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Sendai Earthquake in Japan

The search for Steve Mendoza.

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Sendai Earthquake/ Tsunami and search for Steve Mendoza live blog

This is a live blog post — meaning that updates will continuously be published on this page as more information comes in — about Vagabond Journey’s Japan correspondent and regular commentator, Steve Mendoza (USA), who was near Sendai during the earthquake and tsunami that hit the region around 2:00AM EST on March 11, 2011. Steve was in Shizugawa, Minami-Sanriku, a port city that received near complete devastation as a result of the 8.9 earthquake, a 33 foot high tsunami, and subsequent fires. If anyone has any information about the situation there now, please contribute it through the comment form below or email Wade Shepard at vagabondsong [at] gmail.com or call me via Skype at wade.vagabondjourney.com.

The help lines to attempt to locate foreigners in and near Sendai, Japan who are still unaccounted for after the earthquake are 022-265-2471 & 022-224-1919.

8:18 AM EST March 14, 2011-

The NBC crew — previously mention in this story — who was heading to Minami Sanriku with photos and descriptions of Steve Mendoza and Canon Purdy located them at Shizugawa junior high. I received an email at 3 AM from Canon’s aunt:

From Canon’s sister, my niece Megan’s twitter: “CANON PURDY & STEVE MENDOZA ARE ALIVE – we spoke to Canon – Shizugawa junior high”

Steve Mendoza with NBC news crew

Steve’s uncle later confirmed via Facebook to have spoken with Steve on the phone. A bright end to an intense four days.

10:09 PM EST March 13, 2011-

I just received the following report from Harumi in Japan:

Hello Wade,

I tried NTT’s Emergency Message service, but there was no message left by Steven. Probably he doesn’t know about this service.   I left my message to him, instead, so that he can know you are worrying about his situation if he accesses the service. (the message is maintained for 48 hours)

I saw in the TV news a rescue helicopter of Self-Defense Forces landed on the ground of Shizugawa High School at 16:00, March 13, Japan Time.  And this morning, March 14, some heavy machines started to clear roads in downtown in Minami-Sanriku Town assure the access for the rescuer operations and necessity supplies.

This is the day 4.  More and more information is coming out day by day about the isolated town. Minami-Sanriku Town is one of the worst among all the coastal areas hit by Tsunami ranging 500 km long.  Whole town disappeared in a second.

I really hope your friend was at the school at that time and still is there or moved to another evacuation location.

9:35 PM EST March 13, 2011-

A producer at NBC contacted me and we talked on the phone. He said that he has a team around 30 minutes from Shizugawa (Minami Sanriku) who are going to keep an eye out for Steve Mendoza and Cannon Purdy, both US citizens who are currently unaccounted for. The NBC producer asked me what Steve looks like. I replied, “He is a big Mexican amongst Japanese people, you can’t miss him.” I figured this was the most expedient description of who we were looking for. He also asked me where I thought Steve was, and I replied that there was a good chance he was at the school in Shizugawa, which was turned into a relief center.

I then emailed the producer additional relevant information and passed on his contact information to the Mendoza family, who subsequently supplied him with photos of Steve to forward along to his team in ground zero.

Recent photo of Steve Mendoza, singing

Steve Mendoza on right with Canon Purdy to his left. Both were in Shizugawa and are currently unaccounted for.

12:43 PM EST March 13, 2011-

A report came in via email from a contact in Japan named Harumi:

I’m afraid to say that Minami-Sanriku Town is so badly damaged by the Tsunami as you see in the video.  Town hall, police and fire station were also damaged.
One of the evacuation locations in the town was in the TV news tonight (night of March 13, Sunday, Japan time).  A group of members of Self-Defense Forces reached there today after securing the access road there and the people evacuated there were given water, food and blanket.  The news said that the group of SDF delivered the supplies to some other evacuation places in the town.  I hope they reached Shizugawa High School and your friend is there.

I guess you tried to call him but failed.  The infrastructure in the area including life lines and telephone lines is drastically damaged or overcrowded. NTT(a telecommunication company) is now providing Emergency Message service. This service is available only in an emergency case like disaster this time. If your friend knows about it and leave a message about his situation, one can listen to the message by calling 171 and entering his telephone number. Do you know his number?   Do you want me to try this?

We have requested Steve’s number to be checked as well as other people who we believe to also be in Minami-Sanriku. I recommend trying to check this emergency message system for ANYONE who may be in this city.

