In the aftermath of an 8.9-magnitude earthquake — the largest in Japan’s history — and an ensuing tsunami, there have been no reported injuries or damage to the Penn community abroad as of Sunday night, according to the Office of International Programs.
The earthquake and tsunami, which hit the northeast region of Japan, caused massive destruction.
There are currently four Penn undergraduates in Japan on Penn Abroad programs. Penn has been in touch with all of them and confirmed that they are safe, Penn Abroad director Barbara Gorka wrote in an e-mail.
The University has three study abroad programs in Tokyo and two in Kyoto. Over 220 Penn students and faculty were in Japan on academic and student-organized programs, according to OIP. Many more were likely to be in Japan for personal travel over spring break.
All students on Law School, School of Engineering and Applied Science and Wharton School programs in Japan are safe, according to Phyllis Holtzman, interim vice president of University Communications. All Penn students in the country for spring break programs are on their way home, she added, with no reported transportation problems.
College sophomore Chris Shimamoto, who lives in central Tokyo, returned home for spring break. He was walking in a residential neighborhood when the earthquake hit.
“I felt a little disoriented and couldn’t walk in a straight line. Then the tremors began to sharply rise in intensity and lasted for about three minutes,” he wrote in an e-mail.
“What was most eye-catching were the masses of people that flooded into the streets afterwards … After I walked further down one of the main roads, I saw a column of smoke rising from an office building that was on fire,” he added.
Wharton junior and co-president of the Japanese Students Association Ryun Hobbs said JSA is planning to raise funds to aid victims of the disaster.
“We don’t have anything concrete yet, but we are thinking of selling T-shirts and donating our profits to the Red Cross,” he said.
“Morale in Tokyo seems relatively high considering the severity of the incident … but I can’t imagine that there’s a whole lot of optimism further north … Local coverage of the disaster is one of the most depressing things I’ve seen in a while,” wrote Shimamoto.
About 28 Penn School of Design students and three faculty members visiting Tokyo are safe and accounted for, according to Janet Kroll, an associate dean at the School of Design. They were visiting two architecture studios on a spring-break trip sponsored by the school.
Kroll has been in contact with two PennDesign faculty members — Ali Rahim and Roland Snooks — who confirmed the group’s safety. Kroll also spoke to several students’ parents.
One group arrived in New York on Saturday evening while the other group is scheduled to depart Tokyo Monday afternoon, Kroll wrote in an e-mail.
OIP has been communicating with Penn affiliates in Tokyo, Kyoto and Osaka through cell phone and the internet.
The U.S. Department of State also issued a Travel Warning on Friday, urging American travelers not to depart for the area.
Penn President Amy Gutmann released a statement Friday addressing the entire community, stating that the University is in the process of verifying the safety of students and faculty in the area and offering support to students and faculty whose families reside in the region.
Wharton has also been in touch with students, alumni, faculty and staff in the affected regions, according to an e-mail sent out to the school community by Wharton Dean Thomas Robertson Friday. Robertson urged community members to alert Wharton Communications with any new information.
The National Weather Service issued advisories in Hawaii and the coastal areas of California, Oregon, Washington and Alaska.
Penn has recently added the Global Activities Registry, an online database for students, faculty and staff to register their travels. Travelers will receive updates and alerts on their destinations, and Penn will have their contact information in case of emergency.
The registry is linked with International SOS, which provides security and medical assistance worldwide.
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