Despair leads to relief for student

When Nozomi Shirato heard that a massive earthquake hit off the coast of Japan, she immediately thought of her family in Iwaki, Fukushima, a coastal city not far south of Sendai.

"I was really worried about my family since they live near the epicenter of the quake," said Shirato. "I wanted to make sure if they were OK as soon as possible."

Shirato, 24, who just completed an intensive English program at Southern Oregon University, tried to reach her family and friends in Fukushima after the quake, but no one was answering the phones.

"The people I could reach told me that my hometown was in pretty bad shape," she said.

Shirato was finally able to get in touch with her family the following day. She learned that everyone was OK, but her family chose to evacuate because of the threat of radiation coming from a nearby power plant in the state.

Iwaki, where Shirato grew up, was devastated by both the earthquake and tsunami, but Shirato has heard that her house, which wasn't close to the city's bay, was left undamaged. The earthquake caused many of the city's water pipes to break, however, leaving residents without clean water.

"They cannot use water or gas and they don't have enough food. My family hasn't taken a shower for five days so far," Shirato said Tuesday.

Shirato's family evacuated to an area about 60 miles south of Iwaki, but she is still concerned for their safety.

"I've been really worried about my family, friends and people in Japan," Shirato said. "I feel like I'm helpless."

Shirato said she's doing her best to stay informed about everything happening in Fukushima, but she's still in disbelief.

"I've been watching the news in America since the earthquake happened but I still cannot believe it," she said.

Shirato is happy to see that people in the United States and other places in the world are concerned about her home country.

"I can feel that a lot of people in America and all over the world are standing up for Japan and trying to do something for them," Shirato said. "I'm really glad to see that."

Reach Southern Oregon University intern Teresa Ristow at

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