Destrehan woman relives Japan quake, tsunami horror

Brings back memories of Katrina

Michelle Stuckey
March 25, 2011 at 8:54 am  | Mobile Reader | Pring this storyPrint 

Angelle Hava, 31, was at work when she felt the first wave of tremors on the afternoon of March 11. After the power went out, Hava and her fellow English teachers at a school in Yokohama, Japan knew something was wrong.

Hava, of Destrehan, had been in Japan as an English teacher and was scheduled to return to Louisiana just one week after the massive earthquake and tsunami rocked Japan.

“Within two days after the initial earthquake, I had some 10 to 15 earthquake notifications on my cell phone,” Hava said.

After the initial large earthquake, aftershock tremors swept Japan for over 24 hours.

Hava said that some of her coworkers had to walk for up to five hours to get home that night because the train system was shut down. It was not a school day for Japanese students, but kids from the area started showing up at the school after finding out that their parents were stuck at work. The government was constantly sending notifications about electricity blackouts and safety concerns.

“The Japanese media was not forthright about the nuclear (dangers) but they were straightforward with monitoring the effects of the tsunami and the earthquake,” Hava said. “They were pretty good about notifying people.”

While Yokohama, outside of Tokyo, did not have much damage, some towns in northern Japan were devastated from the earthquake and subsequent tsunami. 

Hava said that the Japanese are always prepared for an earthquake, but that the tsunami was unexpected. She said that the situation in Japan reminded her of the effects of Hurricane Katrina.

“In Louisiana, there has always been a flood plan in the New Orleans area should there be a large hurricane, as far as how evacuation should go, but there was never a plan for a levee breech,” Hava said. “It’s the same for Japan. They’re always prepared for an earthquake…but as far as the tsunami - that’s just not something it seems they were ever prepared for.

“There is no plan, so you just do the best with what little information you have.”

Hava had to use social media sites, like Facebook and Twitter, to notify her family because she didn’t have phone service. Thanks to social media sites she was able to contact her family within 20 minutes of the initial earthquake.

“It was like Katrina…when you tried to use your phone, you couldn’t get a signal to dial out,” she said. “It was easier to get on the internet from a cell phone than it was to get through trying to make a call. A lot of people in Japan were utilizing those social networks to get in touch with each other.”

Thanks to the sites, Hava was able to continuously post updates for her family throughout the days following the disaster.

Hava said the hardest part of the experience for her was saying goodbye to her Japanese friends just one week after the catastrophe.

“It was hard to tell them bye…a goodbye is sad to begin with but when you add on tragedy like that, part of you wants to stay because there are people you care about,” she said. “Once you get a plan to get yourself out, you feel selfish and guilty for the people you’re leaving behind.”

For now, Hava said she’s happy to be back in Destrehan but worried about the media coverage of the disaster.

“There’s not enough media coverage…I can’t get accurate information not being there,” she said.

For now, her days of teaching overseas are over and she hopes to get her teaching credentials and teach special education in the United States.

“I’m happy to be home,” she said.

The Japanese Red Cross is accepting donations and all proceeds will go directly to the people of Japan.
Visit for more information.

There will also be a cultural display for the month of April at the East Bank Regional Library focusing on Japan.

View other articles written Michelle Stuckey

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