Japan study abroad program suspended following quake

Beginning March 11 at 2:46 p.m. Tokyo time, an earthquake measuring 9.0 on the Richter scale occurred off the coast of Japan, the largest ever recorded in the island country.

A tsunami caused by the quake swept over the cities and farmland in northern Japan.  Screens of water from the tsunami demolished coastal cities.

The earthquake and tsunami destroyed thousands of homes and roads. All power and cell phone towers were down for several days following the initial strike.

With the nuclear reactors down, a loss of power grids occurred, resulting in trains and buses not running, causing a struggle in getting equipment to the devastated areas.

Blake Ward, study abroad coordinator in the Office of International Education, said Marquette currently has an international student from Japan on campus and has reached out to him. His family is safe.

Marquette has decided to suspend its study abroad program to Japan for the semester that was set to begin April 1 in Tokyo, the university said.

“As an office, we are working very hard to minimize disruptions for our students who were scheduled to study in Japan,” Ward said.  “The entire university community is committed to helping them as much as possible.”

On March 18, Japanese officials confirmed 5,692 deaths, with 9,506 missing.

The national police agency said more than 452,000 people are staying in schools and other shelters.  Fuel, food, water, medicine and other necessities are being provided but supplies are running short.

The earthquake and tsunami caused concern over possible radiation leaks from the Fukushima Daiichi and Fukushima Daini nuclear power plants near the scene of the earthquake.  Five nuclear reactors at the separate plants experienced breakdowns in cooling systems on March 13, and crews have been battling the possibility of a full-on meltdown since then.

Japanese government declared a state of emergency at the Daiichi unit, after authorities detected eight times the normal radiation levels outside the facility.  Hours later, a state of emergency for the Daini plant was declared.  The evacuation of thousands of civilians in the neighboring nuclear zones to create safe zones occurred immediately.

H. Richard Friman, a professor of political science, said the U.S. is arguing to expand the safe zones.

“Radioactive chemicals have been detected in milk, spinach, water and other products and the U.S. has banned shipments from Japan,” Friman said.

The United States sent aide to Japan Friday, including U.S. military and nuclear personnel.  President Barack Obama sent his condolences to the people of Japan, later speaking to Naoto Kan, Prime Minister of Japan, about assisting the nation.

“The most important aide we can send are people with nuclear expertise,” said Friman. “The nuclear situation is a day-to-day issue that is still being combated.”

“I think that the earthquake, tsunami and the situation at our nuclear reactors makes up the worst crisis in the 65 years since the war,” Kan said in a press conference. “If the nation works together, we will overcome.”

Friman said Japan’s population is well-versed regarding earthquakes and tsunamis.

“Reports from Japan and videos on YouTube show skyscrapers and modern construction swaying in the air,” Friman said.  “This shows Japan’s high standards.  If that hadn’t been done, there would have been more damage.”

Japan was filled with anguish as survivors called for help and rescuers searched the rubble for buried people. A woman and her grandson were rescued from the rubble of their home on Sunday, nine days after the quake hit.