Michael Luzia of Abbotsford was teaching English on the small island of Izushima, on the northeast coast of Japan, when the earthquake struck last Thursday.
It was the one day of the week that he worked with the 25 students there in a school situated on a high hill.
If it had been any other day of the week, he likely would not have survived the 8.9-magnitude quake and the devastating tsunami that accompanied it; he would have been in his home base of Onagawa, which was flattened by the disaster.
Onagawa is on the coast, about 50 km northwest of Sendai, the city most devastated by the tsunami. Luzia’s girlfriend, Hui Wen Shi of China, was in Onagawa at the time, and fled to high ground with about 15 others when the tsunami converged on the fishing village of 10,000.
She was the only one of the group to make it. When she could run no farther, she turned back to see the whole town washed away.
She was rescued by helicopter and taken to an evacuation centre in Ishinomaki.
Meanwhile, Luzia, the students and the other teachers waited for two days on Izushima to be rescued by helicopter and were taken to the same evacuation centre, where Luzia was reunited with Shi.
From there, the couple were taken by a friend to Sendai to an apartment that escaped damage but where limited food was available and where there was no gas or drinkable water.
Now, Luzia, 27, is trying to get back to the community of Bradner, but has been delayed because he has no passport. It was lost in the tsunami, along with his vehicle and everything else in his apartment.
His mom, Susanne, said she was told by the Canadian embassy in Japan that the only place a new passport can be issued is in Tokyo, but trying to get there has been a long expensive process for her son.
At first, the train system was not running and people were told to stay away from the capital city.
Trains began running later in the week, and Luzia and Shi were able to travel to Okayama, in southwest Japan, taking the long way around to try to get to Tokyo. They are staying with a friend in an area that suffered little damage from the earthquake.
Susanne said she is frustrated by the slow response from the Canadian government, compared to other nations. She has made countless phone calls to government agencies, looking for assistance in speeding up the process to bring her son home.
She said the office of Abbotsford MP Ed Fast informed her there was nothing they could do, but Fast did send an email to Luzia with contact information for the passport process.
At the very least, Susanne said stranded Canadians should be given help to obtain passports and transportation to an airport, she said.
As well, Canada should be providing more aid to help Japan in its state of emergency, including food and medical supplies.
“I feel like our country is letting not only the Canadians down in Japan, but the Japanese people in Japan.”
Despite the hardships, Susanne said her son’s spirit has remained strong. She first heard from him via email after a frantic three days of trying to reach him. She has since spoken to him over the phone.
“He’s doing really well because he’s focused on getting through it,” she said, adding that the reality of the situation will probably hit him harder once he’s back home.
Luzia has been in Japan for the last 2 1/2 years. He had planned to move back to Abbotsford this summer and pursue his master’s degree in linguistics this fall.
LOCAL AID TO JAPAN
The Fraser Valley Japanese Language School is raising funds toward the relief efforts in Japan. The organization will have a donation box available from 10 a.m. to 4 p.m. each day until April 1 at the Tim Hortons at University of the Fraser Valley, 33844 King Rd. in Abbotsford.
As well, the group will be on hand tomorrow (Friday) from noon to 4 p.m. at the campus’ University House, where they will sell Japanese curried rice for $2.
For more information about the fundraising efforts or to volunteer, call Satomi at 604-853-3849.