JC student from Japan waits to return homeHitomi Sakuma was more than 8,000 miles away from her family and friends when the 9.0 magnitude earthquake struck 207 miles from her home in Tokyo one month ago.
By: By Minerva Morato, The Jamestown Sun, The Jamestown Sun
Hitomi Sakuma was more than 8,000 miles away from her family and friends when the 9.0 magnitude earthquake struck 207 miles from her home in Tokyo one month ago.
Instead, as a current Japanese exchange student from Toyo University, Sakuma was in her temporary home at Jamestown College.
“My friends from (South) Korea e-mailed me first,” said the 20-year-old communication major. “Then, I saw postings on Facebook from high school friends.”
Sakuma’s family and friends in the city also called her to inform her in detail of what had occurred that Friday afternoon.
“My mom called me in horror and sounded really scared, telling me the ground just wouldn’t stop shaking,” she said, explaining that the temblor was so intense, even Tokyo shook for nearly one minute. “Other friends told me that their big televisions were moving, and dishes were falling off the shelves.”
The March 11 earthquake near the city of Sendai, Japan, triggered a 23-foot tsunami. More than 12,500 have been confirmed dead since the earthquake, and 14,700 remain missing to date.
Damage to the Fukushima Daiichi Nuclear Plant in the Fukushima Prefecture in northeast Japan added to the turmoil facing the country in the aftermath of the disaster. Soon after, Japanese officials and the country’s science ministry told international media that radiation levels had increased in the area, which prompted an evacuation for the nearly 78,000 residents within 12 miles of the plant.
This week, according to U.S. and international news sources, radiation levels in the seawater off the Japan coast near the plant have spiked to an all-time high, and workers continue attempts to prevent the reactors from overheating.
More than 1,000 aftershocks have rattled the country since the March disaster. The largest to date, a 7.1 magnitude earthquake, struck the country Thursday night in the northeast region near Tokyo. Although no additional damage was reported at the nuclear plant, at least three deaths were confirmed and 132 people were injured.
As worries grow about the safety of the water and the effects the crisis at the nuclear plant will have on the country, Sakuma said, even people in Tokyo are stocking up on bottled water and dry goods.
“My friends and my family tell me that some store shelves are empty,” she said. “People don’t want to drink tap water because they don’t feel it’s safe. They also continue to worry about the nuclear plant.”
Sakuma’s family currently resides in their home in Tokyo. Her mother and father are bankers in the capital, and her 22-year-old brother is a student at a university in the city. Her family is always prepared for earthquakes with an emergency supply of flashlights, canned goods and bottled water, Sakuma said.
“Growing up in Japan, I had felt some earthquakes, but never one like that,” she said. “I feel lucky that I wasn’t there, but I continue to worry about my family.”
Although Sakuma was not there to experience the March 11 earthquake, there is a possibility she will feel one of the many aftershocks when her year at Jamestown College ends and she returns home in May.
“Mostly, I’m worried about the water and what is going on at the nuclear plant,” she said. “Right now I talk to my parents about once a week and e-mail friends every day. So I will be happy to talk to my family and friends when I get there.”
When she arrives in Japan, Sakuma said, she hopes to help her country in any way she can, perhaps through volunteer service. Her mother, she added, sends her gratitude to the United States and all other nations who have aided Japan in their ongoing recovery efforts.
“My mother, she said to me, that if I have an opportunity to be interviewed, for me to thank the people for helping us,” she said. “Many Americans and other countries have helped, and we send our thanks.”
Sun reporter Minerva Morato can be reached at 701-952-8453 or by e-mail at email@example.com