KAHULUI Two Japanese students on Maui worry about their families in Fukushima as radiation continues to spew from a nearby nuclear plant that is less than 40 miles away from their hometowns.
"They cannot go to school or to work right now because the smoke is all around them," said 20-year-old Miyu Furukawa about her family.
Furukawa said her hometown of Koriyama is 37 miles from the stricken Fukushima Dai-ichi nuclear power plant.
University of Hawaii Maui College students Hidetoshi Saito and Miyu Furukawa, who both come from the Fukushima area of Japan, share a light moment recently outside the Starbucks at the Queen Ka‘ahumanu Center. While they are relieved that their families survived the earthquake and tsunami that devastated much of the area earlier this month, they worry about the continuing threat of radiation.
The Maui News / MELISSA TANJI photo
She and fellow Fukushima prefecture resident Hidetoshi Saito said Tuesday that their family members back home were ordered by the government to wear masks to cover their noses and mouths because of the potential exposure to radiation.
Saito, of Fukushima City, about 31 miles from the power plant, said his family had sent his 18-year-old sister and 12-year-old brother to stay with relatives in Tokyo.
But his father and mother remain in Fukushima, where they are caring for their elderly parents.
Furukawa said her family cannot leave the area because their only relatives live in northern Japan, which suffered the most damage from the March 11 earthquake and tsunami.
Like many other Japanese in Hawaii, Furukawa and Saito said they feel helpless and want to go home.
"I want to hug my parents and my grandmother," Furukawa said during an interview outside Starbucks at the Queen Ka'ahumanu Center.
Furukawa has been living on Maui for the past 18 months, learning English at the Maui Language Institute at University of Hawaii Maui College. Saito, 21, who has been on Maui for two and a half years, has finished his studies at the institute and is enrolled as a student at the college.
Both said they have been riding a roller coaster of emotions since March 11.
Neither Saito nor Furukawa was able to contact their families immediately after the earthquake and tsunami. It took several days to find out that their loved ones were alive.
"I cried a lot. I couldn't sleep," Furukawa said.
She is still awaiting word from a friend who lives in Sendai, the devastated city close to the quake's epicenter.
Furukawa is hoping that her friend is not responding to emails and messages because she lost her phone or just can't connect with the Internet.
"I hope she evacuated safely," Furukawa said.
Saito said he scrambled to try and contact his family via email and phone after learning about the quake. But he also had to cope with evacuating his Kahului dorm room because it is in the tsunami zone.
"At the same time we had to worry about us and worry about Japan," he said.
Both students went to a friend's home in Waiehu to ride out the tsunami.
When she finally reached her family, Furukawa learned her younger sisters, ages 19 and 13, were at home.
"There was huge shaking," Furukawa said they told her. "They couldn't stand and couldn't walk."
She said that lights fell down in their home, along with the computer and dishes.
Aftershocks continue to rattle the region.
"They said it's still shaking," Furukawa added.
"They're getting used to it," Saito said of his relatives, adding that the family didn't have electricity, gas and water for about a week after the event.
Saito said food is now being brought into Fukushima from Tokyo.
"I hope it's getting better," he added.
He said his family told him when markets open, people quickly go and snap up whatever they can.
Both Saito and Furukawa said the tragedies have apparently brought the community together in a busy country where neighbors no longer have the close relationships they used to.
Both students said they came forward with their stories to make people more aware of what is going on in Japan.
"Each of us can do something for Japan," Saito said.
Furukawa added: "I want everyone not to forget this happened."
* Melissa Tanji can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.