, mud and debris. Fires have erupted, a nuclear power plant is reportedly damaged, and roads, bridges and freeways, buildings, cars and trains have been swept away.
Just as we would feel for our north Oregon coast neighbors if disaster struck there, our Japanese friends are doubtless feeling grave concern for the plight of their countrymen.
U.S. Sen. Jeff Merkley put it in a statement released Friday morning:
"As we learn more about the damage caused by the earthquake and tsunami in Japan, my thoughts and prayers are with the families of those who lost their lives or were injured early this morning."
Merkley went on to urge Oregonians "to continue to follow safety procedures and take care as they deal with any surges that reach the Oregon coast."
The most comprehensive on-line resource for emergency preparedness is the American Red Cross website, www.oregonredcross.org.