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Japan quake touches exchange students

April 1, 2011

For UW-River Falls and its close exchange program with Japan, the March 11 earthquake failed to cause any harm to the families of the 14 Japanese exchange students currently enrolled.

The 9.0 magnitude earthquake, one of the worse earthquakes in the country’s history, caused catastrophic destruction in the northern part of Japan, with less damage south of Tokyo.

Satomi Ito, advisor the International Student Association, said that the students families that are in Japan are doing alright.

“Fortunately, all of Japanese students’ family members are not in danger by the earthquake,” said Ito.

“However, some of their family members are having inconveniences right now.”

Those inconveniences include the basic necessities of water, electricity and food.

Satomi Shinde,  professor of education, is originally from Japan and has family south of where the earthquake hit the hardest.

Shinde said that it was a relief that her family was not affected, but now that electricity and water are scarce in some areas, she worries about how the after effects will change things.

“I feel very lucky that they were okay,” Shinde said. “But I know last week, it was very hard to get water and food, and when they needed it, everyone needed to stand in line for a very long time to get anything.”

Ellie Satoh, a Japanese exchange student, said that she was very worried at the time of the earthquake because some of her family lives in Sendai and Miyagi, which were two of the worst hit areas by the disaster and there was minimal communication to Japan.

“As a family, we would all watch the news and see how fast the tsunami moved and tons of houses and people were gone,” Satoh said.

“After a few days we heard that there was no electricity around Sendai and Miyagi so no one could get a hold of anyone.

Luckily, she found out a few days later that her family was fine.

A report from Worldbank.org estimates the quake’s economic toll is currently at $122 to $235 billion U.S. , and that the country could take five years to recover.

The death and missing toll, as of March 25, has reached 27,000 and is expected to rise more.

“Watching the videos on the Internet and seeing the images of the tsunami bury whole towns is like watching a horror movie,” said Shinde.

Guy Healy Japan is a program UWRF offers to students who are interested in a teaching program in Japan for the summer.

Its coordinator, Chad Forde, said that the program is still a go because the main office and campus are far south and away from the earthquake zone.

What needs to be taken into account though, as Forde mentioned, is the radiation issue.

“As of right now, it is a waiting game,” said Forde in an email.

“Guy Healy will not send the 19 students over if he knows it is not safe.

Also, I could see some applicants dropping out in the next couple months due to fears by them or their parents about traveling to Japan.”

The U.S. Red Cross has responded proactively in the help to recover the worst hit areas of the earthquake. As the devastation is becoming much more apparent, help is wanted from anywhere.

If anyone would like to contribute, go to redcross.org and help, said Satoh.

“I think as a community we just pray and give the people in Japan support by donating money as some countries are already doing,” said Satoh.

“Since we can’t all go to Japan and help, sending them money is the best solution so they can build new houses, factories, buildings, that was washed away or damaged.”