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Telling his story

For three days after the earthquake and tsunami hit, Michael Luzia didn’t know if his girlfriend Hui Wen Shi was alive or dead.

The quake that ravaged northeastern Japan struck on a Friday, the day when Luzia made his regular trip from the northeastern Japanese community of Onagawa, a small fishing village of 11,000, to teach at a school on nearby Izushima Island.

For the last two-and-one-half years, Luzia has been working as an English teacher in Japan.

Hui was staying at Luzia’s apartment while he was away.

Onagawa is about 50 km northwest of Sendai, the city that suffered the most damage.

The record-breaking March 11 tremor and massive wave flattened most of Onagawa and took out electricity and telephone service.

At the school high on an island hill, a horrified Luzia witnessed the destruction.

Somewhere in the tangle of destroyed houses, cars and boats, was his apartment.

Luzia feared the worst.

He had to wait two days before a helicopter came to rescue survivors from the island.

On Monday, he was at the top of the stairs in an evacuation centre looking for Hui when he looked down some stairs and spotted her.

“My heart stopped,” he said.

He called her name.

Hui looked up and began crying as Luzia ran down the stairs towards her, tripping and falling the last few steps.

Hui fell with him, landing in his arms.

They held each other a long time on the floor, unable to speak.

Later Hui told him that she survived by running to high ground.

When she could run no farther, she turned back to see the whole town washed away.

Some of the people who ran didn’t make it.

In the three weeks since, Luzia and his girlfriend have left Japan and returned to their respective homes, hers in China, his in Abbotsford.

On Wednesday, Luzia was speaking in a classroom in Langley, describing the devastation to some Grade 9 students at Walnut Grove Secondary School.

More than half the people in Onagawa are still missing, he said, and some of his 300 students have lost their parents.

Many of his students are living at the school now because there is nowhere else for them to go, Luzia said.

By speaking out, he is hoping to encourage people to help.

He is urging anyone who wants to assist the recovery effort to make donations to the Japanese Red Cross.

And he is planning to go back himself in a few weeks.

As of Wednesday, he still hadn’t had time to get the haircut he was planning to have on the Friday the tsunami hit.

“I usually have short hair,” he said, apologetically as a Times photographer took his picture.

— with files from Vikki Hopes/Black Press

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