12:41 PM EST March 13, 2011-

Shizugawa High School Facebook group created. If you are looking for someone who may be at this school or have any information about it or the people who took refuge inside it please join.

11:10AM EST March 13, 2011

A report cam in from a friend of Steve’s in Japan named Rob Beasley who attempts to provenience Steve’s apartment in the aftermath photos of Minami-Sanriku.

Hey guys, looking at the satellite image its hard to tell. But i think just east and below the school is the Ujie supermarket, still standing. He lived a 5 min walk from there and about 15 min walk from where the beach was.

Shizugawa high school

This is an aerial shot — the one I believe Rob is referring to — with the Shizugawa high school marked out. It is difficult to orient this photo by cardinal directions, but the report states that Steve was living to the east and below the school.

10:58 AM EST March 13, 2011-

A report came in from Toshiko in Japan saying that the people taking refuge in the Shinugawa high school have been rescued. The well being of Steve greatly rests upon if he was in this school or not. This is also the same school that he was an English teacher at.

Finally, the first rescue team of the JSDF (army) has arrived to shizukawa high school just now. We believe that Steve Mendoza is there, and he is in our prayers. Let’s wait for the continuous good news…

Photo of the rescues in Minami Sanriku. We are hoping to see a giant Mexican in one of these boats.

1:02 AM EST March 13, 2011-

This is a before and after video of Minami-Sanriku, the city that Steve was in when the earthquake and tsunami hit.

12:03 AM EST March 13, 2011-

The biggest lead as to Steve’s location at the time of the earthquake just came in. This is said be a text message that was sent with Steve’s phone by his friend, Canon Purdy, to someone named Wesley Julian an hour before the earthquake:

Friday, March 11, 1:23pm
“…i don’t have a phone. i’m gonna head to school for a bit then come back to steve’s house so I can call with his phone or check mail”

See comments below for the full report.

It is my impression that this means that there is a good chance that Steve was at home during the earthquake and tsunami. This is not the best scenario that we could have hoped for. If Steve was at the school during the earthquake then it is logical to assume that he is still there and safe — as the place was set up as a refuge station in case of emergencies like this and is currently crammed with survivors. The message that is outlined above puts Steve at his apartment an hour before the disaster, and this means that we have no logical recourse to assume his present position.

Text message sent with Steve's phone one hour before the earthquake

11:36 PM EST March 12, 2011-

Still no word from Steve or of anyone who has contacted him after the earthquake. Though the city that he was in is still seems to be in a communications black out. It has been confirmed that the school in the “SOS and circle H” photo is where Steve taught. I would not be surprised to learn that this sign was his suggestion. Below is a recent photo of the Shizugawa area of Minamisanriku which shows the extent of the flooding and damage. The Shizugawa high school is a designated disaster relief center, so if Steve went to work on the day of the earthquake he is more than likely in the gymnasium. Again, I have not yet been notified that any form of public communication has been possible with the estimated 1,000 people who have taken refuge in this school. 10,000 people in this area are still unaccounted for.

Shizugawa, Japan after earthquake and tsunami 2011

11:50 AM EST March 12, 2011-

Video of the greater area of the town that Steve was in or near:
Minamisanriku after Sendai Earthquake and Tsunami

11:42 AM EST March 12, 2011-

The US Department of State still maintains that there have not yet been any reports of US casualties from the Sendai Earthquake or associated events.

11:32 AM EST March 12, 2011-

10,000 people of 17,000 unaccounted for in Minamisanriku, the town that Steve was last know to be in:

TOKYO, March 12, 2011 (AFP) – Around 10,000 people are unaccounted for in the Japanese port town of Minamisanriku in quake-hit Miyagi prefecture, public broadcaster NHK reported Saturday.

The figure is more than half of the population of roughly 17,000 in the town on the Pacific coast, it said.

Read it on Global News: Japan Earthquake | 8.9 Magnitude Quake | Video Coverage | Page 5 | Liveblog live blogging | Global News

Minamisanriku, the city that Steve was last known to be in

9:10 AM EST March 12, 2011-

The following is the most recent report that I’ve received from Toshiko in Japan about the Shizugawa area where Steve is located as well as the impending rescue of people who have taken refuge in the school gymnasium:

“This is the rough informations about the shizukawa area which i gathered but it seems that there are three places where people staying and one of them is the high school building. The rescue people are trying to approach the area now.

