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Students reach out to Japan

On March 11, Shaon Basu, like many Japanese students at McGill, panicked as he learned of the tragic events unfolding back home.

“I freaked out, quite honestly,” said Basu, a U2 physiology student. “It was after one of my labs and I came to know about it from a string of text messages from concerned friends.”

Even though Japan is thousands of kilometres away, the recent earthquake and subsequent tsunami have had a significant impact on McGill students and prompted extensive relief efforts.

“I was terrified when I couldn’t contact my parents because all the phone lines were jammed,” Basu said. “Luckily, I was able to get a hold of my cousin on Skype, who told me that my family members were fine. Two of my relatives actually lived in Sendai [a city close to the epicentre] but they’re alive and well. Not their apartment, though.”

The earthquake measured 9.0 on the Richter scale, making it one of the most forceful quakes in modern times.

“I would say that that particular event is generally regarded as the fourth or fifth largest earthquake that we have ever measured,” said Prof. Olivia Jensen, from the McGill earth science program.

However, she pointed out, that the earthquake itself wasn’t the real problem—the epicentre was approximately 130 miles offshore and Japan’s infrastructure was prepared to deal with shaking.

“The real surprise was the tsunami,” she said. “There was no expectation of one on this scale.”

She added that initial estimates of the damages’ costs are comparable to those of Hurricane Katrina in 2005 in the United States.

With such high costs ahead, many McGill students, particularly those with personal connections to Japan, have begun to help.

Monica Östergren, a U3 Faculty of Education student, has been heavily involved with relief efforts at McGill. Östergren, who is also a vice-president of the Japanese Students’ Association (JSA), was raised in Tokyo, where her family still lives.

With the JSA, Östergren has been holding bake sales, fund raising, and distributing donation boxes in Japanese restaurants to collect money for the Japanese Red Cross. She noted that other campus groups have taken active roles as well, and that other solo relief efforts have been undertaken by concerned individuals.

“I think the fact that we are so far away motivated us even more to truly think hard about what we can do from here in Montreal that could help Japan,” Östergren said. “For me personally, being involved in this process of working for this cause has helped me feel part of Japan. Instead of reading the news and watching the footage and becoming depressed, I think we all benefit from having the sense that we are doing something to help.”

For all students wishing to donate, the JSA would be holding bake sales on March 29 from 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. at Redpath Library and March 30  from 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. in the McConnell Engineering Building.

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