Victims of Japan’s earthquake were remembered in Spokane on Friday by speakers who said the tragedy is being felt on both sides of the Pacific Ocean.
A memorial service at Mukogawa Fort Wright Institute drew about 400 people. Many were there because of the 34-year sister city relationship between Spokane and Nishinomiya, a city in the middle of the devastation.
“To all our friends in the city of Nishinomiya, we send our condolences,” said Ed McWilliams, former chairman of the Spokane Area Chamber of Commerce who was involved in forming the sister city bond.
He said the enormity of the tragedy reminds people how interconnected the world has become. “The world really is a large village and the suffering in Nishinomiya affects all of us in that village,” McWilliams said.
More than 1,000 people were killed in Nishinomiya, including the city’s former mayor, Tatsuo Tatsuuma, who was instrumental in forging the sister-city ties with Spokane in 1961.
Nishinomiya, population 450,000, was Spokane’s first sister city. There are now four others.
At Friday’s ceremony were Japanese students of Mukogawa Institute, which is operating at the renovated former Fort Wright College in northwest Spokane.
The institute provides English language instruction for high-school-age girls of Mukogawa Women’s University, which is located just outside Nishinomiya. The main university was badly damaged in the quake.
Spokane City Councilman Joel Crosby said the Mukogawa presence in Spokane is a tangible example of the friendship between the two cities.
“Today is a sad occasion because our friends in Nishinomiya have suffered,” Crosby said. “We grieve for the dead, the injured and all of those who have been displaced.”
More than 11,000 homes were destroyed in Nishinomiya and 16,000 people are being housed in shelters.
More than 5,000 people died in the Osaka, Kobe and Nishinomiya areas.
Help has been coming from Spokane. Hugh Burleson, president of the Spokane-Nishinomiya Sister City Society, said a ton of medical supplies from Sacred Heart Medical Center is being flown to Japan and should arrive on Monday.
More than $11,000 has been collected through a relief fund at First Interstate Bank.
“This city has a lot of heroes and a lot of warm-hearted people,” Burleson said, referring to the donations.