Natural Disaster Strikes Japan; Global Andover Community Safe

Disaster struck Japan on March 11, affecting communities all around the world, including Phillips Academy. The earthquake and subsequent tsunami occurred on the first day of spring break, which raised concern over international students traveling to Japan. “It couldn’t have been at a more significant time,” said Susanne Torabi, International Student Coordinator and faculty advisor to Phillips Academy Natural Disaster Aid (PANDA). After the quake, Torabi, Aya Murata, Advisor to Asian and Asian American Students and Teruyo Shimazu, Instructor in Japanese, contacted students and alumni living in Japan. Shimazu was able to contact her three School Year Abroad (SYA) students living in Japan, Hyden Anziani ’12, Tyler Dillard ’12 and Kiara Valdez ’12. They are all safe. Ichinomiya, the host city for SYA Japan, was far from the earthquake’s epicenter and experienced little damage as a result. Valdez was in a Japanese class at IC Nagoya, SYA Japan’s host school, when the earthquake struck. “At first we didn’t really notice the building was moving, but we noticed the hangers on the rack on the corner of the room where moving,” she wrote in an email to The Phillipian, “That’s when we really noticed all the shaking.” Valdez wrote, “It was all a mess afterwards. We kept seeing news reports of the event and seeing the death toll rise higher each day. It was so heartbreaking.” Though the SYA students were far from the crippled Fukushima nuclear power plant, the students and faculty traveled south to Okinawa as an extra safety precaution and spent a week of spring break there. Yuto Watanabe ’11, Co-President of Andover Japanese Club (AJC), managed to rebook his flight after his original flight to Tokyo was cancelled. Though Watanabe’s grandmother’s house was washed away by the tsunami, his grandmother had evacuated by car earlier with her neighbors. “My dad was watching footage of the tsunami on the news, and he could recognize some of the houses,” Watanabe said. “That was scary for him.” Watanabe closely followed the news in Japan, which eventually made him decide to return early to the U.S, after spending only a few days in Japan. Watanabe left as a precaution. He spent the remainder of break staying at the homes of local boardersMax Queenan ’11, Jeb Roberts ’11 and William Park ’11. When Ayaka Shinozaki ’13 first heard about the earthquake, she was not as worried because quakes and tsunamis occur often in Japan. However, Shinozaki said that her presumption was completely shattered when she and Yuriko Nakamura ’13 first saw images of the destruction on the news at the Chicago airport. Back in Japan, Shinozaki found that her family members, including her grandmother and cousins in Sendai, a city close to the quake’s epicenter, were safe. Shinozaki said that she was sad when she heard that the city of Kesennuma, her mother’s hometown and where Shinozaki formerly attended summer school, was completely destroyed. She said, “It was very painful when my parents were talking about all the cities that were washed away because those were the museums I went to, the swimming pools I went to and the neighborhoods I grew up in. They were all underwater.” “Since most of the transportation system was down, I couldn’t go anywhere. The fact that we couldn’t go anywhere and that the TV was feeding all of these catastrophic images caused a silent panic all over Japan.” Nakamura said that she stayed indoors for most of her time in Japan, mainly to avoid any potential radiation exposure. Her family discovered cracks on the walls inside the house they had bought recently. “It was frightening,” Nakamura said. Every few minutes, there would be an alarm going off saying that an earthquake was going to come in a few seconds, as a warning for aftershocks.” After five days in Tokyo, Nakamura returned to the United States. Her parents, concerned for her safety, sent her to stay with a family friend in New York for the remainder of break. Seika Nagao’12, Co-President of AJC, said that her aunt and uncle’s house was flooded by the tsunami although they happened to be staying in Tokyo at the time. She added, “I talked to my grandma a couple of days ago. She said that she couldn’t sleep in her bed because she was scared that she would need to escape. She just slept with normal clothes on, on the sofa in her room.” Nagao said she heard some of friends from her old school have temporarily relocated to foreign countries including Korea and Italy. Shimazu said, “I am just completely devastated. I couldn’t believe it. It’s such a weird feeling, a sense of guilt that I was not there. I feel like I should be doing something closer to home.” She managed to contact many of her past classmates on Facebook. Shimazu became very worried after failing for days to reach her friend in Sendai and watching footage of the tsunami sweeping away buildings in Sendai, including the airport. “I thought it was scenes from a natural disaster movie,” she said. When Shimazu learned that her friend had actually had been at the airport when the tsunami struck, she “got chills all over.” SYA students are planning to collect donations for the disaster relief fund and thinking of holding a blood donation drive after their break. To coordinate efforts to help with Japan disaster relief, Torabi has brought back PANDA, a group formed in response to the 2008 Sichuan earthquake in China. Torabi first plans to meet with students affected by the disaster, students living in or connected to Japan, to “identify areas of need and areas where the school could really help.” Torabi said, “Our immediate concern is how we can help them and their extended families and find out what they think the needs are. It’s also a learning experience to learn about the culture and what’s different to see how we can help in a way that suits them.” Torabi said, “I just hope that we can all pull together and see a need to help families and people in need. My hope is that we connect our students to people that we can directly see the impact of our help and fundraising efforts.” According to Watanabe and Nagao, AJC will work with PANDA in an effort to not only raise funds but also spread awareness of the disaster on campus. Nagao hopes to speak with her aunt and uncle to find local schools in need that Phillips Academy could perhaps donate directly to, instead of through an organization. Shinozaki plans to send shikishi, special paper signed and covered with messages, to elementary and middle schools in Kesennuma to let the students there know that students at Andover are thinking of them. She said, “I really want to donate to not just Japan but specifically to the kids, the kids who lost their parents, and to the schools.” As a personal effort, Watanabe, who takes photographs of Andover events and sports, is also personally donating half of the profits from his photography website before he closes the site at the end of the school year. “I’m guessing that people would want to buy photos before the site closes, so I thought it’d be a good chance just to do my share, what I can do,” said Watanabe.