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Japan quake shakes local man
California coast hit with big waves
tsunami pic
Ross Gunther, a native of Riverbank who is an English teacher in Japan, was in a high rise in Tokyo when the earthquake hit on Thursday. - photo by Photo Contributed

A Central Valley man feels “good to be alive” today after witnessing firsthand the 8.9 magnitude earthquake that rocked Japan at 9:46 p.m. Pacific Standard Time on Thursday.

Ross Gunther, a native of Riverbank who has been teaching English in Japan for the past 18 months, was in a high rise in Tokyo when the building started shaking.

“It was like someone was playing a snare drum on the building; it was quite loud actually and the swaying was frightening,” Gunther said to the Journal via e-mail.

The scene Gunther described was one of fear-inducing mayhem.

Gunther said he ran outside for the second earthquake because the big buildings were moving so much he thought they were going to fall.

“People (on Thursday) were freaking out, crying, screaming,” he wrote.

Gunther said he has been without electricity since the earthquake, but the buildings in his immediate area seem to be structurally sound; however, it’s “just a waiting game now… not sure if another is coming,” he wrote.

Thursday’s earthquake was the biggest to hit Japan since record-keeping began in the late 1800s.

“It’s bigger than any known historic earthquake in Japan, and bigger than expectations for that,” Susan Hough, a seismologist with the United States Geological Survey told the Los Angeles Times, estimating that the quake was one of the 10 most powerful on record.

The initial quake was followed for hours by aftershocks. The U.S. Geological Survey said 124 were detected off Japan's main island of Honshu, 111 of them of magnitude 5.0 or greater. Minutes after the massive earthquake, a devastating tsunami hit northeastern Japan.

Japanese officials have confirmed at least 200 deaths, but hundreds more are missing and injured.

On top of the horrendous natural disasters, thousands of residents near a nuclear power plant were ordered to evacuate on Friday after the earthquake caused a problem in the plant's cooling system. The plant is in Onahama city, about 170 miles northeast of Tokyo.

During a press conference on Friday morning, President Barack Obama conveyed the nation’s deepest condolences to the victims of the disasters and their families and offered the Japanese whatever assistance is needed.

He went on to say the U.S. currently has an aircraft carrier in Japan, and another is on its way. The Defense Department is working to account for all military personnel in Japan. U.S. Embassy personnel in Tokyo moved to an offsite location, and the State Department is working to account for and assist any and all American citizens who are in the country.

“Today’s events remind us of just how fragile life can be. Our hearts go out to our friends in Japan and across the region and we’re going to stand with them as they recover and rebuild from this tragedy,” the president said.Local U.S.

Congressman Dennis Cardoza, who serves on the House Foreign Affairs Committee’s Subcommittee on Asia and the Pacific, also issued a statement of condolences.

“Our thoughts and prayers are with the people of Japan and southeast Asia who have been harmed by this tragic natural disaster,” Cardoza said.  “Many Japanese-Americans in the Central Valley have friends and family in Japan, and we hope they quickly receive word that their loved ones are safe.  As President Obama has promised, the United States stands ready to lend our assistance to the recovery efforts and prevent any more loss of life.” 

Americans in Japan who need help, or people seeking information about a loved one in Japan, can send an e-mail to, said the State Department. Americans outside Japan but in tsunami-affected areas who need help, or people seeking information about an American in affected areas outside Japan, can e-mail

A telephone information line also has been set up at 1-888-407-4747.When seeking information about Americans in Japan or other affected areas, people should provide the full name, birth date and location of the person, as well as any pre-existing medical conditions, and if they are elderly or a child.   

Tsunami warnings issued across the Pacific

Initial waves from the tsunami came ashore in Guam and other U.S. territories, in Alaska and Hawaii, as well as along the West Coast on Friday.

Governor Jerry Brown issued an emergency proclamation for Del Norte, Humboldt, San Mateo and Santa Cruz counties after the Japanese earthquake generated a water surge along the California coast, causing damage to ports, harbors and infrastructure.

Several sites in Oregon and California continued to record tsunamis in excess of 1 meter on Friday afternoon, reported the NOAA/NWS/West Coast and Alaska Tsunami Warning Center.

Sandra Siegel, a resident of Arcata, woke up to costal tsunami warnings on Friday. Her house and her school, Humboldt State University, are in the tsunami warning area of Arcata Bay. She still had to attend class, however, because HSU did not close. An official statement from the school said that tsunami waters would not reach the main campus and classes would continue as usual.

“I’m not worried at all because my house is actually out of the tsunami zone. But the Target where I work is closed for the day, it’s right in the tsunami zone,” Siegel said.

The Eureka Target, where Siegel works, is located on the Humboldt Bay and was closed by the fire department due to tsunami warnings. Tsunami awareness is nothing new to Siegel; there are tsunami warning signs all over Eureka and Arcata, and a daily test of the tsunami warning system sounds in Arcata every day at noon.

California State Parks along the entire coast of the state have been evacuated, along with a few coastal low lying areas including parts of Port San Luis, Avila Beach, Pismo Beach, Oceano, Cayucos and the community of Pajaro Dunes.

The Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) has commodities, such as water, meals, blankets and cots prepositioned in Hawaii, Guam, and the Bay Area of California should a request be made. As of Friday afternoon, FEMA reported there had been no requests for federal assistance from U.S. states or territories.

Andrea Goodwin and Alex Cantatore contributed to this report.

To contact Kristina Hacker, e-mail or call 634-9141 ext. 2004.