Japanese earthquake aftershocks reach Shelby County

By AMY JONES / Associate Editor

When Calera resident Britney Hope first saw the news of the 8.9-magnitude earthquake that struck off the coast of Japan March 11, all she could do was cry.

Her husband, Marine Staff Sgt. Joseph Sky Hope is stationed in Japan.

“I started crying. I was scared to death because I didn’t know where he was. His phone wasn’t working because all the phones were down,” Britney Hope said.

However, Britney Hope soon found out her husband was on a flight from Okinawa to Tokyo when flight attendants suddenly announced an emergency landing in Haneda, Japan was necessary.

“He was scared at first, because he didn’t know what was going on,” she said. “He didn’t know what to expect when he got there.”

Joseph Hope is now in Haneda, attempting to travel the 45 minutes to Tokyo to get a flight back to the United States.

“He said in the airport, there’s thousands of people stuck in there. He can’t even get a taxi to Tokyo because the traffic is so backed up,” Britney Hope said. “Right now, they’re not flying anything out of Tokyo. Right now, there’s 60,000 people stranded in Tokyo, just waiting to get on an airplane and get out of there.”

She said once her husband makes it back to the United States, he will go to Arizona for training and then, three weeks later, will travel back to Okinawa.

“I’m very thankful and glad that God took care of him in a time like this,” she said.

Melvin Milton, a 2009 University of Montevallo graduate who now attends graduate school at Hawaii Pacific University in Kaneohe, said a tsunami caused by the earthquake is expected to hit Hawaii at some point, but all he can do is wait.

“We just found out about it, and the school is saying to remain calm,” he said. “I live in Kaneohe, which is about 50 minutes away from Honolulu and about 30 minutes away from the Waikiki area. It’s actually on a mountain. We’re actually at the evacuation site, so we’re in a safe place.”

Milton, who spoke by phone at 6:30 a.m. Hawaii time, said there was no indication of bad weather.

“Where I live, it hasn’t been bad. Right now, there’s no rain. The birds are chirping right now outside my window,” he said. “At about 8 a.m., they’re saying to expect bad weather. Everything has been pretty peaceful.”

He said Hawaiian authorities have made citizens aware of evacuation zones and advised residents to move to higher ground.

“They’re telling us to go to the sixth floor or higher,” said Milton, who is a resident advisor at Hawaii Pacific. “We all kind of reassured everyone that we are in the safest place on this island right now. We won’t be affected.”

School has been canceled across Hawaii, and all flights have been canceled, Milton said.

Tamara Moriya, president of the Montevallo Sister City Commission, said she’s been attempting to contact colleagues, friends and family members in Japan since early this morning. She said she’s been concerned about the local sister cities as well as her in-laws who live in Tokyo who she’s been unable to reach.

“I’ve been trying to reach people in the sister cities of Birmingham, Montevallo and Tuscaloosa since 7 a.m. this morning,” she said. “I heard Birmingham’s sister city, Hitachi, was flattened like a pancake and partially swept out to the ocean. I’ve seen pictures of cars bunched up on the beach and along the coast.”

Hollie Cost, Montevallo City Council member, heard from the city’s Japanese sister city, Echizen Town, earlier today through Facebook, she said. Her contact said Echizen was fine and thanked Cost for her concern.

“My first thought was of our sister city, whether they were affected and whether their families were affected,” Cost said.

Though Echizen is approximately 450 miles from the most devastated areas, Moriya said she’s concerned about the long-term effect on the group.

“This could cause a big ripple effect that will have an impact for a long time to come,” she said.

Katie Hurst contributed to this report.