In his first address at the April 2011 general conference, President Monson mentioned the great east Japan earthquake. “Members are delivering aid via scooters provided by the Church to areas that are difficult to reach by car,” he said. This aid by scooters began with a single e-mail sent from Ichinoseki City, Iwate Prefecture.
The Ichinoseki Branch, located 60 miles (96 km) from Sendai, spreads across a wide area of land. Amid the power outages, lost water service, and extreme scarcity of gasoline following the earthquake, branch president Koki Yamazaki resorted to using a fuel-efficient scooter to travel about confirming member safety.
On Sunday, March 13, President Yamazaki finished the sacrament meeting-only church service and set off toward Rikuzen-Takata, 43 miles (70 km) away, to look for Sister Okada, whose condition he had not yet been able to confirm. He used a hose to siphon a little gasoline from his car gas tank, which he happened to have filled up the day before the earthquake, into a plastic bottle, departing with the fuel in his backpack. He arrived in Rikuzen-Takata but was unable to get near Sister Okada’s house due to the great amount of debris.
“I couldn’t tell what had been where,” he said. “Everything was in a jumble. Seeing that, I felt that I had to do something for the affected people. However, I realized keenly that I couldn’t do anything for them without gasoline.”
He went around to every shelter in Rikuzen-Takata, finally finding Sister Okada’s name on a list at around 9:00 p.m. Though he was unable to see her due to the late hour, he felt some peace of mind at seeing her name, and determined to head home.
Then he noticed that the gas gauge on the scooter was at zero. He was sure there was no way to get home. With no other option, he poured gasoline from his small bottled supply and decided to go as far as he could. “The tank went from zero to full, to my astonishment,” he said. The tank had more than three liters of capacity.
As he traveled home, President Yamazaki said his thoughts centered on joy at knowing Sister Okada was safe, and on the story of Jesus Christ feeding the 5,000 with just five loaves of bread and two fishes (see Matthew 14:15–21).
Two days later President Yamazaki traveled through Kesennuma and Rikuzen-Takata, assessing members’ situations. As he prepared to travel home that night, he got a flat back tire. There were no other transportation options. Since the tire would get caught in the wheel, he borrowed tools from a nearby home and removed it altogether, traveling on the bare metal wheel alone. However, the spokes supporting the wheel began to come off, breaking entirely after 12 miles (20 km), just before a mountain pass summit.
Surrounded by thick darkness because of power outages, and with snow falling, he began pushing the bike. Three times President Yamazaki flagged cars down that then transported him short distances until he was dropped off in Ichinoseki.
Along with reports confirming member safety, President Yamazaki sent this e-mail at 1:19 a.m. on the morning of March 16, when electricity was finally restored:
“Our branch needs a large quantity of gasoline. We also need . . . fuel-efficient scooters,” it read. “As branch president, I traveled using a Super Cub loaded with fuel on March 13 (Sunday) and 15 (Tuesday) to Rikuzen-Takata and Kesennuma to contact members. However, the (borrowed) Super Cub broke down, and I now have no way of making contact with affected areas. Please help.”
When President Yamazaki brought a truckload of supplies to Rikuzen-Takata a few days later, he only passed about 20 cars in three hours along the way, probably due to the gasoline shortage. “It’s amazing that I was able to get back [that first night] by hitchhiking, especially at night,” he reflected. “But since that time, I constantly felt that I would be able to get home safely, that I had God’s protection.”