USF Watching Deadly Quake

Six USF students in Study Abroad program were not impacted by the disaster.


By Vickie Chachere

USF News


TAMPA, Fla. (March 12, 2011) – The devastating 8.9-magnitude earthquake which shook Japan and unleashed a tsunami which set communities along the Pacific Ocean on edge did not affect six USF students studying in central Japan, but quickly became a focus of USF experts on seismic event and water movement.

“The USF students in Japan are in what is called the Kansai region. We are all alive and well and quite safe for the time being,” student Joelle Abbott wrote in an email early Saturday morning. “In fact, most of us did not even feel the slight tremors that hit our particular town yesterday. We are all concerned with what is happening and our prayers go out to those who felt the effects in the northern area of Japan.”

Meanwhile, USF electrical engineering student Tatsuya Hirazawa lived a scenario that was probably common worldwide: a panic-inducing 4 a.m. telephone call from his mother in Yokohama telling him of the terrifying shaking that sent books and dishes crashing to the floor in their home. A round of telephone calls and emails later, Hirazawa said his family and friends were fine but badly shaken.

“It’s very scary,” said Hirazawa, a junior. “I’ve been in a (magnitude) five earthquake before. But I have never experienced anything like this.”

Rene Sanchez, program coordinator for USF’s Education Abroad office, confirmed that the USF students in Japan on the semester-long program were fine and largely unaffected by the earthquake, which hit northeast Japan the hardest. Program coordinators both here in Tampa and Japan have emergency protocols in place to ensure that students studying internationally are quickly accounted for whenever disaster strikes.

“They were all very calm,” Sanchez said. “They were so far away, they didn’t really feel anything.”

USF geologists were turning their attention to the quake and the tsunami, which was recorded on seismic equipment in central Florida just minutes after occurring. Geology assistant professor Tim Dixon and assistant professor Diana Roman spent much of Friday answering questions from the Tampa Bay media that became a crash course in earthquake science.

A Florida seismograph, which is part of the Global Seismographic Network, an international system of instruments deployed in the 1960s to monitor both earthquake activity and nuclear bomb deployment, was able to detect movement from Friday’s quake within 15 minutes after it occurred with larger energy waves detected 20 minutes later. The sensor in Kissimmee is buried deep in the ground in a quiet Disney wildlife preserve, Roman said.

Roman, who studies volcanoes and the small earthquakes produced by volcanic eruptions, said the event was the result of tectonic plates that meet near Japan making an abrupt shift. Like many others, Roman awoke Friday to the startling news of the unusual disaster.

“When I heard it was an 8.9, my first reaction was ‘Oh, that’s bad,’” she said. “I immediately went to the computer and started looking at the data.

“The video I was seeing from Japan was just mind-blowing.  I know these things from an academic sense, but when you think about how they would actually feel … it would be absolutely terrifying.”

Vickie Chachere can be reached at 813-974-6251.