Todd Wilkes returns from Japan to his parents

Todd Wilkes returns from Japan to his parents

Family finds safe haven from turmoil in Japan

As passengers filed into the arrivals lobby at Vancouver International Airport Friday, Lesleigh Dick and Paul Wilkes scanned the crowd with eager anticipation.



As passengers filed into the arrivals lobby at Vancouver International Airport Friday, Lesleigh Dick and Paul Wilkes scanned the crowd with eager anticipation.

Like many others have done in the past week, the South Surrey woman and White Rock man were there to greet loved ones – including a grandson Paul has never met – who are fleeing Japan in the wake of last week’s devastating 9.0-magnitude earthquake and subsequent tsunami.

“Oh my God, they’re here!” Lesleigh exclaimed suddenly, jumping up to run and hug the weary trio – her son, Todd, his wife, Tomo and grandson, Ocean.

The moment was one of immense relief for Paul and Lesleigh, whose concerns over their family’s well-being had grown exponentially since the March 11 disaster, particularly given news this morning (March 18) that one of three nuclear reactors damaged in the quake had partially melted down, releasing radiation that was measured past Tokyo – more than 220 kilometres from the plants.

“We’re so worried about them,” Paul had told Peace Arch News Thursday, before learning the family had managed to board the plane in Osaka. “We’re hoping that he’s in Osaka… and that he’ll be on the plane in the next eight to 12 hours.”

Friday afternoon, Paul met his grandson for the first time.

At the airport, Todd – who grew up in Langley and moved to Japan 11 years ago – said he and Tomo began making plans to leave their rural home town of Toyohashi – located about 600 kilometres from the disaster’s epicentre – March 12, after word of explosions at the nuclear plants.

“I figured if anything blew up, it’s time to go,” the 39-year-old said.

The quake measured 7.0 in Toyohashi, Todd said. He described the sensation as “like a wave.” It hit as he was teaching English to elementary students, who dove under their desks, screaming, as everything around them moved dizzyingly.

It wasn’t until that night that he learned the full magnitude of the damage.

A former resident of the area that was hardest hit, Todd said he doesn’t know if he has any friends or colleagues among the nearly 7,000 confirmed dead or more than 10,000 still missing.

Saddened at having to leave everything they know and love behind – including Tomo’s parents, two older sisters and other family members – Todd said he is also angry at the lack of support Canadians in the stricken country have received from their own government.

While the Chinese, French and U.S. governments have all moved to help evacuate their citizens, Canada has all but left its people in the cold, Todd said. Officials at the Canadian embassy told him there were no plans to help Canadians stranded in Japan get home, he said.

Paul described the lack of assistance as “shameful.”

“Proud to be a Canadian? I’m just wondering,” Paul said. “All those Canadians – the government just almost turns their back on them.”

Todd said he and Tomo hope to eventually return to Toyohashi with their son. They have tickets to fly home in two weeks. But until they know the situation is safe, home for now is with Lesleigh in South Surrey. There is too much at stake, Todd said.

“Not taking chances with you,” he says, casting a fond glance at Ocean.