From the other side of the globe, the repercussions of the Japan’s devastating tsunami are felt here at Virginia Tech.
The tsunami was caused by a massive earthquake about 60 miles off the Japanese coast on Friday. Even for Japan, which lies near a major fault line, the magnitude 9.0 quake was the worst the country has seen in more than a century.
“I’m just in shock, it’s unbelievable,” said Tech Japanese language professor Yakuso Kumazawa. “I cannot watch TV anymore because it’s just too difficult to watch such a tragedy happening in my country. I have not stopped crying.”
Thousands of displaced victims along Japan’s eastern coast are now trapped without water, food or electricity in near-freezing temperatures.
United Nations figures showed yesterday that 1,647 people are now confirmed dead, with more than 10,000 still missing. Cities and low-lying areas are flooded, leaving many stranded in areas that are unreachable.
Kamazawa is from Kyoto, which was not hit by the waves. But she has friends and family in other areas that she could not reach all weekend.
“I tried to call my mom 100 times, but it is always busy. And some of my friends could not get home because there is no transportation,” Kamazawa said. “Yesterday I finally called everyone and everyone is safe.”
The UN report said that transportation systems are paralyzed in many of the low-lying areas that are still covered in sea water, and seven train lines are destroyed.
“I have relatives in Japan, but fortunately, they have all been accounted for,” said Ashlina Chin, president of the Japanese Cultural Association. “We also have former students that were in the JCA that have moved back to Japan, so it’s especially hard for all of us over here. We’ve been able to reach some of them with Facebook and Skype.”
In the midst of this humanitarian crisis, a nuclear reactor at the Fukushima Dai-ichi plant has become unstable due to damage from the waves.
“The tsunami knocked out the electric power plant,” said Mark Pierson, an associate professor in mechanical engineering who specializes in nuclear engineering. “Without electricity they were unable to pump water to the generator to maintain the cooling of the reactor.”
Almost 200,000 people living within a 20-kilometer radius of the reactor have been evacuated, which Pierson said is more of a precaution than an emergency measure.