Fukushima University students help with Houston disaster cleanup

6 September 2017

[Translated by the Japan Times] Five students at Fukushima University are volunteering in Houston in the wake of the devastation wrought by Hurricane Harvey.

The students happened to be in the disaster area as participants of an internship program at the Houston city office. They are helping with the operations of shelters and cleanup efforts clearing out disaster debris, reciprocating the gratitude they felt for the kindness of Americans in the wake of the March 2011 earthquake, tsunami and nuclear disasters.

The five are: Natsuki Igarashi, 20, a native of Nasushiobara, Tochigi Prefecture; Yuki Sato, 19, from the city of Koriyama; Yuki Tanpo, 19, a native of Utsunomiya, Tochigi Prefecture; Aya Watanabe, 20, originally from Murakami, Niigata Prefecture; and Kin Shiryu, a 29-year-old graduate student originally from Beijing.

The students have been in Houston since Aug. 6, as part of an internship program at the city hall, where, before the storm, they had studied English and worked alongside city employees on an alcohol and drug dependency prevention program, measures against child delinquency, and public relations.

Harvey made landfall in Texas on Aug. 25, causing record-level floods and wreaking havoc on the city. While the students, who are living at homestay accommodations, were not personally affected, the entire city suffered catastrophic damage. The City Hall was swamped with water, forcing the suspension of the internship program.

Mountains of debris piled up along the roads and the crowds of people at shelters brought back the students’ memories of Fukushima in the aftermath of the March 2011 disasters. This inspired the students to volunteer and show their feelings of gratitude for the support Fukushima received.

Cooperating with host families and friends in the Houston area, the students have been sorting out relief supplies, removing furniture damaged by the flood and mopping the floors of restaurants.

Sato, whose home was damaged in 2011, said: “I want to be useful to people of Houston, using my experience as a disaster victim. I want to support the recovery of the city as a representative of Fukushima.”

Philip McCasland, an associate professor of business administration at Fukushima University who accompanied the students to the city, was impressed by their actions.

“They were proactive in the way they took part in the recovery efforts,” he said.

Daisuke Numata, an associate professor at the university in charge of the internship program, expressed hope the students will grow through their experience in Houston. The five are set to return to Fukushima later this month.