Two years ago, Hiromi Onabe was strolling across Mercer’s quad between classes, eating dinner at the Fresh Food Company and studying communications textbooks in her on-campus Garden residence hall.
But ever since last Friday, the 24-year-old customer sales trainer has been confined to her downtown Tokyo apartment, pressed to find fresh groceries and unable to make her daily commute to work.
Onabe is a former Mercer student and Japanese native who moved back home following graduation in 2009 to accept a job at Bloomberg Financial. She’s also one of the millions of Japanese residents grappling with the ongoing devastation set in motion by the record-breaking earthquake and tsunami that rocked the country’s eastern coast near the city of Sendai last week.
Fortunately for Onabe, Tokyo is nearly 300 miles away from the quake’s major epicenter, shielding the city from the more intense flooding, destruction and soaring death tolls plaguing the country’s northern region throughout the course of the past week.
Yet despite being almost halfway across the country from the worst of the damage, Onabe said she could still feel the initial quake Friday afternoon from sitting in her desk on the 20th floor of her downtown office building.
“The first shake shocked me, and the building was rocking in a really crazy way. I immediately started searching on Google to find out what had happened,” Onabe said.
Onabe said life in Tokyo has been strained since the crisis unfolded, with overcrowded metro trains, understocked supermarket shelves and rolling blackouts making daily business next to impossible.
“Things are still pretty messy here, and we’ve been told not to leave our homes. In a sense, it’s mass confusion, but I’m still surprised to see people reacting consciously,” Onabe said.
Onabe said she’s hopeful her country can recover from what will likely be remembered as the worst natural disaster in its history.
In the meantime, however, Onabe said she’ll be busy making plans to fly back to visit Mercer later on this year.
“I miss Mercer and Macon and all the friends I made there. I really hope to come back soon after everything gets back to normal here,” Onabe said.