Sister Yumiko Yoshiki lived near Minami-Kesennuma Station, a few hundred meters away from the sea wall on Kesennuma Port and 78 miles (127 km) from Sendai. When she felt the tremor, she initially thought it would subside quickly. However, the shaking gradually strengthened, and things began to fall from above.
Sister Yoshiki, whose legs are in poor condition, slowly got up and held on to the porch railing as she waited for the shaking to calm. It kept going, though, and the tsunami warning began to sound while the earthquake continued. Sister Yoshiki quickly gathered important documents, cash, and other essentials, and left in her car about five minutes after the earthquake began.
She and her daughter, who drove a separate car, headed for the Kesennuma Municipal Meeting Hall, located close by on higher ground. Sister Yoshiki drove ahead, looking back to make sure her daughter was still there, but eventually lost sight of her. Panicked, she stopped her car on the side of the road and waited for her daughter to come, but she did not appear.
Just as she began to consider going back, she said she remembered the story of Lot’s wife from Genesis: “…look not behind thee, neither stay thou in all the plain; escape to the mountain…” (Genesis 19:17). Believing that her daughter would be okay, she proceeded ahead again.
Thinking that the main roads would be congested, she took back streets, but they began to be crowded as well. The car inched ahead, but to her joy she was able to reach the meeting hall safely. When she e-mailed her daughter to find out where she was, she found that her daughter had arrived at Kesennuma Elementary School, near the meeting hall.
Her daughter had gone to pick up Sister Yoshiki’s husband, a ship engineer at the port, at his place of work. His mobile phone had sounded an emergency earthquake warning as he was doing repairs in the engine room of a fishing boat. He immediately went up to the deck in hopes of getting to higher ground, but the violent shaking made it difficult to get onto the sea wall.
People living along the Sanriku Coast are accustomed to equating earthquakes with tsunamis. Mr. Yoshiki and his co-workers fled to higher ground. Thirty minutes after the earthquake, the massive tsunami hit Kesennuma. The ship fuel tanks on the sea wall were washed away, spewing fuel into the water, which then ignited. He watched from above as the town was washed away and the fuel lying on top of the sea burned.
Their home swept away, the Yoshiki family stayed in their ancestral home, which was near the meeting hall. With the city in a state of destruction, lifeline services were cut off, and it was all the family could do to find food for two or three days. Since there were no store supplies in the family home, they visited a member who lived on higher ground. That member supplied the family with some water and kerosene. Another day, they waited two or three hours in cold weather at a supply store to get a little food.
Feeling overwhelmed one day, Sister Yoshiki prayed to God for help, and specifically asked that President Yamazaki would come find them.
President Yamazaki had been visiting Church members in Kesennuma, and had received directions from several as to the Yoshiki family’s location.
“When [President Yamazaki] came to where I was, we couldn’t help but hug as he said, ‘Sister Yoshiki, you’re alive!’ as he cried tears of joy, then gave us supplies and went on to the next place,” Sister Yoshiki said. “I want to testify that if you really raise your voice and cry out to God, He will surely help you.”
Over the next while, Sister Yoshiki and her family were able to receive supplies—food, bedding, and electronics—from the meetinghouse in Ichinoseki.
“We were very grateful,” she said. “Honestly, I had always known the Church was headquartered in Salt Lake with millions of Saints far away from us, but I never knew it was a church that would act on such a large scale in this kind of situation.”