Wade, if you could contact to steve, plz tell him to head to north, not to south, as the nuclear plants are going to be really out of control now and it’s getting to be a dangerous situation.”

12:19 AM EST March 12, 2011-

Good news. From listening to news reports about Shizugawa it is highly assumed by a mutual friend in Japan that Steve has made it through the earthquake and tsunami and is currently awaiting rescue. This is not a definitive report, as nobody I have been in touch with has had any contact with Steve. The building that is referenced below is the gymnasium at the Shizugawa high school (in the photo in the previous update).

The report:

“I think he is alive, but can’t go anywhere. That area must have really terrible damages. The news is telling that there are 1000 people in the building and waiting for the rescue.”

11:46 PM EST March 11, 2011-

This is a photo of the Shizugawa High School with SOS written on the ground with a circle  H (rescue teams are using helicopters). This is more than likely the school Steve was working at. In a previous report (see below) I was notified that 800 people took refuge in a gymnasium, which potentially could be the one in the photo below — hence the SOS message. I have not yet received an update on the fire that was reported to have been spreading near the gymnasium. Photo taken from Global News Live Blog Japan Earthquake.

Shizugawa high school SOS

9:07 PM EST March 11, 2011-

Map of Sendai earthquake epicenter and Steve’s last known location:

Map of Sendai earthquake 2011 and Steve's last known location

8:43 PM EST March 11, 2011-

The following is a report that I just received from a mutual friend name Toshiko that Steve and I had in Kyoto:

“Okay, what I read about his town, Shizukawa, Minami Sanriku cho, Mhyagi ken was: they got tsunami, and a lot of people refuged to Higher place, and there are 800 people left in a atheletic gym, the fire is approaching there.”

3:41 PM EST, March 11, 2011-

The last I knew my long term friend and Vagabond Journey Travel’s Japan correspondent, Steve Mendoza, was living in Sendai. He has has yet to make contact after the 8.9 magnitude earthquake and subsequent tsunami torn through his city.

As I slept last night, the northern coastal region of Japan shook. This was the largest earthquake in the recorded history of Japan, the seventh largest in the world. Over 1,000 people are already confirmed dead.

I contributed to a report on Google people finder – Steve Mendoza, on which nobody has yet reported to have had contact with Steve since the earthquake hit. Though this region is currently in the midst of a communications blackout, and there is probably little way that Steve could contact anyone even if he is able to.

On the small chance that anyone reading this knows Steve or has an on the ground report from Sendai or the region of Japan where the earthquake hit, please report what you know in the comments below.

I have often written that the chances of being caught in a major earthquake when traveling are so very slight as to be negligible, but one of my good friends had just experienced the biggest recorded earthquake in the history of Japan from the city that was hardest hit. I must admit that low probabilities are no guarantees against possibility.

I sit here waiting for word from one of my better friends on this planet.

Steve Mendoza


Filed under: Asia, Japan, Natural Disasters

About the Author:

I am the founder and editor of Vagabond Journey. I’ve been traveling the world since 1999, through 90 countries. I am the author of the book, Ghost Cities of China and have written for The Guardian, Forbes, Bloomberg, The Diplomat, the South China Morning Post, and other publications. has written 3691 posts on Vagabond Journey. Contact the author.

Support VBJ’s writing on this blog:

VBJ is currently in: Trenton, Maine

19 comments… add one

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  • Megan Walsh March 12, 2011, 9:00 pm

    Hi Thank You for keeping this thread updated. I was so happy to learn of your site through family members listening all over the country. I am a friend of a friend of Steve’s – I met him while visiting my sister in Shizugawa last year. She was a JET teacher who was friends with Steve and the Loco Cafe Family. She is visiting Shizugawa now and is unaccounted for aswell. We are hoping that they will both be found together at the high school soon. My heart goes out to anyone who is listening and concerned about Steve and Canon and the Loco Cafe Family. Please dont hesitate to contact us if you hear anything. WE will repost if we hear about Canon. THank You, MEgan Walsh, San Francisco CA 415-305-9667 wednesdaywalsh@gmail.com

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  • Joshua Nach March 12, 2011, 11:41 pm

    Hey! A bunch of us are trying to get word about one of our friends over in the area named Canon Purdy who taught in the same city as Steve and was a good friend of his. The last message we got from her on Friday said that she was at Steve’s house (and used his phone to make a text). The message is on her google person finder page:
    The Steve she references is most likely Mendoza.

