Deal allows Japanese access to Marine base to flee natural disaster
Col. Katherine Estes, Camp Butler commander, and Masahau Noguni, mayor of Chatan, sign an official agreement on March 11, 2014, that lays out an evacuation route that would guide Okinawan residents through the base to the safety of higher ground in the event of a tsunami or other natural disaster.
CAMP FOSTER, Okinawa — Officials from the Marine Corps and Chatan city signed an agreement Tuesday that will allow the Japanese people access to Camp Foster in the event of a natural disaster.
The agreement finalizes the procedures Chatan and base officials will take should a tsunami or other natural disaster strike the island.
An initial agreement was signed Nov. 5, 2012, and the two sides have worked together since then to create a standard procedure and implement joint disaster training between the local Marines and Okinawans.
“[The agreement] represents a lot of work between the city of Chatan and Camp Foster over the past few years, and it contains in it promises of continued cooperation in the event of a tsunami or other such disaster,” said U.S. Marine Col. Katherine Estes, Camp Smedley D. Butler commander.
Estes, who signed a similar agreement with the city of Ginowan, began work to create the agreement following the 2011 earthquake and tsunami on mainland Japan.
The agreement signing also coincided with the three-year anniversary of the 2011 great east Japan earthquake. The participants held a moment of silence to honor the victims before signing the documents.
Chatan and Ginowan cities are both densely populated, high-risk areas for tsunamis.
Chatan Mayor Masahau Noguni said earthquakes and tsunamis are a significant local concern.
“The evacuation measures have been much improved here,” Noguni said. “Chatan will continue its preparations against natural disasters and never forget the memory of the great east Japan earthquake.”
Chatan also produced bilingual signs to post should a disaster strike, which would guide residents to the evacuation route through Camp Foster.
“Should a tsunami or similar event happen in Okinawa, the mission for the Marines would be different [than the aid after the great east Japan earthquake],” Estes said. “We would not be here to recover lost lives, like we did in 2011, but rather to save lives to prevent them from being lost in the first place.”