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Okinawa Seabees experience 6.6 earthquake, begin barracks construction

Seabees with Naval Mobile Construction Battalion 1 were preparing for morning physical training Monday when a magnitude 6.6 earthquake shook the island of Okinawa, Japan — and Camp Shields — during the early hours.

"I have never experienced an earthquake before," said 3rd Class Nancy Vergara of St. Paul, Minn., said. "At first, I didn't even know what it was, but I noticed it after the second wave of stronger tremors came through after a brief pause from the initial onset."

NMCB 1 public affairs officer Kim Martinez said the epicenter of the quake was located 60 miles north of Camp Shields in the Ryukyu Islands. She said earthquakes are somewhat common in Japan, which experiences them throughout the year. She said they can also generate tsunamis, but one was not generated because the quake was located too deep within the earth.

Martinez said that because there's no way to predict when and where an earthquake might hit, Seabees must be prepared to take action at all times.

"Every deployment site has to be ready to respond to events specific to their geographic area," NMCB 1 Executive Officer Lt. Cmdr. Bob Stiles. "In Okinawa, we deliberately prepare for potential natural disasters like earthquakes, tsunamis and typhoons.

"In addition to sharing information from emergency action guides to prepare our Seabees and keep them safe, we develop written plans to define procedures and assign responsibilities in case we need to react."

Building barracks

Martinez said Naval Facilities Engineering Command, Army Corps of Engineers, Commander, Fleet Activities Okinawa and the 30th Naval Construction Regiment started a barracks project at Camp Shields Feb. 28.

She said the new facility will house officers whose battalions are deployed to Camp Shields, distinguished visitors and some officers stationed in Okinawa. The previous officer barracks dated back to the 1950s, and although they have undergone many renovations, the wear and tear made the demolition necessary.

"The quality of life in the barracks for the officers has been pretty low for years based on the condition of the building," said Master Chief John Cunningham. "There are not a lot of new buildings on this base, so it is pretty substantial to have a MILCON (military construction) project like this here at Camp Shields."

Martinez said Okinawa-based Nippo Corporation is hired to complete the facility with a December 2014 deadline.

"Nippo is a very good contracting company who will work with the Army Corps of Engineers on the project," said Master Chief Benno Lederer, 30th NCR Detachment Okinawa camp officer-in-charge. "Not only has this partnership helped the local economy, but it helps build the bond between the U.S. military and the Japenese contractors and helps build on our partnership here."

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