On April 14 and 16, 2016, two consecutive earthquakes with a peak seismic intensity of 7,
unprecedented in Kumamoto’s recorded history, occurred in Kumamoto, causing the most serious damage to the area ever recorded.
In the midst of the confusion immediately following the earthquakes, Kumamoto University established the Disaster Countermeasures Headquarters to confirm the safety of university students and faculty members and to determine the damage to university buildings.
Our students united and played significant roles in supporting affected people at evacuation centers set up on our university’s campuses and in other affected areas.
[Earthquakes with a seismic intensity of at least low-6 that occurred at 21:26 on April 14 and after]
April 14 / 21:26 / Intensity 7 / Kumamoto region in Kumamoto Prefecture
/ 22:07 / Intensity 6-lower / Kumamoto region in Kumamoto Prefecture
April 15 / 00:03 / Intensity 6-upper / Kumamoto region in Kumamoto Prefecture
April 16 / 01:25 / Intensity 7 / Kumamoto region in Kumamoto Prefectu
/ 01:45 / Intensity 6-lower / Kumamoto region in Kumamoto Prefectu
/ 03:55 / Intensity 6-upper / Aso region in Kumamoto Prefecture
/ 09:48 / Intensity 6-lower / Kumamoto region in Kumamoto Prefectu
Death toll 75 (including disaster-related deaths)
Severely or mildly injured 1,883
Buildings completely destroyed 8,241 buildings
Buildings partially destroyed 25,663 buildings
Evacuation centers 99 locations
(A peak of 855 locations at 9:00 on April 17)
Evacuees count 4,717 persons
(183,882 persons at the peak at 9:00 on April 17)
*Source: Report No. 119 issued at 16:50 on July 11 by the Kumamoto Prefecture Disaster Response Headquarters
〇 Serious damage reported included blockage of transport network systems in the Aso region (collapse of bridge girders, tunnels and roads)
and damage to valuable tourist resources (Kumamoto Castle, Aso Shrine, Suizen-ji Joju-en, etc.).
Death toll 0
(The safety of all students and all faculty members was confirmed by April 27 and by April 22, respectively.)
Injured persons 108 (as of July 20)
(97 students and 11 faculty members)
The supply of tap water and gas was suspended from April 16 to 28. Electricity was supplied as usual.
(While there was no supply of tap and sewage water, well water was available at some campuses.)
Buildings where no entry was permitted 5
(Three buildings designated as national important cultural properties, The Memorial Museum of the Fifth High School, Faculty of Engineering Bldg. No.1, and Outpatient Examination and Clinical Research Building)
Facilities needing repair or unrepairable 2,432 reports (as of July 20)
[Damage to students’ houses]
(based on a survey on damage suffered by students)
Completely destroyed 15 students
Mostly destroyed 6 students
Partially destroyed 108 students
Partially damaged 2,065 students
Shinji Harada, President of Kumamoto University
I would like to take this opportunity to express my deepest sympathy to all of those who have been affected by the recent Kumamoto
Earthquakes. Let me also express my sincere appreciation to universities, hospitals, research institutions, companies, international organizations, the national government, and municipal governments who have extended a helping hand to our University. Immediately following the quakes we established the Disaster Countermeasures Headquarters to focus our greatest efforts on confirming the safety of our university’s students and faculty members, determining the damage to buildings, and implementing restoration work.
Three of our university’s campuses as well as the Elementary School and Junior High School attached to the Faculty of Education were designated as temporary evacuation centers following the earthquakes. In the midst of the post-disaster confusion, our students played active roles at these evacuation centers where many local residents also sought shelter. Staff from municipal governments engaged in response activities praised their “creative way of organizing the evacuation centers.” Support activities that took advantage of our students’ expertise and teamwork capability were also provided outside the university. We have received many expressions of appreciation for their efforts at various evacuation centers. Residents in an area close to the Kurokami Campus, where I also live, told me that they discovered positive aspects of Kumamoto University’s students and were very appreciative. I was also impressed, again, by their independence and ability to take action.
