Saturday, March 12, 2011

Canadian confirmed dead in Japan disaster

Canadian confirmed dead in Japan disaster

Displaced vehicles are seen piled up at the port in Sendai, northeastern Japan, on Saturday following Friday's 8.9-magnitude quake and the tsunami it spawned.

At least one Canadian was killed during the 8.9-magnitude earthquake and ensuing tsunami that devastated Japan, the government confirmed Saturday.

Diane Ablonczy , the minister of state of Foreign Affairs, told CBC News the department has been in contact with the victim's family.

Neither the deceased's name nor hometown has been released.

The news comes as frustration grew on Saturday for Canadians trying to reach loved ones stranded there.

Joyce and John Hutton of Brampton, Ont., were holding out hope on Saturday that their son, Alex, was safe with his family in the northeastern city of Sendai, near to where the huge quake struck on Friday.

At least 763 people have died after the initial earthquake and the powerful tsunami it spawned, according to official figures. That number is expected to rise, with thousands more still unaccounted for.

"I called [Alex] early yesterday morning … and waited and waited and waited on the line, but eventually I had to just leave my name and my number and his name and so on and wait for a call back," Joyce Hutton told CBC News on Saturday. "So far, no call back."

Derek Cormier, an intern with the University of Manitoba, was working in Yokosuka, Japan, when he felt his building shake violently on Friday. Courtesy Derek Cormier

 Candle-lighting vigil in Vancouver

A friend in Japan had volunteered to travel to Sendai to search for her son, she said, "but now she knows she's not allowed to go in. The roads are all closed."

The inability to communicate has been the most frustrating part for the Huttons, who said Alex, an English teacher, has lived in Japan for 12 years and had started a family there.

Andrew Pateras, a Canadian photographer in Tokyo, said friends were frantically contacting him out of concern that damaged nuclear power plants in Japan would leak radiation.

"They're panic-stricken because there's a [potential] nuclear meltdown that could happen 250 kilometres away," he said.

Cheryl Porter, whose parents live in Niagara Falls, Ont., had better luck reaching her family from Tokyo, where she teaches.

"I had to wake up my mom at 3:30 a.m. when I called, but it was better than her turning on the TV and seeing it first before knowing we were OK," Porter said.

A candle-lighting ceremony is scheduled for Saturday night in Vancouver's English Bay, organized by Hokari Yasumoto, who moved to B.C. from Tokyo in 2007.

The 18-year-old student said the vigil is in remembrance of those who perished in the earthquake and tsunami, and was one of the few things she felt she could do to support her native country from Canada.

Derek Cormier, an intern from the University of Manitoba, was working on the ninth floor of a 10-storey building in Yokosuka, Kanagawa, when he felt the room sway. When it was safe, Cormier joined with the other Canadian interns.

"Someone had a live video feed from Sendai on his phone, and we couldn't believe the destruction. It showed a helicopter's view of the city covered in water. We listened to reports of damage on a radio," he said in a written account. "As it became dark, we could see from our window the gas explosions going on across the sea in Chiba. All electricity and cell phone communications were out."

Yuri Komuro, a Canadian working for an IT company in Tokyo, was on the 14th floor of an office building when the quake hit.

"I decided to try out the subway to get closer to home. I couldn't reach all the way home, but fortunately, I was able to make it to my husband's parents' home where I met up with my husband too. My hands were shaking, panicking," she wrote.

From Andrew Horvath, a Canadian living in Kyoto: "There were warnings immediately, telling people to stay away from coastlines and to seek higher ground or to go to the third or fourth floors of the buildings they were in," he said.

There was some good news for some families, as well.

The Kikuchi family in Toronto, who had spent hours Friday trying to contact their family in Oshu, Iwate prefecture, learned on Saturday the family is alive and safe.

Canada's Department of Foreign Affairs has issued a warning to Canadians both here and in Japan to avoid non-essential travel to Miyagi, Ibaraki, Iwate, Fukushima and Aomori prefectures in the country's northeast.

It is believed that 12,000 Canadians are living in Japan, 1,773 of whom are registered with the government, 13 of them in the affected area.