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March 14, 2011

CONTACT: K.E. Schwab




Japan earthquake shakes SRU faculty with family in homeland


SLIPPERY ROCK, Pa. – While the 8.9 Richter Scale earthquake was in northeast Japan, half a world away from Slippery Rock University, its repercussions are being felt on campus where at least two faculty members have found their families are safe, but shaken.

            SRU students from Japan have also reported their family members safe, said Pamela Frigot, director of SRU’s Office of International Services. “All of our students from Japan have reported they were able to make contact with their family and found them safe,” she said.

Both Junko Yamamoto, assistant professor of secondary education and foundations of education, and Yukako Ishimaru, instructor of modern languages and cultures, said they were immediately concerned for family members in Japan as they learned of Friday’s quake and its follow-up tsunamis. Both reported it took several hours to make contact with family in Japan, but once connected, all were found to be in good health.

            Yamamoto’s mother, father and two sisters live in Kyoto, Japan, located in the southern portion of Japan.

            “I have been following the news on the Internet by reading Japanese newspapers, including reports from my hometown newspaper. There is a lot more news coming out in the Japanese media than the American media,” Yamamoto said. “I follow and via the Internet.”

            “Right now the focus is on the nuclear power plants and if they will be able to shutdown the reactors safely. Four of the top six stories are about the power plants,” she said. “That, of course, still gives me concern, because you don’t know what could happen if there is an explosion.”

            The earthquake affected three of Japan’s nuclear power plants. Two of them have already suffered explosions that released some nuclear materials into the air. Officials at the third unit are trying to regain control to allow for a controlled shutdown.

            “You can see that a big effort is already under way to get aid to the affected area,” Yamamoto said.


Yamamoto has been in the U.S. since 1992. She is a graduate of Ritsumeikan University in Japan, and earned her master’s degree at the University of Pittsburgh and her doctorate at Duquesne University.

            “Everybody is safe,” said Ishimaru after taking with her family in Saga Kyushu, also located in the southern portion of Japan.

            No stranger to earthquakes, Ishimaru, recalled the 7.0 quake in 2005 that shook her home – leaving it a little off kilter. “The shaking was so bad; we tried to evacuate the house, but we could not walk,” she said. “Our house was not that old, and Japanese houses are build strong against earthquakes, but you can still see that some of the doors are a little tilted.”

            After hearing of the quake, she worked to make contact with her family, including her parents, sister and grandmother in Kyushu, and her brother in Tokyo. “Their home is pretty far from the epicenter. They live on the coast, so there was some concern about the tsunamis on the first day, but that also turned out to be OK,” she said.

            “Because all the phone lines were down, it took some time, but I first found out that those in Kyushu were OK. It took more time to reach my brother – he too was fine,” she said. “He did say he had actually felt the quake.”

            Ishimaru has been in the U.S. for five years.

            “Of course, we still have concerns about the nuclear power plant. They are doing some rolling blackouts to conserve power and so that some of the other affected parts of Japan can have electrical power,” she said.

“I am concerned about the radiation and will continue to monitor the news,” she said.

She too is using Internet streaming and broadcasts to get the latest information.

            “My family is concerned about those suffering and is organizing to donate money. Right now in their town, and in most of the rest of Japan, things are near normal, but traffic is heavy. All we can do is pray for those affected,” she said.

            Officials fear that up to 10,000 people may have been killed by the quake and the wall of water that washed away billions of dollars worth of homes, businesses, cars, trucks, trains and airplanes.

At least three of Japan’s nuclear power plants were directly affected and have experienced problems in shutting down their reactors. Work is under way, including help from the U.S., to regain control of the reactors before a successful shutdown can be completed.

            The events in Japan are also wreaking havoc on stock markets around the world.


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