published Friday, March 11th, 2011

Local residents await word from loved ones in Japan

Southern Adventist University student Ashley Uyeda woke up this morning and headed to take her midterm exam not knowing what was happening in her home country 7,000 miles away.

“I was surprised,” said the 23-year-old nursing student. “I didn’t know what was going on.”

A 8.9 magnitude earthquake hit Japan, unleashing a 23-foot tsunami, according to The Associated Press.

Hundreds of people have been reported dead and many more missing, the AP reported.

Uyeda, who was born in the United States but grew up in Japan until six years ago, said she got an e-mail from her family saying they were fine and not to worry.

“We were on the bus on the way back to Chiba when earthquake happened. The Aqualine [a toll highway crossing Tokyo Bay] was closed and we had to return to Shinjuku,” her sister wrote in the e-mail.

They had already been on the bus for more than four hours and stuck in Tokyo, her sister wrote.

In Soddy-Daisy, Ernestine Perkey has been glued to the television since her son, James Hughes, 28, called her at 1:30 a.m. saying he was fine.

“He kept trying to call me but it kept cutting in and out,” she said. “He just [said] ‘OK, earthquake,’ and the phone went dead.”

Hughes, a graduate of Soddy-Daisy High School, has been in Japan since August teaching English.

He wrote on Facebook that he abruptly halted his class today when minor tremors shook his fourth-floor classroom in the Chiba prefecture in Japan’s greater Tokyo area.

“I made a joke then suddenly my managers told me to run to the nearest hallway,” Hughes wrote. “I felt like I was on ninety roller coasters at once. It lasted about four minutes and then we went outside.”

After the massive earthquake, Hughes said he went to a nearby restaurant and began contacting family at home here.

He said he can’t find a hotel or taxi and trains are out.

“Looking for options to get to apartment now, but by the grace of Jesus I’m fine,” he wrote.

“It’s horrific,” said Perkey. “I can’t imagine what the people are going through, what he’s going through.”

For Perkey and Uyeda, one of the greatest problems in communicating with their loved ones is that cell phone batteries are dying and there’s no way to get around since trains are not running.

Dozens of cities and villages along a 1,300-mile stretch of coastline were shaken by violent tremors that reached as far away as Tokyo, hundreds of miles from the epicenter, according to the AP.

For complete details read tomorrow’s Times Free Press edition.

about Perla Trevizo...

Perla Trevizo joined the Chattanooga Times Free Press in 2007 and covers immigration/diversity issues and higher education. She holds a master’s degree in newswire journalism from Universidad Rey Juan Carlos in Madrid, Spain, and a bachelor’s degree in political science from the University of Texas. In 2011 she participated in the Bringing Home the World international reporting fellowship program sponsored by the International Center for Journalists, producing a series on Guatemalan immigrants for which she ...

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