As the world follows the devastation caused by the earthquake and tsunami in Japan, Converse has kept close watch on members of our community who may be impacted by these events. The College has learned that Stephanie Elizondo Craft ’00, who has been living in Japan with her husband and daughter for several years, lost her home in the tidal wave that came through her city. Thankfully, the family is safe – and the experience has brought a new appreciation for the blessing of having one another.
A few years after graduating from Converse, Stephanie married her college sweetheart, Gabe Craft of Greenville, SC, and joined him in Japan where he was teaching English. They have a daughter, Violet who was born in Japan and is one-and-a-half years old. The Craft family lives in Ofunato, Iwate, located approximately 90 miles north of Sendai and very close to the epicenter. Stephanie was home with Violet, and Gabe was away from the home teaching, when the earthquake hit. Stephanie was only able to grab Violet, their coats and shoes before a friend drove her to higher ground.
Converse Alumnae Board member Susanna Knight Roberts ’00, a close friend and classmate of Stephanie’s, waited anxiously to hear news from Stephanie. “(We) were nervous wrecks and glued to our TVs and computers until we had confirmation that Steph, Gabe and Violet were OK. Neither we nor their families heard from them until Saturday evening, which made for a very long couple of days with no information,” she said.
“One of the most amazing parts of this story…is how our class has come together and the support they have given Stephanie and her family through prayer and thought over the last few days,” Roberts shared. “The response from our classmates has been unreal. The offers of support, money, clothing etc. have been overwhelming. Steph has no idea about how these girls have rallied around her. This is the second time Converse has supported her, because Steph’s mom died our senior year in college and the music performance majors held a benefit concert for Susan G. Komen the night before graduation. Steph sang in the most beautiful pink gown that night in her mother’s memory, and we know her Mom was with her, Gabe and Violet during this whole ordeal. It is times like these that make me even more thankful for the bonds that I have from Converse.”
Below is Stephanie’s first-hand account of her experience during the earthquake and tsunami.
On Friday afternoon, as you all know, an 8.8 magnitude earthquake shook the country of Japan. Gabe was at school across the bay and I was home in Jinomori with Violet. When the earthquake started I ran outside with Violet. We had no shoes or coats on as it happened so suddenly. I struggled to make it down the street to where my some of my neighbors were standing and holding on to some steel poles. They held out their arms to me and then we all wrapped our arms around Violet. She began to cry and the shaking became more and more severe and also probably because my heart was beating out of my chest. There was an explosion at the power plant that we could see from where we were standing and we all screamed out loud as the sparks flew. Finally the shaking subsided and we all stood around waiting to hear the announcement to follow. Violet was screaming so loudly that I could not hear the announcement at all. I stood there as long as I could but we were both getting cold so I started to walk back in to my house thinking it was all OK.
Just as I arrived at my house my dear friend Junko Mino drove past and shouted out my name. I was so happy to see her and she immediately said there is a big tsunami coming please get in her car. I ran to the door of my house and was able to grab shoes for me and Violet and our coats. They were by the door so I didn’t even have to go inside but I did see everything in my kitchen on the ground. I had my cell phone and ran back to the car and we drove away.
I tried to call Gabe several times but everyone was doing the same thing. I could not get a connection. Finally just before the service cut out we connected and I said ‘where are you?’ He told me his location and I told him I was going to the hospital because it is the highest place in our town. Junko dropped me off there and then went to meet with her family. I went inside and they were setting up triage in the entryways. I stood there in the entry as the aftershocks continued to shake the earth. A former student of Gabe’s and her mother arrived with her one-month-old twin baby girls. And we waited together to meet out husbands. After an hour passed I was really getting sick. Someone came in and said ‘Where is Gabe?’ and I told them. Their eyes told me everything I did not want to know. They said the wave came and I just felt my whole world shatter. I didn’t even know the wave had come.
So I stood there trying to hold it together for our baby girl. Another 45 minutes passed and I was really hanging by a thread of hope that I would see my beloved’s face one more time. I was thinking of all the things I had said the night before and the morning of. What could I have said differently? Then a familiar face appeared. It was my neighbor and she shouted out that Gabe was there. She left and running through the doors three minutes later was my husband. It was the most beautiful embrace of my life. Then we waited for news of other loved ones.
That night we were told to stay in the gym of the hospital with other survivors. It was amazing to experience such kindness and grace under so much distress. We are safe and very blessed. The next day we moved to another evacuation area to make room for incoming elderly and injured. There was no lack of water or medicine but we knew the night would be another rough sleep. We decided to journey to the town where our friend Mark and his aforementioned wife, Junko, live. As we were about to leave Mark came in the room. We all embraced in tears of relief and thankfulness. Mark took us to his home and we ate and slept well. There is so much more to tell… But, we must go at this time.
We give thanks to all of you who have kept us in your thoughts and prayers. We have each other but we have lost our home, car and possessions. We love you all and thank you so much for all of your thoughts and prayers. We are continuing a vigil of hope for friends not yet contacted.
Peace, Blessings & Love,
Gabe, Steph & Violet