Japan evcacuees come to Oak Harbor

Tomomi Feldhues, right, with her husband, Navy Lt. Mike Feldhues, and their son, Hunter. Tomomi and Hunter are staying with friends in Oak Harbor following their voluntary evacuation from Japan. photo courtesy of Tomomi Feldhues

A life-long resident of Japan, Tomomi Feldhues has experienced many earthquakes.

But the quake that struck the island nation on March 11 was starkly different.

Although it did not seem as intense as previous quakes she had been through, this one seemed to last much longer.

“The shaking just seemed to go on and on,” said Feldhues, wife of Navy Lt. Mike Feldhues and mother of a 2-year-old boy.

The aftermath was different, too. The base commissary at Naval Air Facility Atsugi ran out of rice, meat, noodles and disposable diapers early on. Bottled water disappeared almost immediately.

Then came the rolling blackouts, followed by a run on batteries, flashlights and kerosene heaters.

“Off base, we waited anywhere from half an hour to 45 minutes just to enter the stores,” Feldhues said.

The continuing aftershocks took a toll on her peace of mind.

“Whenever my son, Hunter, bumped into the bed, I would think, ‘It’s happening again,’” she said.
The constant replay on Japanese media of images from the tsunami didn’t help.

“I couldn’t sleep, had nightmares whenever I could sleep, and began to lose weight,” she said.

Even when others began to talk of evacuating, she held out. Feldhues’s husband is a sailor attached to VAQ-136 on NAF Atsugi.

Her parents live in Tokyo, along with a brother and his wife.

“I didn’t want to leave my family and friends behind,” she said. “What kind of person would I be if I did that?”

Finally convinced to go
It was  her parents who finally convinced her to leave by reminding her she has a child to look after.

Fears of radiation contamination from the damaged nuclear reactors drove her decision to leave Japan on March 22.

That was when she placed a telephone call to Joann Hoover, of Oak Harbor.

“When I learned that we were going to the West Coast, I called Joann immediately,” Feldhues said. “Her response, right away, was, ‘absolutely, of course you can stay with us.’”

Feldhues first met Joann and Mike Hoover about 10 years ago, when their nephew was stationed in Japan.
The Hoovers’ nephew ended up marrying one of Feldhues’ friends and one result has been a lasting friendship with Joann and Mike, a retired Navy Chief.

She appreciates the offer to stay with the Hoovers more than her words can express.

“I don’t know how to thank her enough,” she said.

Family glad to help
Joann Hoover says it’s something they are glad to do for anyone, much more so for someone they consider a longtime friend.

“We consider ourselves fortunate to have a home, and we’re glad to welcome anyone at our table,” said Hoover.

She explained that in the past, they have housed people during snowstorms and personal emergencies.

At first, Feldhues said she was a little unnerved when she saw all the water that surrounds Whidbey Island. She now stays busy caring for her son and communicating with family members in Japan.

She also takes exercise classes at a local fitness center to keep in shape and help with stress. In Japan, she teaches swimming and kickboxing lessons to students who email her regularly to ask when she’ll return. That’s a question she can’t answer.

“I really miss my family and friends there in Japan,” she said. “Whenever it’s safe to return, I will.

“When I talk with my parents,  and brother, it seems like things are getting better there every day, but they’re somewhat concerned with what may happen after the next big rainfall,” she said, referring to the possibility of radioactive fallout in water droplets.

Whenever Feldhues thinks about the events of the past month, she can’t help but remember something said by survivors of the 1995 Kobe, Japan earthquake, who had to deal with broken glass and debris in the aftermath of that quake.

“They always said, make sure you keep your shoes next to your bed,” said Feldhues, explaining this goes against the Japanese custom of removing one’s shoes and leaving them by the door. “Leave your wallet, leave your jacket, but make sure your shoes are handy.”