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From left, Mayor Hajime Nakama of Kin and Vice Mayor Akira Nakamatsu of Chatan, Marine Maj. Gen. Stephen Liszewski of Camp Butler, Mayor Masanori Matsugawa of Ginowan and Vice Mayor Chiemi Oshiro of Urasoe sign a disaster preparedness agreement at Camp Foster, Okinawa, Nov. 7, 2022.

From left, Mayor Hajime Nakama of Kin and Vice Mayor Akira Nakamatsu of Chatan, Marine Maj. Gen. Stephen Liszewski of Camp Butler, Mayor Masanori Matsugawa of Ginowan and Vice Mayor Chiemi Oshiro of Urasoe sign a disaster preparedness agreement at Camp Foster, Okinawa, Nov. 7, 2022. (Frank Andrews/Stars and Stripes)

CAMP FOSTER, Okinawa — The Marine Corps renewed agreements Monday with local mayors to provide a refuge to Okinawans fleeing a natural disaster, such as a tsunami of the force that wiped out portions of eastern Japan’s coast in 2011. 

The local implementation agreement allows four designated U.S. bases to open their gates to Okinawans seeking shelter or higher ground immediately before, during or after a natural disaster, according to a statement emailed Nov. 2 to Stars and Stripes by Marine Corps Installations Pacific.

“This agreement has initially been concluded between U.S. Marine Corps and our town in 2014 and re-signed in 2017,” Kin Town Mayor Hajime Nakama said at the signing ceremony at Camp Foster. “It was first implemented given our experiences from the Great East Japan Earthquake strike in March 2011. Precious lives and properties were lost instantly in the disaster and this agreement was concluded with the aim to enable people living in coastal areas to immediately evacuate to higher ground.”  

Maj. Gen. Stephen Liszewski, commander of Marine Corps Installations Pacific and the complex of Okinawa bases called Marine Corps Base Smedley D. Butler, hosted the signing ceremony.  “Disaster preparedness is a shared responsibility,” Liszewski said at the ceremony. “This is one of the lessons we took from the historic March 11, 2011, earthquake that resulted in a tsunami that really forever changed how we view our installations and our presence here in Japan.”  

Nearly 16,000 people died as a result of the earthquake and tsunami that struck the Tohoku region of Honshu, the largest of Japan’s four main islands.

Marine Corps installations on Okinawa can also be used as platforms for providing humanitarian assistance and emergency relief, he said.  

“You can be sure that the Marine Corps is ready to respond in the event of a natural disaster or other crises in the region. We are committed to maintaining a high degree of readiness now and into the future,” Liszewski said.  

Thirty-one U.S. military installations are scattered throughout Okinawa Island, accounting for 70% of all U.S. military installations in Japan and 8.1% of Okinawa’s total area, according to Okinawan government records online.  

The local implementation agreement allows residents from Ginowan city, Chatan town, Kin town and Urasoe city, which are adjacent Marine Corps bases Camp Foster, Camp Hansen and Camp Kinser, to access the bases’ higher ground in the event of a natural disaster.  

“The Marine bases are located in high areas, meaning you can run onto it when a tsunami happens,” Chatan Vice Mayor Akira Nakamatsu said to Stars and Stripes at the ceremony.   

Liszewski, Nakama and Nakamatsu joined Mayor Masanori Matsugawa of Ginowan and Vice Mayor Chiemi Oshiro of Urasoe for the ceremony. The agreements also spell out procedures for evacuating Okinawans through the Marine bases closest to their communities.

The local implementation agreements last five years and can be reaffirmed in 2027, LaDonna Davis, a spokeswoman for Marine Corps Installations Pacific, told Stars and Stripes on Saturday. 

“It is difficult for us to sign an agreement to deal with that level of disaster,” Matsugawa told Stars and Stripes, “but if a man-made disaster occurs we would like to cooperate with U.S. bases.”  

Stars and Stripes reporter Keishi Koja contributed to this report. andrews.lynn@stripes.com   

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Frank Andrews is a reporter at Camp Foster, Okinawa. He’s an alumnus of the Defense Information School and University of Maryland University College. His previous Navy assignments have taken him to Iraq, Bahrain, Diego Garcia, Japan, South Korea and Naval Special Warfare Command in California.

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