A Japanese student attending college in Williamsport is using the power of social networking to reach out to the victims of Friday's earthquake and encourage her friends and fellow students to get involved.
Sayumi Akashi, a junior at Lycoming College, is taking advantage of the ubiquity of Facebook to run an online campaign in support of the earthquake victims and to keep the disaster at the forefront of her American friends' minds with regular updates.
Akashi, whose family lives in Chigasaki-shi, Kanagawa prefecture, which is part of the greater Tokyo area, said her family is safe, as is her home. She learned about the earthquake through Facebook, as many of her friends at home began posting updates on the situation. While earthquakes are common in many areas of Japan, no one had seen anything this massive before.
"I was surprised and everyone was commenting (on Facebook) and everyone was afraid of the earthquake because everyone has never experienced a big earthquake before," Akashi said. "I was shocked and I was afraid."
The quake hit her hometown and her university at lower levels of impact. The earthquake in Chigasaki-shi was of 5.0 magnitude, while the University of the Sacred Heart in Tokyo was hit by a 6.0 magnitude. Akashi's mother e-mailed her soon after the earthquake to tell her daughter that she was safe, as was their home. Friday afternoon, Akashi's father was at work.
"He couldn't come back, because the train doesn't work," Akashi said. Her father now is staying with a sister.
Once she knew her parents were safe, Akashi quickly logged on to Facebook to create a campaign encouraging Lycoming College students to take action for Japan. Akashi asked students to leave messages for the earthquake victims on the event message board, which she will translate and send along through the Japanese version of Facebook.
"About 20 people wrote messages," she said.
The campaign will continue throughout spring break, which extends through this week.
"I'm keeping (the messages) for about one week and after that I will send them," Akashi said.
Akashi also is asking students to make donations to the American Red Cross, which gave an initial contribution of $10 million to aid earthquake victims Tuesday. Red Cross workers in Japan have been clearing debris, providing medical transportation and distributing food and relief items such as blankets.
Akashi said that while her town was not near the earthquake site, the effects of the disaster are far-reaching.
"There is a blackout and for about three hours (each day), my hometown can't use the light," she said.
Planned blackouts began Sunday to conserve electricity. Japan no longer can provide electricity for all of its homes with the malfunction of nuclear power plants.
Because the train into Kanagawa is not working, the prefecture is running out of resources.
"There is no food in the supermarket and no gas," Akashi said. "But still it is better than in the cities."
Most of all, Akashi is relieved to know that her family and friends are safe.
"Everyone is OK, and I am so glad," she said.