On Friday, while most College of William and Mary students were enjoying a well-deserved break from school, five students were experiencing the effects of an 8.9 magnitude earthquake. The quake was the fifth-largest in the world since 1900 and the largest in Japan on record.
The College currently has student exchange programs with Keio University and Akita University, as well as two study abroad programs in Japan. In total, five students are studying abroad in Japan, and 14 Japanese students are in Williamsburg through the Wendy and Emery Reves Center for International Studies.
Saori Masumoto ’10, a former tutor of the College’s Japanese House, was in Tokyo during the earthquake. After graduating from the College, she moved to Tokyo to work as an instructor in the Tokyo Language School.
“As the days went by, I came to realize that the earthquake was something that many of us had never experienced, and that it caused a huge amount of damage to our lives,” Masumoto said. “I am just glad to have my house and family safe, because there are a lot of people who lost everything.”
The death toll is currently around 2000 confirmed, but somepolice and news organizations in Japan estimate the number to be in the tens of thousands.
“Every time I turn on the TV, I am shocked to see the number of lives lost go up,” Masumoto said. “It is getting to the point for me that it is too sad to even watch TV.”
The earthquake devastated the city of Sendai in northeastern Japan, as well as most of the surrounding area, causing nearly $60 billion in damages and triggering a massive tsunami. Cars, ships and buildings were swept away by a wall of water after the tremor, which struck about 250 miles northeast of Tokyo. The tsunami caused whirlpools, hundreds of yards wide, to appear off of the coast.
A hydrogen explosion at the Fukushima nuclear power plant followed the earthquake. The blast could be felt up to 25 miles away and sent a huge column of smoke into the air. The fuel rods inside one of the reactors at the plant have been fully exposed on two separate occasions, raising fears of a nuclear meltdown. Seawater is being pumped into the reactor to try to prevent overheating.
According to the Japanese news agency Kyodo, more than 500,000 people have been displaced by the earthquake, tsunami and nuclear emergency. The natural disaster has sparked a huge rescue operation.
Prime Minister Naoto Kan said that Japan is experiencing its greatest challenge since World War II as it struggles through the aftermath of the earthquake, tsunami and growing nuclear crisis.
“It is a very difficult time for all Japanese, but we will get through this. And I really appreciate the help and rescue from many countries,” Masumoto said.