Fortunately, our school has faculty members who specialize in disaster recovery. I have been told that students operated the evacuation centers under such faculty members’ instructions and that their method was also applied at other evacuation centers established at junior high schools in nearby areas. In today’s educational environment, it is considered important to help students develop the ability to identify and address issues by themselves. After graduating from the university, I am sure that our students will effectively use the behavior patterns they learned through their difficult experience in the post-disaster emergency situation.
The primary roles of Kumamoto University are to serve as an international research university leading the world, to provide better internationally oriented education to accelerate the globalization of local communities, and to strengthen cooperation among industry, academia, and government to attract young people to remain in Kumamoto. We are now expected to restore the system, as quickly as possible, to fulfill these roles. In addition, it is also important for Kumamoto University to support restoration efforts by using our research results in various disciplinary fields and to enhance new earthquake-related fields.
After having experienced such an emergency situation, students have become more positive in their attitude toward learning. Faculty members and university staff are communicating with each other more closely than ever regardless of their positions in order to work together to overcome this difficult situation. These are favorable changes produced as a result of experiencing the Kumamoto Earthquakes. We should take advantage of these changes to further improve our university.
Restoration cannot be achieved, however, unless we focus on making dramatic improvement instead of merely recovering the original state. As proven by how young people successfully restored post-WWII Japan, today’s students have the ability to look into the future even in difficult situations and are willing to take leadership roles. Believing that it to be a responsibility of Kumamoto University, an educational research institute, to use young people’s abilities in revitalizing not only Kumamoto but also the entire country, we will continue our efforts to fulfill our responsibility.
Information on lifelines, public transportation and other things was posted in multiple languages to make it easier for international students and non-Japanese living in local communities to understand.
Participants dancing a Turkish dance
Many international students living in the university dormitory or other accommodations were included among those who sought shelter in the evacuation center on the Kurokami Campus. One of them said that he had rushed out of the room barefoot when the earthquake occurred. The gymnasium on the campus was opened to evacuees, including international students of Kumamoto University as well as foreigners living in nearby communities. The most common concern among them was the lack of information. How to extend support to foreigners affected by a disaster was also one of the concerns that needed to be addressed after the 2011 Great East Japan Earthquake and in other emergencies.
Under advice from Assistant Professor Miwa Abe of the Center for Policy Studies, who was engaged in operating the evacuation center, international students started providing support services in multiple languages at a booth set up separately from the evacuation center management office established by Japanese students. International students were assigned at the booth in turn to provide information on lifelines, public transportation, local shops, and other things in English, Chinese and other languages. They said, “We feel secure with others in the gymnasium. This activity is not only for us, students from foreign countries, but also for non-Japanese living in Kumamoto.” Their skills in Japanese acquired at Kumamoto University and understanding of Japanese culture and habits served as useful tools to help disaster-affected foreigners in the post-earthquake emergency.
The Center for Open Education of the College of Cross-Cultural and Multidisciplinary Studies, in cooperation with international students, organized activities for four days from April 25 to 28, which was open not only to Kumamoto University students but also to local residents. The program of activities included lessons on foreign languages and Japanese, Japanese calligraphy, and origami. In addition, international students provided lessons on yoga, Turkish dance and Polish dance, in which a total of 269 people participated and enjoyed experiencing foreign cultures.
For international students, their daily life centers around the university, but the university decided to cancel all lectures after the earthquakes for some time. The activities above were planned to encourage not only international students but also disaster-affected students of Kumamoto University and local residents by giving them an opportunity to have fun, even if for only a moment. Burcu Soysal, an international student who gave a Turkish dance lesson, said, “This dance is danced in a group at a wedding ceremony. I thought something that a group of people can enjoy together was suitable in these circumstances.” Since the dance is simple enough to dance to light music in a circle, participants quickly learned how to step dance in a cheerful atmosphere. It was a pleasant moment that helped participants forget their fear and anxiety about the earthquake and take another step toward returning to a normal life.