Mondale Visits School in Kobe


By BRIAN COVERT
Daily Yomiuri Staff Writer

KOBE — U.S. Ambassador to Japan Walter Mondale, during a swing through the earthquake-stricken area around Kobe on Tuesday, praised the students and staff of a local international school for their show of humanity at the height of disaster.

“We often talk about how we do things ‘officially’ in a matter like this, but the more impressive thing was the way everybody helped each other personally” after the recent quake, Mondale told about 350 students, parents and school employees at the morning assembly of Canadian Academy in Higashi-Nada Ward, Kobe.

“The moment that earthquake occurred, it didn’t make any difference if you were American or Japanese or Chinese or whatever,” he said. “It hit us all the same. Within a few seconds, we discovered we needed each other.

“No matter what, we had to reach out and help each other…and that’s what you did at the Canadian Academy.”

In the hours after the quake, the school on Rokko Island became a makeshift shelter for an estimated 3,500 foreign and Japanese residents of the artificial island seeking refuge from gas leaks and anticipated aftershocks. Many were later evacuated by boat to Osaka.

As part of an unpublicized visit to the Kobe area to survey the earthquake damage, Mondale thanked the school for looking after many of the U.S. citizens who work and live on the island, as well as children attending the school.

“During this dreadful natural disaster, the Canadian Academy became sort of the headquarters for decency,” he said. “Our embassy, for three or four days, spent a lot of time trying to find people to make certain they were safe. A lot of the information we had came right here through the academy, through the contacts that you had.”

Mondale also urged the 36 nationalities of primary, junior high and high school students at the academy not to forget the real lessons learned from the quake.

“No matter what our differences, right underneath the surface we’ve got too much at stake in understanding and appreciating that we are, after all, fellow human beings and that we need each other,” he said.

Mondale later told the Daily Yomiuri of confusion immediately after the earthquake, as U.S. president Bill Clinton tried to affirm the status of the estimated 8,000 U.S. citizens in the earthquake zone.

“Within an hour or two (after the quake) it was obvious we had a major disaster on our hands,” he recalled. “I received a call from the president, who was watching it on CNN, about two hours later, and we went right to work trying to get our part of the relief effort organized. ...I wanted to get down here to see what the Kobe area was like.”