Locals react to Japan crisis

Article Published: Mar. 17, 2011 | Modified: Sep. 7, 2011


Appalachian State University senior Emily Smith is in it for the long haul.

"I am staying in Japan until the U.S. government or Japanese government kicks me out," she said.

Smith is one of four ASU students currently studying in Japan, a nation rocked by earthquakes and a deadly tsunami.

She was on a train in Hirakata, Osaka, in southern Japan when the quake rocked the north.
"Initially, I was affected by the train I was on jerking to a quick stop at the train station," she said.

"The earthquake was felt, but really lightly, just a little tremble. I had felt stronger ones already. I didn't think of it and continued on up to a hiking spot where I was spending my Friday afternoon."

It was only when she returned to school that she became aware of the situation. That's when it got scary, but not directly for Smith.

"Everyone seems to not understand how far away I am from the epicenter of the events," she said. "It is like asking someone from Chicago who bad (hurricane) Katrina was in New Orleans."

Her Facebook wall lit up with friends and families expressing concern for her safety. As for the tone in her new home?

"I think shock," she said. "Fears about safety and worries about it happening again cloud our thoughts."

And it's affected her studies.

"We have become a gloomy bunch, and we have learned a small amount of Japanese earthquake lingo in Japanese classes, otherwise classes are going on as usual," she said. "One of my teachers compared the aftermath of this earthquake to days following the 9/11 attacks, and I think that is an accurate statement of how we all feel at the moment: Horrified, numb, wanting to do something, but knowing we can only wait and see. The best thing we can do is march on with our lives."

Katie Huff can relate. An ASU alum, she's currently teaching English in Izumo City. While she didn't feel a tremor, the news of the aftermath was a shock. "We all stood there gaping at the TV for awhile," she said.

She, like Smith, plans to stay in Japan.

She does have a few words for the folks back home.

"I want them to know that this is a beautiful, amazing country, and that the people here are coping with this the best way they can," she said. "And they do an amazing job, but they still need help. We are all grateful for the kind thoughts and prayers, but what the Japanese people need right now is donations to help with the ongoing efforts to save lives. I hope everyone at home will do whatever they can to help."

At ASU, students are answering the call, preparing to raise funds.

Students from the Japanese Cultural Club are teaming up with the Asian Student Association to set up a contact booth next week at Plemmons Student Union on campus.

"We'll be taking donations and selling Japanese flag badges with hearts inside instead of the circle and ribbons for awareness for Japan," organizer Randy Tallent said.

For Tallent, it's personal. "I just got back from Japan myself," he said.

It's where he lived last year, immersing himself in a culture he plans to live in after he graduates in May.

"East Asian cultures have this two-sided face," he said. "They have this ancient historical cultural base with all kinds of philosophy and wisdom ... but they also have this new modern face, always on the cutting edge."

It's that dual identity that attracts hundreds of Americans like Tallent to pursue a career teaching English in Japan. It's the tradition, he said, that comes through in tragedies like this one.

"They are completely ordered," he said. "They have virtually no crime ... Look at this situation. No looting."

It's the polar opposite of what happened when the quake rocked Haiti, a tragedy that resulted in looting and tent villages that are still utilized more than a year later.

"It shows you how prepared they were," Tallent said, noting that the majority of the damage happened from the tsunami, not the quake itself. "I don't think we would be as prepared."

ASU students aren't the only ones answering the call.

"We're still waiting on some guidance from national headquarters because everything's happened so quickly," Watauga Red Cross executive director Katie Sulfridge said.

But there are ways, she said, you can help with a single text message.

By texting REDCROSS to 90999, you're donating $10 to the relief effort in Japan, she said.

Additionally, you can donate online at http://www.redcross.org.

"Generally, when we do response like this with an international intent, it goes to help with immediate emergency needs," she said, "helping to provide food, clothing and medicine that people have lost. It's very similar to what we do here when we have a disaster."

Boone-based Samaritan's Purse is also answering the call. The relief organization initially opted to orchestrate monetary donations instead of directly sending help.

Saturday, it all changed, response manager Chuck Ainsworth said.

"We are now pushing to get a 747 loaded with supplies and water filtration, as well as desalination units, which will allow us to get the salt out of the water," he said.

A five-person disaster assistance response team left Sunday to meet up with Samaritan's Purse's ground partners in Tokyo.

That team, led by local Ken Isaacs, vice president for programming and government relations, will help with response efforts, and you can monitor their progress or submit monetary donations at http://www.samaritanspurse.org.

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