Tsunami-ravaged Onagawa gets 'unbelievable' boost from Steveston

Sunday's fundraising walk in support of earthquake victims in Japan raised $75,000.
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It was 2:40 p.m. in Onagawa when Michael Luzia felt the earth move. He was in the staff room of a small school in the Japanese fishing village that was about to be flattened by a tsunami.

As the earth rumbled, Luzia, 27, ran to his students to bring them outside. Cracks opened in the ground. Once the shaking stopped, snow began to fall and aftershocks continued. He couldn't see what was unfolding beyond the property of the school, which is located on a hill and surrounded by trees.

Forty minutes later, a truck with some of the town's residents arrived at the school to break the news: a tsunami had arrived at a height of 10 storeys and destroyed the town.

Community leaders in Steveston have now adopted Onagawa. On Sunday, an estimated 7,000 people participated in a fundraising walk—and together with cash still being collected at the Steveston Community Centre—$80,000 has been raised, according to organizers at the Steveston Rotary Club.

"I thought if we could raise $10,000, we would have done very very well. This outpouring overwhelmed all of us," said Coun. Bill McNulty, a club member, who added people came from a variety of communities to support the cause.

Jim Kojima of the Steveston Community Centre, called the donations "unbelievable."

"People will step to the plate in Steveston if there's a worthy cause. A lot of people in Steveston have a good relationship with Japanese over the many, many years," he said.

Kojima said officials in Wakayama, Richmond's sister city, helped organizers select Onagawa as the beneficiary. Sister city contacts will work to identify the village's rebuilding priorities, so one can be adopted by Steveston.

"Once we've got that, we're planning to make a trip over to Japan to personally (deliver) the money," said Kojima.

Meanwhile, Michael Luzia's mother, Sue Luzia of Abbotsford, said her son is safe, but his apartment—along with most of Onagawa—was destroyed. She said he is now arranging passage back to Canada.

"He's just heartbroken. He loved that town and the people. He loved living in Japan," she said in a telephone interview.

An estimated 5,700 are presumed dead in Onagawa—about half the village's population.

Michael is now determined to help raise funds here to help the Japanese rebuild his home for three years.

"He wants to come home and visit his mom, and he wants to fundraise," said Sue. "He wants to help rebuild hit town—he wants to help his kids that he teaches there."

During a visit last year, Sue noted fishing was key to Onagawa's economy. Much of the population were fishermen and cannery workers.

"You look out into the ocean and all you see is miles and miles and miles of fishing nets," she said. "It's so in their culture, and I think for would just remind me of what their village was like not that long ago."

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