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From the Temple to Transporting Relief

Temple Transporting

Shortly after the March 11 earthquake in Japan, temple patrons found temporary shelter in temple housing.

The 2:30 p.m. session had just begun at the Tokyo Temple. Inside the endowment room, Toshie Sasaki, Relief Society president in the Miyako Branch of the Morioka District, felt strong, lengthy tremors. The earthquake had originated 231 miles (373 km) northeast of Tokyo.

The ordinance was stopped, and the patrons were instructed to take refuge near the walls. When the initial shaking subsided, they were guided out of the room. The Temple presidency confirmed the patrons’ safety before restarting the session, only to have to stop it again as a strong aftershock hit. Temple president Toru Hotta explained the situation. The epicenter had been under the sea off Miyagi Prefecture. A frightened discussion arose—if the earthquake was that strong in Tokyo, how bad would it be in Tohoku?

Patrons were instructed not to go under chandeliers or other items which might fall, but the session continued amid great caution as those present felt numerous aftershocks. All transportation options to Tohoku, including the Shinkansen (bullet train), were shut down that day, and Sister Sasaki would be stuck in Tokyo for the next week.

On March 19, Sister Sasaki finally arrived back in Miyako, 170 miles (275 km) from Sendai, after flying to the Akita airport and traveling through Morioka. As she arrived, the first load of Church emergency relief supplies arrived from Kanazawa, packed into a two-ton (1,800 kg) truck. From Morioka, Sister Sasaki guided the truck using her own car as they headed for the Miyako Branch. “It was such a help that the Church members responded so quickly, especially the Kanazawa stake, which was first to arrive,” she said. “We were amazed as the second truck arrived just a day after the first.” The truck was packed with food, drinks, clothing, toilet paper, and more.

A few days later, bedding, heating fuel, and diesel fuel began to arrive. These supplies were given not just to the Miyako Branch members, but also distributed to care centers, evacuation shelters, and to the general public through relief supply stations run by cooperatives. The Miyako Branch church building, which had been miraculously spared in the disaster, was widely utilized as a supply depot and volunteer center in the ensuing weeks. The message of support sent from Kanazawa along with the supplies is now posted in the front window of the Miyako Branch as a gesture of gratitude.