The Daily Item, Sunbury, PA


March 18, 2011

Valley’s Japanese visitors brace for sporadic electricity, water shortage

SELINSGROVE — Yui Sato braved stomach flu Thursday as she prepared to return to her native Japan, but the bug wasn’t the only thing making her uneasy.

“I don’t feel happy to go back home because of the radiation problem,” Sato said from the home of Susan and Steve Rice of Selinsgrove, her host parents. “But I am going back.”

Sato’s concern is the crisis at the Fukushima Daiichi Nuclear Power Plant, where the No. 3 reactor was ravaged by the 9.0-magnitude earthquake that struck Japan a week ago today.

As of Thursday, Japanese officials worked to keep the reactor from spewing more radiation and prevent a meltdown, dumping seawater by helicopter on the nuclear rods to keep them cool.

Sato, 20, is one of a dozen Japanese students of Senshu University who arrived in the Valley Jan. 29 for seven weeks of study at Susquehanna University. On Saturday, they’ll begin their return to a country still reeling from the earthquake and subsequent tsunami that killed more than 10,000 people.

“I sent my family an e-mail again, and they sent me one back yesterday that they’re OK,” said Sato, who’s from a family of six from Kawasaki City, a Tokyo suburb.

Mimi Rice, Senshu program director at Susquehanna, said she couldn’t comment on whether students could stay longer if they chose, but believes it hasn’t been offered as an option because they’re here as part of a university program.

“If the students wanted to stay, legally they could, I believe,” Rice said. “But because it’s a university-sponsored program, they haven’t been asked. And we haven’t heard from any of their families for them not to come back.”

Japan and the United States have a reciprocity agreement, letting a person stay legally for a set number of days depending on the visa class that person holds.

“The host families have been very kind, and many have said they’d welcome the students to stay longer,” Rice said.

While Sato’s host parents prepare for her to leave, they’re also concerned.

“I pray all the time for those people,” said Susan Rice, no relation to Mimi Rice. The Rices have welcomed nearly 40 Japanese students over 20 years.

“To go through three disasters, that’s the traumatic thing of the whole situation,” Susan Rice said.

Sato said friends at home have told her via e-mail that there are rolling blackouts and no water service in her area.

But not all the students are hesitant to go back, Sato said, wanting to return to Japan to be with their families and know the conditions there themselves.

Commercial flights resumed at all of Japan’s airports except Sendai Airport, according to information posted Wednesday on Travel.State.Gov, the State Department’s travel advisory website.

The Japanese government hasn’t issued warnings for its nationals returning to the country, said Miyuki Kikuchi, a consulate staff member at the Embassy of Japan in Washington.  

The larger problem, Kikuchi said, is if people are returning to severely damaged areas. Kawasaki City, home of Senshu University, had minor damage.  

Kikuchi advised checking the embassy’s website for regular status updates in each area of Japan.

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