Florida Students Experienced Quake
Tokyo Disney parking lot swallowed cars, sidewalks buckled
As the world watched a 9.0 magnitude earthquake devastate areas of Japan, one group of Florida students experienced the disaster firsthand. At Tokyo Disney, 13 students from Stetson University in Central Florida felt and saw the effects of the world's fifth largest earthquake since 1900 as it happened.
"The sidewalks were pushed up into mounds and there were cracks all over the parking lot," said Dan Pittle, a 23-year-old Stetson University MBA student from Orlando, Florida. "There were some parked cars that were completely sunk into the ground."
The students arrived in Tokyo, Japan with two of their professors two days before the March 11 earthquake. They were on the last leg of the trip, visiting the Disney theme park when the earthquake struck.
"All of the sudden, the ground started shaking really hard and these panels on the ceiling started slamming against each other," Pittle said. "That was really scary. We didn't really know what was going on."
The group noticed that the Japanese all quickly got down on the ground.
"We don't have earthquakes in Florida," Pittle told the Scholastic Kids Press Corps. "So I had no idea what an earthquake felt like."
They quickly saw there was nothing to do but wait until the quake was over. It lasted about two minutes in some places, as long as five minutes in others. For those experiencing it, it seemed like forever.
"The light posts were shaking and wavering around," Pittle said. "It was a very, very scary moment because we weren't in control of it. We couldn't stop it if we wanted to, so we really had to sit and kind of bear it."
Tokyo was not the hardest hit area of the quake, which was centered 231 miles northeast of the nation's largest city.
"We really didn't know the gravity of the entire situation until about a day or two after our earthquake at Disney," Pittle said.
Within 14 hours of first experiencing the earthquake, the group was back at their hotel emailing and calling family and friends to assure them they were okay. They camped out at the airport for two days waiting for flights home.
"We arrived at the airport in Orlando just last Sunday and there were a lot of mixed emotions," Pittle said. "There were a lot of tears, people were crying, because there is this essence of not knowing what is going on."
Almost a week later, the crisis in Japan still dominates the national news scene.
"The group of us have been keeping pretty close tabs of what has been going on in Japan," said Pittle. "We're pretty invested emotionally and relationship-wise in the country now."
The students plan to send care packages to the new friends they made on their trip.
"We want to make sure that they are taken care of, and know that we really honor them and respect them," he said. "And we want to thank them for all the work they put into making sure that we were safe."
Pittle says the experience changed him and many others in the group.
"I appreciate life, I appreciate my friends, and family," he said. "I also appreciate what other countries and cultures go through when they suffer through these natural disasters. I really appreciate every day that I have now. You appreciate a lot more when you have to go through something like that."
EARTHQUAKE IN JAPAN
A magnitude 9.0 earthquake struck northeast Japan on Friday, March 11, causing a destructive tsunami that reached the west coast of the United States. Scholastic News Kid Reporters are collecting information about the quake and its aftermath and talking to people who have family and friends in Japan and looking into how kids can help with relief efforts. Find their stories in the Earthquake in Japan Special Report.
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