Our Experience and Lessons in the Chuetsu Earthquake
Ippei YAMAZAWA (President, International University of Japan)
This article is based on Mr. Yamazawa's report sent out to foreign embassies in Japan on October 31, 2004.
Almost two months have passed since the Chuetsu Earthquake on October 23. The International University of Japan (IUJ) has its campus located in Yamato-machi very close to the earthquake's epicenter and, as a result, we felt very strong trembles. As already reported in the Japanese and foreign media, much damage has been done in the central part of Niigata-ken, particularly north of the Yamato-machi area where IUJ is located (Editor's note: Yamato-machi is now a part of Ninami-Uonuma-shi, due to administrative merger).
Fortunately we had no apparent structural damage to any of our buildings and facilities on campus, mainly because our campus is built on hard rock and our buildings are all extra-ordinarily earthquake-proof. Actually, after the quake we invited the design engineering company that made the master plan of the IUJ campus to check our buildings. They found no damage except for a few new cracks on an outer wall of one building, and assured us that we would get no damage even if another earthquake of the same degree hits. In addition, all life lines were restored in and around the university area within a day after the original quake. By now the physical damage to the Chuetsu region affected by the earthquake has already been or is currently being taken care of, thanks to tremendous efforts by residents, volunteers and governments.
On the other hand, psychological damage seems to be very difficult to repair. Since the original earthquake, most of the residents in the Chuetsu region have been frightened by the possibility of being hit by another big quake. This is particularly true with our IUJ students, because about 80 percent of our students came from abroad and very few of them have ever experienced an earthquake. Naturally, they were shocked mentally so much that some suffered from the trauma of the possibility that another major aftershock might occur at any moment, and they could not sleep well at night, although most of them have overcome the trauma by now. The Chuetsu Earthquake has been heavily covered by the press, and some extreme cases have been reported by foreign media overseas. So the students' families--especially their parents--in their home countries were very much concerned about the safety and well-being of their sons and daughters, and those concerns tended to increase the stress that the students were feeling right after the original earthquake.
At IUJ, we were not well prepared for the original earthquake but we have now set up an Emergency Headquarters so as to meet possible major quakes or aftershocks quickly and efficiently. We also invited professional counselors from Tokyo for those who seek help in overcoming their trauma. Looking back, we should have had such arrangements, at least in our contingency planning.
While we have already returned to our normal schedule on campus, it may take a little more time for residents in the Chuetsu region as a whole to be able to lead normal lives by overcoming both physical and psychological damage fully. We are trying out best to help each other, and would appreciate your support for our reconstruction efforts. In a sense, as residents of the Japan Archipelago we all should be well aware of and well prepared for the danger of earthquakes and other natural disasters. And we can learn lessons from our experience in the Chuetsu earthquake incident.
Despite any difficulties, I sincerely hope that the New Year will be a better year that everyone can look forward to, at least in terms of natural disasters.