04/17/11 — WCC student helping clean up after quake, tsunami in Japan

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WCC student helping clean up after quake, tsunami in Japan

By Phyllis Moore
Published in News on April 17, 2011 1:50 AM

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Amber-Jolene Parish, a Wayne Community College student who will graduate in May, moved to Japan in September to join husband, Scott, stationed at Misawa Air Force Base.

Amber-Jolene Parish won't be attending her graduation ceremony at Wayne Community College next month because she's busy with clean-up efforts after the recent earthquake and tsunami in Japan.

It's been an "interesting last few weeks," said the student in the business administration/marketing program who moved in September to join her husband, Scott, stationed at Misawa Air Force Base.

She has been completing her degree online, but shared what it was like being in the Far East when the first major earthquake struck on March 11.

"We were very fortunate, almost too fortunate, I think," she said. "The earthquake, I have to say, was the worst thing I have ever experienced."

It was around 2:30 p.m. and her dog seemingly knew before she did, Mrs. Parish said.

"I was making my husband's lunch when (the dog) started barking at the door," she said. "At first it wasn't so bad. We have had a few small earthquakes here and there since September. But that's when out of nowhere everything started shaking hard.

"I won't lie, I was in hysterics. The only thing that kept going through my head is, the building's going to fall."

The couple lives on the fifth floor of a nine-floor apartment tower in the Aomori prefecture, above Iwate, she said.

"DVDs and plants were falling, a TV in the other room fell off the desk and even my refrigerator was two feet from the wall," she recalled. "I was scared out of my mind. I couldn't find it in my legs to leave because my husband was in the shower and couldn't hear me yelling for him."

The power and phone services were knocked out, she said. Her husband had to go to work and it wasn't until Mrs. Parish took the dog for a walk that she encountered someone who shared just how extensive the situation was.

The next 24 hours were particularly rough, she said.

"People on base were trying to pull together our resources like candles, batteries, flashlights, any kind of cold food we could put together," she said. "I remember the day afterward (Saturday), we had taken four families and added food together to cook on a grill before it went bad."

Listening to the base radio station that evening, she said it caused her to reflect upon what it must have been like during war times where families would huddle by the radio for hours just to catch a bit of encouraging news.

"That's when I found out about the tsunami but no statistics (were given)," she said. "It wasn't until Sunday evening that I even knew the beginning of what had happened."

When power was finally restored several days later, she said nothing had prepared her for what she discovered on the Japanese TV stations.

"The damage, the lives, the whole thing made me sick to my stomach," she says now. "It broke my heart and I now knew that this was only the beginning.

"It took a good week to calm down. I was having bad dreams of the towers collapsing while I was in it.

The aftershocks were still happening and even today

are still pretty big. A full

week afterward, there were over 100 earthquakes or aftershocks."

She would learn just how close she was to the devastation after volunteering to be part of clean-up efforts with the Misawa American Red Cross. One of the first areas they visited, Hachinohe, was barely 30 minutes from the base, she said.

"The damage was crazy -- ships on the dock, cars on top of cars," she said. "We were shoveling mud out of the Hachinohe Fishing Port Office ... water was close to the ceiling ... everything was ruined but we cleaned up the building with no complaining and we were proud to be absolutely filthy."

Despite the overwhelming devastation they encountered at every site, Mrs. Parish said she has been impressed by the Japanese residents.

"The Japanese citizens have been calm, caring and hardworking," she said. "They are a magnificent people. If something like this would have happened elsewhere, there would be so much chaos.

"People here are waiting hours in line for gas, no horn honking or rude remarks, just patience."

The process of rebuilding is slow, Mrs. Parish said, particularly since there have been additional major earthquakes in the weeks since. But things on base are gradually getting back to normal, with the military continuing to send supplies and aid wherever needed.

While she admits to being disappointed that she will not be able to attend her upcoming college graduation, Mrs. Parish said she was among those given the choice of a voluntary departure but declined.

"We are in no threat of the radiation, being 250 miles north of it, and being upwind helps, too," she said. "Plus, I couldn't see myself leaving when so many people wish they could be here to help clean up.

"I feel honored that I am able to help. The tears and the smiles of the Japanese people after we help gives me the fuel to do it as much as possible."

The fortitude demonstrated by her 21-year-old daughter does not surprise Deborah Carter, who first moved to Goldsboro in 1999 with several friends from Montana, then on a mission to help with clean-up efforts after Hurricane Floyd.

She remained here, she said, "because they have a community college."

"I did not have my high school diploma, so I wanted a place that had a community college and to go back to school," she said.

As a single parent of four children, she obtained her high school diploma from Wayne Community College in 2003. And now her daughter is also graduating from WCC.

Her pride, though, does not completely overshadow the concern she has as the precarious situation in Japan continues to unfold. Plus, she mentioned, her youngest son is also stationed at Misawa.

The hardest times are when she's been unable to reach either of them or get a response from her e-mails or phone calls.

Amber does try to alleviate the concern, Ms. Carter said.

"She seems fine, she's used to it now," she said. "But you know, I have watched every time (and) they're getting worse, they're just getting bigger. She does her best to reassure me."

Does she wish her family members were all stateside, and safe? Certainly, she says.

"But at the same time, she's her mother's daughter," she said. "That's the way I raised my kids. I wouldn't expect anything less of her."

For a look of Mrs. Parish's trip out to Hachinohe Port, visit www.youtube.com/watch?v=zb3BRUEBqH8.