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Kane native, a teacher in Japan, describes quake

March 18, 2011

Jason Downey, left, a Kane native and 2002 graduate of Kane Area High School, is now teaching in Japan and experienced the major earthquake eight days ago. Downey is shown with Chris Winsor, right, also a 2002 Kane High graduate, who visited Japan last year. Downey is the son of James and Ronna Downey of 500 Elk Ave., Kane. Photo submitted.

Kane native Jason Downey has felt the effects of several earthquakes during his 3½ years as a schoolteacher in Japan.
But he knew right away that the “big one" that rocked the island nation eight days ago wasn’t like the others.
Downey told the Kane Republican that he was in the teachers’ room at his school “when the quake hit” March 11.
“It was 2:46 in the afternoon,” Downey said. “At first, I didn’t think it was a big deal. We get over 2,000 earthquakes a year and most of them are over in 10 or 20 seconds."
Downey said it “became apparent pretty quickly that this was a serious earthquake.”
“Stuff started falling off shelves and the windows started rattling,” Downey said. "The shelves appeared to be dancing to the music of the earthquake alarm. It was a pretty surreal feeling.”
Since August 2007, Downey has taught English at an elementary school in Moriya City, Ibaraki Prefecture—about 30 miles north of Tokyo and about 210 miles from the epicenter of the earthquake. The quake-spawned killer tsunami posed no threat to his school.
A 2002 graduate of Kane Area High School, Downey teaches about 17 classes a week for students in first through sixth grade. There are about 520 students in his school.
When the earthquake struck, the students were instructed to “get under their desks and wait for the 'big one' to die down,” Downey said. “I wasn’t really sure what to do so I stuck it out in the teachers' room until an evacuation was ordered. I was more concerned with staying out of everyone's way than my own safety."
Downey said he was “glad that I was in school” when the earthquake hit rather than at home or on a train.
“Schools in Japan are designed particularly well so they can serve as relief shelters in the case of disasters,” Downey said. “I was never worried about the building coming down. Japan doesn’t cut corners. Their architecture is the most prepared in the world for earthquakes.”
After two or three aftershocks, the principal ordered the school evacuation, Downey said. He and the students went outside to the playground.
"It was safe from everything-- but the rain," Downey said. "There were a few tears, but most people held it together. Everyone is very tense and worried about their fellow citizens."
Outside the school, Downey said he aided a third-grade boy who has muscular dystrophy.
"I sat him up against me and taught him the names of the seasons in English," Downey said. "He told me the names and birthdays of everyone in his family."
Downey said he lives in "an old house" within a 25-minute walk from his school.
He said he was "very surprised" his house didn't collapse in the earthquake.
"There were a few broken dishes and a few fallen books," Downey said. "That was about it for me. If there's any invisible structural damage, I expect I'll find out about it during the next big quake."
Downey said the "biggest concerns" in his community in Japan are about shortages for gasoline, food and toilet paper.
"I was an 'early bird,'" Downey said. "My fridge is stocked."
Downey last summer purchased a solar-powered lamp for his house. He's glad he did. He said he was "too late" at the stores after the earthquake to buy batteries and candles.
Although the world has been told of pending dangers at some of Japan's nuclear power plants due to the earthquake, Downey said he wasn't worried.

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