The news of a magnitude 9.0 earthquake and the consequent tsunami devastating the northeast coast of Japan had many in disbelief, but for Southern Oregon University student Nozomi Shirato, the news from her hometown of Iwaki, Fukushima was heart-wrenching.
“I couldn’t reach anybody in Fukushima,” Shirato, 24, said. “I stayed up late to try to contact my family, but I wasn’t able to get a hold of anybody.”
Shirato’s parents were both at work when the tsunami hit, but her brother was home for spring break.
Relief finally came the next day after an old friend from Fukushima, who was in Tokyo at the time, called to tell her that her family was safe.
“I called my mom and was finally able to hear her voice,” Shirato said.
Shirato’s family survived the disasters unscathed, but the same can’t be said for their town.
“My father drove down from Fukushima City,” she said. “He told me he thought he was going to die.”
Shirato’s home is located on a hill, so it wasn’t damaged by the tsunami, but her neighbors were not as fortunate.
After the tsunami hit the Fukushima Daiichi and Daini nuclear plants, people living in and near the beaches Shirato visited as a child and the rice farms she used to enjoy working in after school had to be evacuated because they had been contaminated by radiation.
Her family evacuated to about 60 miles away from their hometown of Iwaki, but still struggle to obtain enough gas, food, and clean water.
Shirato’s family is still unsure of whether or not they will leave the town permanently.
It would be difficult for her parents (both teachers) to find work elsewhere, she said.
“They both really love their jobs,” she said. “I would like them to evacuate to a safer place because of the radiation issue.”
Shirato is trying to stay informed of what is going on in her hometown, but is still unsure of what is happening there and what people need to do.
“I’ve been worried about my family, friends, and people there,” she said. “I wish I could go home, but it would be too hard to go to my hometown now.”