P&G Far East Employees Evacuate Rokko Island

By Brian Covert
Daily Yomiuri Staff Writer

OSAKA — For two long nights and three days after Tuesday’s killer quake, hundreds of Proctor & Gamble Far East Inc. employees and their families remained literally stranded at sea as they awaited rescue from offshore Rokko Island, the city of Kobe’s showpiece of internationalization.

From his home on the Kobe mainland, Peter Elsing, president of the pharmaceutical firm — a major employer of foreign residents in the Kansai region — had a bird’s-eye view of the island and was relieved to find the buildings there were still standing.

“I could see Rokko Island was still there, but I was very concerned,” he told The Daily Yomiuri. “I tried to get to the island on the first day, but the bridge was blocked.”

With monorail service to the manmade island also out of service and road access temporarily closed, many of the overseas residents there took refuge and comfort at the Canadian Academy international school.

The water, gas and electricity was cut off from the island and residents were concerned that further aftershocks could endanger their lives, particularly if the reclaimed land became liquefied, as occurred at Port Island, Kobe’s other major residential island.

“Most of the foreigners converged on the academy, and the principal just did everything he could to help,” said Mark Mao, an American and an associate director of research and development at P&G’s Rokko Island office.

Mao was one of hundreds of P&G employees, their families and other island residents unaffiliated with the company who were evacuated by boats rented from a local shipping company and transported Thursday and Friday to safety at Osaka Port.

P&G officials confirmed that two shiploads each day of between 160 and 200 company employees, relatives and other island residents were rescued from Rokko Island.

While 2,500 company employees have been reached, Elsing said 50 to 70 others remain unaccounted for.

He added that no deaths have been reported so far among foreign P&G employees whose whereabouts are known. The company arranged for about 170 employees and their relatives who wished to leave Japan to do so on a 12:40 p.m. flight Friday from Kansai International Airport to Hong Kong. The majority of P&G workers, however, will be restationed at other company offices and plants throughout Japan, P&G officials said.

According to Elsing, all P&G operations outside of the company’s plant in Akashi, Hyogo Prefecture, which suffered damage in the quake, are operating normally and usual service to customers “has not been stopped.”

P&G has set up a temporary earthquake crisis headquarters at the Osaka Hilton Hotel and at a Max Factor office in the Higobashi district of Nishi Ward, Osaka. Details on the status of P&G employees and their families can be obtained by contacting the P&G emergency operations staff in Osaka at (06) 4xx-5xxx. The fax number is (06) 4xx-5xxx.