Sunday, March 27, 2011

Monmouth Alums in Japan Feel The Pain

By Wesley Teal
When the earthquake struck, Yoshiaki Obara, a Monmouth alumnus was chatting with a colleague. At first, he was not overly concerned. After all, a fifth of the world’s major earthquakes happen in or near Japan.

“We are (so to speak) used to the earth shaking,” said Obara via email, but he soon realized the March 11 quake was much worse than normal.

With the ground quaking under his feet, Obara and his colleagues began to evacuate their building. As they made their way to the evacuation area, he narrowly missed being hit by siding falling from the building.

The March 11 quake registered a magnitude of 9.0 on the Richter scale and left much of northern Japan in shambles. According to UPI reports, 9,080 people have died as a result of the quake and ensuing tsunami. Another 13,561 are missing. In addition, 270,000 have been forced to evacuate their homes.

The CEO of Tamagawa Academy and University in Tokyo, Japan, Obara was spared the worst of the destruction. Tokyo was 231 miles from the epicenter of the quake.

In central Japan, the Fukushima Daiichi nuclear power plant suffered serious damage during the earthquake and tsunami, resulting in the release of radioactive material On March 12, the Japanese government ordered the evacuation of all those living within 20 kilometers (12 miles) of the plant. Radiation from the plant has also contaminated parts of the Japanese food supply.

“The nuclear accident has turned out to be a good occasion for us to realize how much we have depended on electric power and unless we cut down our level of living standard we keep depending on nuclear power,” said Obara. “We have to realize that it means a departure from US style [of] life, mass-production, mass-consumption style economy,” said Obara.

Quake reaches Monmouth

As repeated aftershocks continue to shake Japan, some Monmouth students are doing their parts to aid relief efforts.

When Yohei Yasukawa, a computer science major from Japan, heard about the disaster he began to contact his friends and family back home. After finding out his family and friends were OK, Yasukawa wanted to do something to help the people of Japan.

“What can I do with my specialty in computer science?” Yasukawa asked.

With some friends, Yasukawa began to develop an app for Android-based phones and iPhones. The app is known as “Whistle on Android” and simply “Whistle” on the iPhone.

“It’s an alarm for signaling S.O.S. in order to notify people around that there’s a person who needed help,” he said.

Yasukawa’s app has been downloaded over 10,000 times since it was posted on the Android platform on March 12, but is still waiting to be approved by Apple before it is added to the iPhone app store.

Others have turned to fundraising. Over the past two weeks, International Club has been raising money by giving away painted Japanese characters and dorm storming. The proceeds they receive will go to the American Red Cross Japan fund in Galesburg to aid relief efforts.

For the club’s three Japanese members, their efforts are especially important.

“We can’t do anything for Japan except for this,” said Ryo Tsumura.

Club president Scott Haynes said the response from students and faculty had been strong. In their first two days of fundraising, Haynes said the group had raised about $500. As of Tuesday, March 23, the group had raised over $930.

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