By Sara Tirrito
As 2010 Baylor alumna Jennifer Rader stood in her kitchen making Ramen noodles for lunch on March 11, her apartment building in Sendai, Japan, started to shake with the tremors of the country’s most violent recorded earthquake to date. She turned off the gas to her stove and, as the shaking worsened, decided to open her door so that if the building shifted it wouldn’t get stuck. But it wouldn’t budge.
Forcing herself to take a breath, Rader realized the door was simply locked and ran down her stairway and out into the cold, without shoes or a jacket.
“The ground was just rolling and like the building, just everything was shaking, and it was so loud. It’s really hard to describe — the sound of the earth moving like that and the sound of all of the buildings and everything on the earth that’s also shaking and rattling and roaring,” Rader said. “I don’t know how long it actually lasted, but it seemed to go on forever.”
Rader sat in the street until the shaking subsided, but even after the earthquake ended, the succession of aftershocks haunted her. She made contact with her mom through a coworker’s Skype account using 3G after the quake ended and remained in her apartment that night. She moved to an empty classroom at MeySen Academy, where she began work in February, to spend the next night.
Although much of the port area in Sendai was destroyed by the tsunami, Rader said most of the buildings in her area were still standing despite damage to their facades and cracked streets.
Though Sendai was without electricity, water and gas, the academy was able to provide Rader and her co-workers with some food, water and a place to sleep. Soon, however, concern over the nearby nuclear power plant forced the group to leave. The academy provided them with a bus and they headed for Misawa Air Base, where the group had been told they could stay. The 200-mile trip took about 11 hours on the country’s back roads, many of which had been damaged in the earthquake.
The teachers had about two hours to prepare for the trip. After a quick dinner, Rader returned to her apartment and packed a carry-on bag, backpack and purse with her necessities and her laptop —her “window to the world.”
“It was kind of tough to make that decision to leave and to leave all of my stuff behind,” Rader said. “But then again, after the earthquake, it kind of put things in perspective for me.”
At the air base, the group was welcomed with warm cots made up on the racquetball courts, their first showers in days and an unlimited supply of water, which had become a precious ration for the group in Sendai.
“We weren’t drinking very much. We were kind of nervous about how long we would even have water so we were kind of conserving as much as we could,” Rader said. “I’ve never been so dry in my life — all of my skin was so dry. I’m still kind of dehydrated. I’ve been trying to drink a lot, but my lips were chapped, my face was ridiculously dry, I’ve been having dehydration headaches. It’s really an ordeal.”
The group was provided with lunch and dinner their first day at the base, but has since had to pay for other food from the yen they had with them, which the base exchanged into dollars.
Although much of the group’s time has been occupied only with sitting and waiting, Rader said they were also able to help to the base with packaging donated supplies to send to Sendai.
“It’s kind of like we were meant to come here because people at the base were talking about how they really had no idea how they were going to get the stuff down to Sendai because they didn’t have a contact in Sendai,” Rader said, “but we sort of became their contact and they’ve been sending stuff down to our school so that they can give it to the people.”
When the group was told that Wednesday would be their last night at the base because space was needed for professional relief workers, the academy again came to the group’s aid, offering to pay for a couple of nights’ stay in a nearby hotel.
In the meantime, many of the teachers are trying to find flights home, a process made difficult by limited flights and skyrocketing ticket prices.
“I heard from one of the other teachers, she was trying to get to Chicago and a flight to Chicago one-way was going to cost $4,300, which is absolutely ridiculous,” Rader said.
Rader was able to book a flight that will take her to Honolulu, then Phoenix and finally to Dallas. She will be leaving Japan early Sunday morning.
To help Rader raise the money she needs to get home, her family set up a PayPal account: JenniferJapanFund@gmail.com. Any extra money that Rader doesn’t need for her ticket will be donated to Japan.
Although Rader is currently focused on getting home, she hopes to be able to return to her job at MeySen Academy, where she is a teacher in a program called Friends Club. The program is focused on teaching English to students in first through sixth grade. The semester would have started in April but will probably be postponed, Rader said.
“Once the school is up and running again, I’d like to try to come back because I really love Japan and I [believe in] what’s going on at the school, but right now it’s so important for me to just go try to be with my family,” Rader said. “To just be with them and show them that I am OK, that everything’s going to be fine. I think that’s what’s really important to me.”
Still, many of her co-workers hope to return to Sendai to help with relief efforts, Rader said.
“I think that God is kind of working through us no matter what we’ve chosen to do,” Rader said. “The people who are going home will be in a better position to tell people at home about what’s going on here and hopefully get interest and help from home, while people here are able to really do whatever they can here to help people.”
Baylor also had six students studying abroad in Japan at the time of the earthquake and tsunami. Half of the students are attending Seinan Gakuin University in Fukuoka City and are still in Japan.
The other half of the students were attending Hosei University in Tokyo, but have since had to return to the United States “because of the unpredictable nature of the situation there,” said Lori Fogleman, director of media communications. They were scheduled to arrive Thursday. Hosei University was on semester break until April but has been closed indefinitely, she said.
Katy sophomore Samuel Goetsch was in Tokyo working at the time of the earthquake. Moments after punching in his time card, his building began to shake, and Goetsch had to duck under a table to shield himself from falling shelves and books. After a few aftershocks, he and his co-workers headed outside, where they stood amid crowds of people waiting for the shaking to subside. Goetsch’s shift was canceled for the day, but when he returned to Shinjuku Station to catch a train home, he found that no trains were running. Instead of staying overnight at the station, Goetsch decided to trek approximately nine miles back to his apartment. It took him about two and a half hours.
“I wasn’t alone either. Hundreds and hundreds of people were walking too,” Goetsch wrote in an e-mail to the Lariat. “Roads were heavily congested, so rather than taking a taxi or bus, it was much faster to just walk home.”
Goetsch said he did not lose water, electricity, gas or Internet service throughout the ordeal, though cell lines were busy for the first several hours on the day of the earthquake and power outages were scheduled in Kanto and Tokaido for Tuesday. Most businesses were able to open again the day following the quake, he said.
“No buildings toppled in Tokyo, no apocalypse,” Goetsch said. “I was amazed at how calm, collected and civilized the Japanese people were, despite the major earthquake that had just occurred hours before.”
The absence of riots and looting in Japan came as no shock to Rader, who said order has been maintained despite the situation.
“That comes from the Japanese people themselves, the people of Japan — that’s just how they’re built,” Rader said.
“They wouldn’t, for the most part, even think about rioting or looting. It’s ingrained in the culture and the people: That’s just not something that you do. Even in a horrible disaster, that’s just not what you do.”
Belton junior Brian Tucker was in Fukuoka at the time of the disasters but did not realize anything had happened at the time.
“As I am in the far south, my concern for my safety was not the earthquake, but the radiation issues that came about because of it,” Tucker wrote in an e-mail to the Lariat. “My personal experience of the earthquake was not actually knowing about it until Americans asked me if I was alive, because the Japanese government has been trying to tone down the severity of what has been going on for a while.”
Tucker and his family, who were with him in Japan, had a difficult time deciding whether they should remain there or seek refuge in another country. The evacuation of many of his fellow students made Tucker more wary of the situation.
“About half of my study abroad program, the Europeans, have all been evacuated,” Tucker said, “so that makes me worry that there might be more of a serious issue than is being told.”