    Hope this helps! I think this means that both of them are alright. Steve is a great guy who let Canon and I crash at his place when we visited last year, and I’m glad to hear they are both ok.

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    • Wade | Vagabond Journey.com March 12, 2011, 11:49 pm

      Thanks so much for this. If you receive any more information, please pass it along.

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    • Wade | Vagabond Journey.com March 13, 2011, 12:57 am

      Hello Joshua,

      As you have previously stayed in Steve’s apartment, do you remember its position in relation to the school? Is it nearby? Is it closer to the coast or more inland?


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  • Patti Keiper March 13, 2011, 1:04 am

    I found information that might help you located Steve..


    Americans in Japan who need help, or people seeking information about a loved one in Japan, can send an e-mail to japanemergencyusc@state.gov, Jacobs said. Americans outside Japan but in tsunami-affected areas who need help, or people seeking information about an American in affected areas outside Japan, can e-mail pacifictsunamiusc@state.gov, she said.
    A telephone information line also has been set up at 1-888-407-4747, said Jacobs, who encouraged people to use the e-mail options if possible. When seeking information about Americans in Japan or other affected areas, Jacobs said, people should provide the full name, birth date and location of the person, as well as any pre-existing medical conditions, and if they are elderly or a child.

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  • Patti Keiper March 13, 2011, 1:10 am

    Also try this option for those on the internet who have text, Twitter and Google capability on their phones. Enter Steve’s information here to get it into circulation.


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  • Jayne Williams March 13, 2011, 1:34 pm

    Thank you all so much for spreading this word and keeping this blog updated. My family are close friends with Canon’s family, and we have been really feeling for all of them as they wait for word. Now I hope for word of Steve too, though I don’t know him. Keeping good thoughts for everyone, though the damage is horrifying.

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  • anon March 13, 2011, 1:35 pm

    Here is another person-finder site. You may as well post here, too: http://www.sosjapan.org allows those who have lost contact with friends, family and colleagues to file a missing persons report. (I got this from the Reuters feed.)

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  • Megan Walsh March 13, 2011, 3:25 pm

    Can you please list how to call into the NTT message board service? I was unable to find it on their website. Is it possible to do this from the states?

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    • Wade | Vagabond Journey.com March 13, 2011, 3:35 pm

      My only directions are to do it from inside Japan. Dial 171 and then the person you are looking for’s mobile number. It is my impression that it is a voice mail system, where a person can leave a message for people who are looking for them to listen to. Apparently, the NTT system can stay functioning when most other cell communication is down.

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      • Wade | Vagabond Journey.com March 13, 2011, 3:36 pm

        I tried calling from abroad but it would not work.

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  • Rachel March 14, 2011, 4:37 am

    I hope everyone’s seen this by now but just in case this is from Canon’s sister Megan’s twitter: “CANON PURDY & STEVE MENDOZA ARE ALIVE – we spoke to canon Shizugawa junior high” The NBC news crew let Canon use their phone, and it appears that she and Steve were together the whole time at SJH and have food, water, and blankets!!!!!!!!!!! Words cannot express the amount of joy their friends are feeling… now to pray that the nightmare starts to end for them and everyone else.

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  • regina March 14, 2011, 8:33 am

    Yaaaay one bright light in Japan’s dark days!

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  • Patti Keiper March 14, 2011, 2:31 pm

    I am so relieved. Happy. Happy. Happy! Thanks SOOo much for the joyful update. 🙂 🙂 🙂

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  • craig | travelvice.com March 15, 2011, 6:12 pm

    Success! 🙂 Should I ever go missing I sure hope Wade’s on the case.

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    • Wade | Vagabond Journey.com March 15, 2011, 8:54 pm

      Thanks! I would find you, and have a hell of a time doing it haha.

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  • Patti Keiper March 17, 2011, 1:31 pm

    Just saw a video story on http://www.ustream.tv/channel/nhk-world-tv Steve was interviewed about the students at the high school. The commentator said, after the interview, that Steve was scheduled to leave the area on Friday, but also said that Steve has elected to remain behind in the area to help the people around him.

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    • Wade | Vagabond Journey.com March 18, 2011, 8:39 am

      Thanks for the link to this interview. Yes, that is Steve — never one to run away from something. Hope to go visit him soon.

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