An aerial view of Onagawa hangs in Nelson city council chambers.

An aerial view of Onagawa hangs in Nelson city council chambers.

Onagawa students survived tsunami: report

The 16 students who visited Nelson from Japan last October survived last week’s devastating tsunami, according to their English teacher’s mother.

An Abbotsford woman whose son has been teaching in Onagawa says all of the students who visited Nelson last October survived the tsunami that devastated the town last week.

Sue Luzia says her son Michael told her on the phone “all the children that visited [Nelson] made it out alive. Some of them no longer have parents/family, none of them have homes.”

They were in school when the giant wave struck on Friday.

Michael was their English teacher and helped them prepare for their trip to Nelson last fall. He was teaching at an island school the day of the earthquake and tsunami, and helped his students to safety.

Sue says all of the teachers at the Onagawa school also lived. The building’s gym is now serving as an evacuation centre.

“Mostly they build the schools on higher ground, and when you get the warning signals, you go to the schools. The kids are there. They have no electricity or heat.”

Sue says her son is still in Japan, but has made his way by taxi and bus  south of Tokyo and is trying to get a passport to come home, but has no Canadian ID.

His apartment in Onagawa, near the train station, is gone.

Michael, who speaks fluent Japanese, was the only Canadian teacher on staff. He’s been there 2½ years and was due to return home in August. He applied to Simon Fraser and the University of B.C. to get his master’s degree. “He would stay now,” Sue says. “That was one of the first things he said. But his kids have no homes. How do you teach them when they don’t have a bed?”

Sue and her husband John visited Onagawa a year ago this month.

“One of the very first things everybody asks is ‘Have you been to Nelson? Are you related to [Hampton] Gray?’ We saw the monument. It’s something they take a lot of pride in.”

Sixteen students and five chaperons came to Nelson last fall.