Athlete goes missing in Japan quake

MIKE CLARKE | AFP
Debris strewn across a large area of land after the recent tsunami in Natori City, Miyagi prefecture, on March 11, 2011. A new explosion at a nuclear plant in nearby Fukushima hit punch-drunk Japan as it raced to avert a reactor meltdown after a quake-tsunami disaster that is feared to have killed about 10,000.

A Kenyan athlete is missing three days after a devastating tsunami triggered by a massive earthquake hit Japan.

Ms Dorcas Obare has not been seen or heard from after the tsunami swept through her Ibaraki base, according to Mr Stephen Mayaka, a Kenyan athletics coach living in Japan.

“It is hard to know her whereabouts because the area is completely cut off in terms of communication,” Mr Mayaka, who trains a number of Kenyan athletes, told Nation on phone.

However,  Foreign Affairs ministry said no Kenyan had been affected by the tsunami that ravaged the Asian country, killing thousands of people and leaving massive destruction in its wake.

“After the earthquake and tsunami, the Kenyan Embassy in Japan embarked on accounting for Kenyans in Japan, particularly in the most affected area, Tohuku region (North East part of Japan), of which Sendai is the capital. So far, there are no reports of causalities amongst Kenyans,” the ministry’s director of communications, Ms Judy Ngunia, said.

She added: “Professor Wakimoto of the United Nations Asia and Far East Institute for the Prevention of Crime and the Treatment of Offenders has confirmed that the 15 Kenyans who recently completed a course in Juvenile Delinquent Treatment System for Kenya, in Tokyo are safe,” the statement added.

The fifteen are drawn from the Office of the Vice-President, the Ministry of Gender, the Judiciary and the police.

“International air travel has been disrupted. However, arrangements are being made for them for them to fly back to Nairobi once international outbound flights resume most likely today, 14th March 2011,” she added.

Meanwhile, foreigners, fearing the possible risk of contamination as Japan confronts a post-quake nuclear emergency, begun a slow exodus from Tokyo.

Several European nations have advised their citizens to consider leaving the Japanese capital following two blasts at a quake-damaged atomic power plant 250km (155 miles) to the north, sparking fears of a possible meltdown.

France went further, telling citizens to leave the Tokyo area “for a few days” if they had no specific reason to stay and warning that if a reactor were to explode, radioactive steam could reach the city in a “matter of hours”.

In Nairobi, Athletics Kenya public relations officer Peter Angwenyi said Ms Obare comes from Nyaribari Masaba, Kisii County. He said she took part in the national athletics championship’s 10km women’s race at Nairobi’s Uhuru Gardens finishing in the top 20 last month.

“She is one of the emerging talents; she was here last month and represented Nyanza South in the race. I’m not sure whether she had returned to Japan after that,” Mr Angwenyi said.

Company sponsored teams

Kenya has the largest number of foreign athletes resident in Japan. Most of them are part of high school, college and company sponsored teams.

The Kenyan embassy in Tokyo has been trying to establish the safety of Kenyans. It posted an alert on its website asking all Kenyans to get in touch with it to confirm their safety.

“The embassy is advising all Kenyans in Japan to urgently get in touch with the embassy and update on their whereabouts and status,” the post read.

Japanese shipping lines have warned their agents in Kenya of major delays in shipments. The secretary of the Kenya Auto Bazaar Association, Mr Charles Munyori, advised Kenyans not to rush to import vehicles from Japan.

“The shipping lines have already issued notices saying the delays could take as long as two weeks,” Mr Munyori said.

The volume of cars imported to Kenya from Japan could also decline in the coming weeks.

“We normally import about 3,000 vehicles every month but I do not see us managing that figure in the present circumstances.” 

The Kenya Tourist Board said it was too early to establish whether any Japanese tourists coming to Kenya had been affected.

“Japan is one of our emerging markets. Last year alone, we had 10,866 tourists from Japan, but it is too early to ascertain if any tourists have cancelled their travel to Kenya as a result of the catastrophe,” the board’s acting public relations manager, Mr Kimutai Ng’eno, said.

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