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Bradford teacher tells of trauma after Japan tsunami
Two weeks ago, an earthquake and subsequent tsunami brought devastation and terror to Japan.
Since then, British ex-pats have been fleeing the country in droves, but many have remained in the country they call home. For Soraya Faris Applegate, from Bradford, the televised images of the devastation and destruction are very real.
From her home in Iwakuni, 42km south west of Hiroshima, Soraya talks about life in the aftermath of the 8.8 magnitude earthquake which struck on Friday, March 11.
The quake was followed by a series of aftershocks and a 20m-high wall of water which crashed into the north-eastern coast of the country at 100mph.
Many people are still missing, and it is thought that around 10,000 people may have lost their lives. Images of survivors wandering aimlessly around the wreckage – many faces covered with white masks, as protection against the potential harmful effects of leaking radiation from nuclear power plants – tell of a country crippled by disaster.
Soraya and her husband, Keith Applegate, a commander with the US Navy, were fortunate. Their home on an airbase in Iwakuni is several hundred kilometres away from the affected areas in the north-east of the country.
“But we have not completely escaped the drama as the entire country has felt the aftermath,” she says.
“Tens of thousands perished and hundreds of thousands were left homeless, including relatives of a few who live and work here in Iwakuni. Even more are now evacuating the greater Tokyo area out of fear that the Fukushima Dai’ichi nuclear power plant may contaminate the Kanto Plain.”
Soraya is now involved in raising funds for those left homeless by the disaster. The former primary school teacher, who taught in Bradford for 15 years after qualifying at Bradford College, has also been collecting disaster relief material to be distributed to those in need.
Her husband, a logistics officer at the Marine Corps Air Station in Iwakuni, is working with the American armed forces to deliver disaster relief to devastated towns.
The couple arrived in Japan in 2009 after Keith was posted there. They met while Soraya was head of the Year 2 department at a British school in Saudi Arabia. She moved there with her brother, Brian Taylor, also a teacher.
The impact of the Japanese earthquake has rippled throughout the world, with operations mounted to send relief and support to the stricken areas.
“Our lives have not changed a great deal, although the news of such an event tends to permeate everything we do,” says Soraya. “Travel around Japan has been severely restricted. Most people on the air station have not had a day off since the earthquake and tsunami, as they work tirelessly to help in any way they can.
“The potential for a mass evacuation of the north-eastern quadrant of Honshu is very real and could have a catastrophic impact on the economy. Authorities are doing their very best to bring the power plant under control.
“The Japanese are so resilient and tend to accept things for what they are and do the best with what they have. We are all praying that the worst is over for everybody.”
She adds: “Japan is a beautiful country with the most gracious people I have ever met.
“I would certainly be fearful and would consider leaving if I were closer to the north. We are due to leave here sometime this summer.
“Until then, we will stay and do what we can in any way to help the situation.”