Japan disaster hits close to Cougar home

On March 11, a powerful earthquake struck off the coast of Japan, churning up a devastating tsunami that swept over coastal cities and farmlands in the north. Adding to the devastation, Fukushima Daiichi Nuclear Power Station suffered a partial meltdown and began leaking radiation. The suffering of the people of Japan is difficult for McKay Jacobson, who served among them for two years.

McKay Jacobson served his mission in Sapporo, located on the northern island of Hokkaido, Japan. Sapporo is located just 332 miles north of Sendai and the mainland of Japan, where $235 billion worth of damage has been done and 20,000 people have so far been reported killed by the double disaster.

"Well, you know, it's a sad deal watching the videos and seeing some things," said Jacobson. "At the initial news of the tsunami, I didn't think it was as bad as it really is. It's one of those things that doesn't hit home until you've experienced being among the people."

Having set aside two years of his life to teach and serve among the people of Japan, Jacobson has a special appreciation for them.

"The Japanese people definitely have a place in my heart," said Jacobson. "It's just a sad thing seeing them suffer and it's hard to imagine your whole life being destroyed with no place to go. I couldn't imagine what it would be like to have your home and family just taken away in an instant.

"It's a hard thing. You always think, 'Why do things like that have to happen?' But it's all just part of the plan. You just never know what's going to come your way. It just makes me feel grateful for all the blessings that I have. You never know why certain things do happen, but you just have to pray and do what you can for them."

In Fukushima, the Japanese nuclear board raised the nuclear alert from four to five last week. Dairy and spinach farms are being restricted for shipping as engineers race to gain control of the stricken power plant.

"It's just one thing after another for them, and now the nuclear problems and radiation that could now affect them is pretty scary," said Jacobson.

"It's really hard to imagine. I don't know, it's really a hard thing and sad and kind of hard to really understand until you go through it. I just really felt bad and it's put things into perspective."

Jacobson was happy to learn that there wasn't as much damage done in the region he served in.

"It was affected a little bit, but really the places I served in weren't nearly as affected as much. I mean, there was some destruction in Hakodate where I served. It's located in the southern tip of Hokkaido, but not nearly as bad as the other areas that were hit down south, which is good as far as people I know and the friends that I have over there."

Jacobson did experience an earthquake while serving in Sapporo, but it was nothing like what he's seen flashed across the television screen and internet videos that have recently come out.

"It was no big deal and maybe just two or three seconds long, and it was nothing. It was just a little quake here, but it's so hard to watch those videos and see the destruction. I can't even imagine."

After learning the extent of the disaster, Jacobson checked on some of the people in Japan that he came to know.

"Yeah, I've emailed some people and I've checked up on Facebook and some updates," said Jacobson. "I checked with my mission president and he said everyone was okay and all the missionaries are okay. He said there wasn't as much destruction in Hokkaido and they'll get through okay."

Seeing the devastation has given Jacobson a desire to help out in some way.

"I was talking to one of my cousins who served over there," Jacobson said. "His name is Miles Nelson, and his mom is my dad's sister. We served in the same mission about the same time. He called me up right after and said, 'Hey, we gotta go and try and help the people out.' I said, 'Yeah, we have to try to figure it out with how we can get over there, either with the Church or something.' He got back to me and said, 'Hey, as far as going over there, I don't think we'll be able to with all the nuclear issues they're having now. They're not sending people over there now to help.'"

Unfortunately, going overseas to contribute to the relief efforts appears to not be feasible at this time.

"I'd like to do what I can, but it's a hard thing to do," said Jacobson. "The extent of the damage is so bad, it's hard to even get over there. The infrastructure is just gone and it's just so unbelievable. I've also heard that they're evacuating some of the missionaries out the area now. I mean, this is a serious deal, not only with the tsunami but with all the nuclear issues they're now having. It's a serious deal and I've never experienced anything like that. It's just a sad, sad thing."

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