An 80-year-old artist in a small coastal community in California has completed a mural commemorating his city's relationship with its sister city in Japan that was devastated by an earthquake and tsunami in 2011.
The mural will be unveiled on April 14 at the Kamome Festival in Crescent City. The festival celebrates the 10th anniversary of the discovery of a small barnacle-filled boat that washed ashore over two years after the disasters on the other side of the Pacific.
The mural depicts high waves from the Great Eastern Japan Earthquake and the boat named the Kamome which helped forge the relationship with Rikuzentakata, Iwate Prefecture.
The creator of the mural, Harley Munger, has been living in Crescent City since he was 6 years old. When Munger was a child, he would go down to Crescent City's beach to search for "ukidama," or old Japanese floats used for fishing.
"We've always had a connection because the current always had a connection," Munger says. The tsunami triggered by a magnitude 9.0 earthquake reached the Californian city damaging piers and sinking dozens of boats.
Munger feels a personal connection with the 2011 tsunami in Japan.
While making the mural, Munger decided to create an identical one to send to Rikuzentakata. He hopes the murals will be "another symbol of friendship between the cities."
On March 11, 2011, a wide area of northeastern and eastern Japan was devastated and over 15,000 people died. In Rikuzentakata, over 1,500 lost their lives.
Two years later, the Kamome, a boat from Takata High School, washed up on Crescent City's South Beach. Students at Del Norte High School in the city took it upon themselves to clean the boat and help return it to its rightful owners, the marine science department of the Japanese school.
This gesture created a lasting bond between the two communities. Del Norte and Takata became sister schools in 2014 and Crescent City, along with Del Norte County, established a sister-city relationship with Rikuzentakata in 2018.
Bill Steven, 57, had the idea for his son and friends to clean and send Kamome back to Japan. He said another reason for the great relationship between the sister cities is the "many similarities," one of which is their shared history of tsunamis.
On March 28, 1964, in the early morning hours, what the University of Southern California Tsunami Research Center called the "largest and most destructive tsunami to ever strike the United States Pacific Coast" hit Crescent City.
Sybil Wakefield, 97, thought the commotion outside was just kids walking home from the movie theater. Like many residents, she did not fully realize what was happening, but what she saw the next morning was hard to forget. "It looked like the library had moved and cars were piled everywhere," she said.
The tsunami flooded their basement and destroyed the boiler, leaving her family without warm water for months.
Nearly 300 buildings were destroyed or had to be torn down because of the damage they sustained, devastating downtown Crescent City. But the worst damage was the 11 lives lost that day.
Memories of the 1964 tsunami have waned in Crescent City. But the story of the Kamome and the relationship with Rikuzentakata "reminds us of things we need to prepare for...(it) helps keep the awareness alive," Steven said.
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