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Agreement grants Okinawans access to US bases during emergencies

CAMP FOSTER, Okinawa — Some Okinawa residents found out Monday that U.S. military bases on the island could be lifesavers.

The Marine Corps and Okinawa communities signed an agreement enabling local residents to gain access to two Marine installations, MCAS Futenma and Camp Foster, to evacuate to higher elevations should a major natural disaster occur like the March 11, 2011, earthquake and tsunami that devastated northern Japan.

The two sides have been discussing coordination and cooperation since then.

“Disaster preparedness is everyone’s responsibility,” Maj. Gen. Peter Talleri, commanding general of Marine Corps Base Camp Smedley D. Butler and deputy commander, Marine Corps Bases Japan, said during the signing ceremony at Camp Foster. “We strive to be contributing members of the local communities in which we live.”

He said the 9.0-magnitude earthquake changed forever how people view military installations and their future in Japan.

While Operation Tomodachi, a rescue and relief operation mounted by U.S. Forces in Japan after the disaster, was widely welcomed, acceptance of the military presence has been marred on Okinawa by two recent incidents involving servicemembers and the controversial deployment of MV-22 Ospreys, which many residents consider unsafe.

The agreement affects residents of Chatan and Ginowan, where large residential areas and shopping malls are concentrated along the waterfront. Mayors of both communities praised the agreement.

“How to make speedy evacuation to higher elevations for residents has been the biggest and urgent issue,” Ginowan Mayor Atsuhi Sakima said. “I am certain that the agreement made today will contribute to protect many lives from tsunami.”

About 60 residents, including children from local daycare centers, participated in a disaster drill at Camp Foster on Monday morning, entering from the base’s commissary gate.

“The March 11 disaster made me very nervous,” said Fumiko Arakaki, 73, who lives near the popular Araha Beach in Chatan after finishing her half-hour evacuation walk with her husband, Morishige. “Knowing that we have this evacuation route is a great assurance.”

sumidac@pstripes.osd.mil

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