Two years ago, Collin Rusneac was putting up decorations for the impending graduation ceremony of his English students in Higashi Sendai Junior High. That was when the tremors started.
The Mac philosophy and religious studies alumnus, fresh off of getting his bachelor’s degree, enrolled in the Japan Exchange and Teaching (JET) Programme and set off for a full year of assisting Japanese teachers in English lessons.
“They let us pick where we wanted to get placed, so I chose a place in the countryside, but they placed me instead in Sendai, a really urban area,” said Rusneac.
Sendai, a mere 12 km from the coast, is where Rusneac spent the next few months of his life, all the while learning the language and becoming immersed in Japanese culture. Then on March 11, 2011, Japan encountered a magnitude 9.0 earthquake which shook Collin’s resolve as well the lives of everyone around him.
“I looked outside and the ground was open, dirty water was streaming out from the pipes. It was horrifying. Kids around you are screaming and you don’t know what to do,” said Rusneac.
Rusneac made note of how overly prepared the Japanese were for earthquake events as they are fairly commonplace, but they did not expect one of this severity.
“When I first came over, they brought in a truck to prepare us [assistant language tutors] for earthquakes. They strapped us into a bunch of chairs and shook us around while telling us what to expect on a big screen. It was sort of fun at the time but looking back now I would never not take it seriously again,” said Rusneac.
Higashi (West) Sendai Junior High was a brisk 20-minute bicycle ride away from the farthest landing point of the tsunami that demolished the nearby town of Shiromaki, where Rusneac visited after the event.
“The streets were split open, cars were dangling off of trees. It was like something out of movie special effects.”
A month later his students got to attend their long-awaited graduation ceremony as the nation attempted to recover from the catastrophe, while the school continued to serve as an emergency shelter for the injured and homeless.
In the few short days following the ceremony the school got caught in one of many aftershocks that caved in the roof of the school, albeit at a time where students were out of term and safe from harm’s way.
Filmmaker Tim Graf is screening a documentary about the disaster recovery effort this Thursday, March 7 at 7 p.m. in CNH 104, to shed light on how the struggle is ongoing, even on this second anniversary of the earthquake.