25 Trinis safe

There have been no reports of fatalities among the 25 nationals, Japanese Ambassador Taatsuaki Iwata assured yesterday.

Although Foreign Affairs Minister Suruj Rambachan did not have a final number for the TT nationals in Japan, he said at least ten persons were safe according to their families who contacted him.

Iwata said the 25 nationals were in Japan teaching English to Japanese students or on scholarships sponsored by the Japanese government.

At a media briefing at the Japanese Embassy, Hayes Street, St Clair yesterday Iwata said information was being collected on the safety and security of the 25 nationals.

“So far there has been no information on serious trouble to these people. It is still at an early stage. We are following the situation as best we can from here,” he said, extending his support to the families and friends of the TT nationals.

Iwata said he had telephoned his own relatives and friends in Japan and they were “alright.” He advised locals to call their loved ones in Japan and if they needed help to send an email to embassyofjapan@gmail.com for assistance. Families are asked to provide the name and contact information for the relative in Japan.

“So far there are no casualties of Trinidadians in Japan,” Iwata said. He admitted that not all of the TT nationals have been contacted. He said Sendai, a major city in northern Japan, were the quake struck off the coastline has many universities and foreign students.

There are 30 Japanese nationals in Trinidad but their families are also safe.

In an earlier interview, Rambachan made a public appeal to the families of nationals to contact the ministry. He said he received about ten calls.

“Lots of them are there teaching English, and one or two are studying. All the families said their relatives are okay.” He repeated this remark at a news conference during the Lower House tea- break, where he revealed that one person, Teneile Cuffie, teaching at Nakayam, Japan, had spoken to her family during the quake, but not since. However, he said this disconnect might be due to a breakdown in communications.

At the news briefing, Prime Minister Kamla Persad-Bissessar offered her sympathies to the people of Japan over the “devastating disaster”. She said the Seismic Unit at the University of the West Indies, St Augustine, told her the quake and tsunami pose no threat to TT.

She said the nearest TT Embassy to Japan is in India, but nationals in Japan are serviced by the Jamaican High Commission in Tokyo, which also issues visas to Japanese citizens wishing to visit TT. Many nationals teaching in Japan went through the Japan Exchange Teaching (JET) Programme run by the Government of Japan.

A group of 14 Caricom citizens, mostly TT nationals, last year left for Japan to spend at least a year teaching English in various schools, Newsday reported last August 2.

The group included nine TT nationals, two Barbadians (Bajans) and one Antiguan.

Newsday’s own probes suggest most nationals in Japan are okay.

Sue-Ann Simon, from San Fernando, emailed a note to Newsday.

“I live in Nagasaki so I didn’t feel the quake here. There are a few Trinis who felt some of the aftershocks and at least one Bajan who told us that it’s so bad where she is that there is no power or water supply,” wrote Simon. “It seems that most of the JET Programme teachers from the Caribbean are safe but I won’t know for sure until tomorrow (today).”

Later speaking to Newsday, Simon said there are about 20 TT nationals on the JET programme in Japan. She recalled when the quake struck at 2.46 pm (Japan time) yesterday, the nationals had all been at work at the various schools across Japan where they teach English.

“We messaged each other and checked each others Facebook profiles to see who had got affected,” she said, adding everyone she knew was fine. She said two nationals, one nicknamed “Kim Possible”, and Jenson Jonathan, plus Bajan Claire Gittens, live in areas affected by the quake.

Simon said the geography of Japan causes quakes to be frequent, with drills held every three months. “They all seemed to be very calm, scared but calm,” he recalled of people’s reaction to the quake. “There were no reports of panicking or looting.” She said the quake had disrupted public transport, so offices shut early, leaving people to walk home or to return to their offices to camp out overnight.

Simon said she admired the Japanese people’s resilience but said she really “felt” for them. “It’s very difficult for me to watch the news. Me and my Trini friend were watching the news together and we really got hit by a sudden depression when we saw a ship with hundreds of people get washed out to see. It could be people who we know. It’s not like watching from Trinidad.”

Mauricia Windsor, of Trincity, who is teaching English at a town six hours drive from Tokyo, told her family by Skype that said she was okay, and had not even felt the quake.

Other Trinis posted messages on Facebook, assuring of their safety.

Sharla Mohammed, from east Trinidad, said, “Safe and sound in Iwate.”

Randy Jitman, of Tacarigua, posted, “I’m fine by the way.”

Devanand Maharaj, who once taught on JET but now lives in Toronto, Canada, said all his Trini friends in Japan are safe.

The Ministry of Food Production told Newsday Minister Vasant Bharath, who is visiting Indonesia, is okay.

Allen Wooding, who once taught on the JET scheme but is now in Trinidad, has been constantly in touch with TT nationals in Japan since the quake.

“Most people are safe, but there are one or two who live in Sendai whom we have not heard from, plus a Bajan girl in the Iwate Prefecture.”

He said “Kim Possible” had said she felt the quake but is fine.

“Claire Gittens, we heard from earlier this morning (Friday). About two hours after the quake she sent a text message to say she is safe.”

Wooding added, “We have not heard from Teneile Cuffie in Sendai. All communications there are down including the Internet.”

He said she had sent a message on Thursday to record three minor quakes before the big quake hit. “When the earthquake struck, she sent a message to see if everyone was cool.” He said Cuffie’s last Internet message just before being cut off were the words, “It keeps on shocking.” Local Government Minister Chandresh Sharma had a meeting at Kent House, Maraval with disaster experts and said, “While there may be no effect from it, there is some possibility because of the rise in sea levels, it can reach the Caribbean.”


"25 Trinis safe"

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