Upon learning of the March 11 natural disaster events in Sendai, Japan, Sandy Rushing’s first response was to call his friends overseas to make sure they were OK.

Upon learning of the March 11 natural disaster events in Sendai, Japan, Sandy Rushing’s first response was to call his friends overseas to make sure they were OK.

Rushing, an Independence native, said his second response was to find a way over to Japan so that he could assist in relief efforts. So, he gave up his spring break vacation from the University of Kansas this week and decided to volunteer his time.  

“I pretty much immediately knew that I needed to do whatever I could to help,” said Rushing, a 27-year-old junior majoring in psychology. For about a year in 2006, Rushing lived in Kyoto, Japan, and attended school in Osaka, Japan, where he formed lasting friendships.   

In an interview Monday afternoon, Rushing said he had planned to leave for Japan early Tuesday afternoon. The most challenging aspect of preparing for the trip, Rushing said, came in raising $1,056 in a week’s time for a round-trip ticket.

Rushing is an Army medic and a member of the Kansas National Guard. His flight was scheduled to land in Tokyo, and Rushing said he had plans to stay at one of the military posts to figure out how he will get to where relief efforts are most needed.

“It’s actually really difficult to make it to Sendai right now,” said Rushing, adding that he planned to rent a car in Japan and then travel as far north as possible. Tokyo is several hundred miles south of Sendai.

Rushing said he would like to help mainly with the distribution of supplies and then talk with people, “trying to give them hope, telling them everything will be fine.”

“There is a possibility that there might be some medical aid, but I’m not sure what’s going to happen,” Rushing said. He said he didn’t mind giving up his spring break time for a week-long volunteer effort.

“I’m not really nervous at all. I’m just kind of hoping everything works out,” he said on Monday. “I’m sure I’m going to encounter some kind of difficulties, so I’m just trying to mentally prepare myself for whatever I may encounter.”

He said many opportunities exist to help, and if all else fails, Rushing had spoken with one of his Japanese friends who said they could pack up a car with supplies and travel north as far as reasonably possible.

“The main thing is just trying to do something,” Rushing said. “I’m just trying my best to make something happen – that’s the main purpose of this trip.”

Independence teacher still OK following disaster

The flushing of toilets, additional showers and returning to life as a teacher are just a few of the experiences that Independence native Mallory Flippin has had in the past week. Flippin, 24, has worked as a second grade teacher in Sendai, Japan, since February 2010.

“Driving around in the tsunami-(affected) area,” Flippin wrote on her Twitter account Sunday. “This is unlike anything I have (ever) seen.”

At twitter.com/mallyflip, Flippin also posted a photograph of empty shelves at a local grocery store.

On Wednesday, she posted a blog entry at mallyeryn.wordpress.com about her thankfulness in the nearly two weeks since the deadly natural disasters.

“On March 11, 2011, I did not know that my life would be forever changed, forever humbled and forever thankful,” Flippin wrote. “Changed in a way as to how I look at people. Humbled in a way that is not easy to explain. Thankful in a way that I will hopefully never forget.”

Flippin, whose family still lives in Independence, has stood in line for hours to receive rationed portions of gas and food. She has turned down offers to evacuate to Misawa Air Base, instead opting to remain in Sendai.  

“I am staying around to help get the new school year started and finish last year,” she said. “If any teachers decide that they don’t want to return to Japan, I am here to help out and take up a job.”