Omaha – When Monica Rivera and Joseph Harris volunteered at the William Averette Anderson Fund Workshop in April 2017 at UNO, they learned about the Japan: Learning from Disasters Field Mission study opportunity. They applied and were selected to participate.
In June 2017, they traveled with Terri Norton, Ph.D., associate professor with the UNL College of Engineering, six other students, and a K-12 teacher. During the 12-day trip, they observed the reconstruction and redevelopment of the Tohoku region following the 2011 Great East Japan Earthquake and Tsunami and meltdown of the Fukushima Daiichi Nuclear Power Plant. Over 15,000 people lost their lives in these disasters.
While in Japan, they toured Asakusa, the Bei Dong Disaster Prevention Base, Imperial Palace, East Gardens, Meiji Shrine, Great Kanto Earthquake Museum, and Tokyo Rinkai Disaster Prevention Park, focusing on the architecture and engineering of these sites.
They also visited the Japanese cities of Hiraizumi, Odiaba, Otsuchi, Minamisanriku, and Ishinomaki. In Odiaba and Otsuchi, they saw the damage and devastation from the 2011 Earthquake and Tsunami that remains today, along with reconstruction efforts. In Odiaba, they toured the disaster center, where people are educated on disasters and disaster preparation.
The wave comes so fast that people have to decide whether to save themselves or their families.”
- Mio, tsunami survivor
While touring Otuschi, the guide, Mio, a survivor of the tsunami, had a significant impact on the students when she described her tsunami experience as a black wall coming at you. She said, “The wave comes so fast that people have to decide whether to save themselves or their families.” Survivor’s guilt is still prevalent today. There are memorials, shrines, and prayer boards mourning those who died.
While in Ishinomaki, the group visited the Reconstruction Community Center where they took photographs next to marked tsunami heights. Joe and Monica stayed in a hotel that was used as an evacuation shelter during the tsunami. Today, sea walls line the coast, and signs warn of tsunamis.
Next, the group traveled to Sendai, where students learned about preventive measures for tsunamis, such as evacuation towers, and an alternative version of a sea wall that has stairs on both sides. They saw where massive trees once stood, now leveled by the destruction. They witnessed the Memorial Monument of the Great East Earthquake, which depicts a seed and a sprout, symbolizing regrowth. Finally, they visited the Tohoku University Aobayama campus where they met students from Pratt University and Tohoku University and attended presentations on urban reconstruction and planning; earthquake engineering; and tsunami engineering and risk evaluation.
Both Monica and Joe said their favorite part of Japan was visiting Otsuchi and the learning about the country’s sustainability efforts, city design, and culture of respect. The streets are clean of debris, as it is considered culturally shameful to litter. The streets often have three lanes, one for walking, one for biking, and one for the blind.
Joseph Harris will graduate in May of 2018 with a Bachelor of Science in Emergency Management. Monica Rivera will graduate in December of 2017 with a Bachelor of Multidisciplinary Studies with a concentration in Emergency Management.
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