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W&L Alum Teaching in Japan Experiences the Earthquake

Washington and Lee graduates John Henzel ’10 and Beth Valentine Henzel ’11 are living in Japan, where John is teaching English as part of the Japanese Exchange and Teaching Programme (JET).

The Henzels live in Osato, which is about 16 miles north of Sendai, the Japanese port city nearest the epicenter of last week’s earthquake. John teaches at Osato Junior High.

The Henzels have sent assurances to friends at W&L that they are fine.

To get a sense of what the earthquake was like for them, take a look at the video. One of John’s colleagues, Wesley Julian, a former JET teacher, a Hampden-Sydney graduate and brother of W&L alumna Christina Julian Kauffman of the Class of 2001, shot it in a second-floor staff room at Osata Junior High. You can partially see John and hear him talking with Wesley. The video appears on the BBC website, and you can see it by clicking here or on the photo above, which is a still image from the video.

On Thursday night (Friday morning in Japan) John wrote with this update:

“To give you an idea of how things are right now — I would say very varied. In my particular circumstance, my town is OK, apart from damage to roads and so forth. Physical damage to the apartment was minimal, except for losing basically all of our dishes. I’m typing this email from work (which I’ve come to every day since the quake), and the students return next week I believe. The real damage seems to have come from the tsunami, but we’re far enough from the coast that nothing would reach us here. Right now, we have power and gas, but no water yet. Also, gasoline is basically impossible to find at the moment, yet my teachers are still making some impressive commutes (somehow). I live in town, so in the worst case scenario, I can walk to school.

“As far as the radiation , we are well outside any potential affected zone. The western media is massively blowing it out of proportion it seems. Japan is very sensitive about radiation (understandably), and it is taking a prime spot in the discussion here. But they’re very calm about it. Even in the worst case scenario of a meltdown, there’s little chance it could reach to where we live. We’re well beyond the U.S. recommended 50 miles, which is well beyond the Japanese estimate. A colleague in the JET programme recommended this article to me, and I found it quite informative: http://ukinjapan.fco.gov.uk/en/news/?view=News&id=566799182

“While my situation is OK, others are not. I have friends whose entire homes, schools, or even towns have been swept away. While I believe everyone has been accounted for in the Miyagi JET programme, there’s some mixed information going around on one or two people still.

“The video was filmed by my predecessor, Wesley Julian, who had returned to visit Japan and attend the school’s graduation ceremony, which had occurred earlier in the day. He is a Hampden-Sydney graduate, and his parents live in Staunton. (Imagine my surprise when I was first placed and realized the connection!).”

Beth weighed in separately with an email later in the evening (or morning), adding:

“Comparatively speaking, John and I were fairly lucky. Our town, though getting hit fairly hard by the earthquake, didn’t suffer much damage. To extent of our knowledge, no buildings collapsed. We were without all utilities until Tuesday when the power and phone lines began to work. We had water for a few hours yesterday (I don’t think I have ever been as excited to wash dishes in my life), but unfortunately the pipes stopped working that evening. The roads and sidewalks are damaged — huge holes, cracks, and a few new steps in the sidewalk near a bridge. I haven’t been on the roads lately, so I don’t know how repairs are going, but people are driving on them.

“Gas stations are out of gasoline and have been since the weekend. The grocery stores still have food (some meat, eggs, vegetables, fruit, and other random items but no bread or milk). People start lining up about an hour before the store opens, and by the time the doors open there are about 75 or so people outside. Within a half hour most, if not all, of the meat and eggs are gone. You see people with two and three baskets full of items. Convenience stores sold out of items quickly and were closed by Saturday. I am unsure if they (our town has two) have reopened. Bottled water is also very difficult to find, but luckily John’s school has a water tank and has been able to get drinking water from there.

“We’ve had tremors since the earthquake; we had one just now in fact.  However, they are becoming less frequent and intense.”

Meantime, anyone who has information on other W&L alumni and friends who are in Japan can use the comment form to let us know where and how they are.

If you know any W&L alumni who would be great profile subjects, tell us about them! Nominate them for a web profile.