UAF shaken by earthquake in Japan

Andrew Sheeler / Sun Star Reporter
March 11, 2011

UPDATE: As of March 14, all UAF students have checked in and are okay.

When an 8.9 earthquake shook the city of Sendai in Japan, it was felt as far away as eastern China and the Korean peninsula. The earthquake caused several tsunamis and put Alaska, Hawaii and the entire west coast of the United States on alert. As the Reuters news agency places the death toll at more than 1,000 people, the emotional impact of the earthquake has reached as far the University of Alaska Fairbanks.

“We’re very concerned,” said Larry Hinzman, Director of the International Arctic Research Center (IARC), “We have a lot of friends there.” IARC is a research institute funded by the governments of both the United States and Japan to study Arctic environmental changes. According to Hinzman, there are more than 100 researchers affiliated with IARC in Japan. There are also two researchers, Masami Fukuda and Taro Nakai, from Japan currently working at IARC. Fukuda was able to get in touch with his family and determine they were safe. Nakai, whose family lives in the Sendai area, has been unable to reach them. “He’s quite distraught,” Hinzman said. Both researchers are struggling to find a way to get home as soon as possible. The situation is complicated by the closure of Tokyo’s Narita International Airport. The Office of International Programs (OIP) has reached out to both researchers, as well as the 19 other Japanese students, faculty and researchers here at UAF through OIP.

Donna Anger, Senior Associate Director of OIP, said she first learned of the earthquake last night. She came in to the office and was making phone calls until very early in the morning in order to make sure that the nine UAF students currently in Japan were ok. Of the nine, seven students have checked in either by phone or online. Leah Denman is a Japanese Studies major currently in the city of Sendai, close to the earthquake epicenter. She posted on Facebook shortly after it happened, saying there had been an earthquake. A few hours later, she wrote on her wall, “In a gym at the school, but okay. Phone is dying, no elec. Love you all.” OIP has yet to hear from two students, but with the 18-hour time difference between Fairbanks and Japan there is not yet cause for concern, according to Marmian Grimes, UAF Public Information Officer.

Grimes said that it is premature to discuss the idea of the UAF students in Japan coming home early. She said that for students in areas barely affected by the quake, there would be no reason to leave early. For students like Denman, at the heart of the devastation, that decision must wait until the extent of the damage is determined.


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