E-mail, social media help Kentuckians in Japan reach out

e-mail, social networks help relay news from stricken nation

awilson1@herald-leader.comjwarren@herald-leader.comMarch 12, 2011 

Even before dawn Friday, Kentuckians in Japan had Skyped, e-mailed, Facebooked and tweeted their families and friends back home, telling them they were safe and sound after an 8.9-magnitude earthquake and resulting tsunami had struck the island nation. The Internet and telephone also helped people here reach out to Japan.

The story those missives told was harrowing.

Travis Young of Lexington and his wife, Kotone, had accounted for everyone in Kotone's family in Japan except for her brother, who lives in Tokyo.

"It is nerve-wracking," Young said Friday afternoon. "No one has heard from him, and we're trying to figure out if he's OK. We're thinking positively and hoping he is fine. Obviously it's difficult for anybody to get through to anybody over there right now, so the fact that he's unreachable by phone doesn't necessarily mean the worst."

Tokyo is about 231 miles from the epicenter of the quake, which mostly affected northeast Japan.

Sachiko Sorrell of Lexington was born in and spent most of her childhood in Japan. With family in the far southern island of Okinawa and the southern mainland city of Kyoto, both out of the reach of the record-setting quake, according to a U.S. Geological Survey map, she was able to make a phone call and get confirmation of their well-being. Her concern all day Friday lingered on the condition of the nuclear power plants near the quake's epicenter.

"I think we will recover because of our spirit," said Sorrell, who has been living in the United States since 1965. "We are a very resilient and hard-working people. But there is still so much to be learned about the damage. I will be calling my family there every day for a long time I think."

Tokyo resident Kristen Nakamura Wallitsch, a University of Kentucky doctoral student in education, was able to reach her father in Louisville using Skype and her portable wireless phone hours before she was able to reach her husband, who was also in Tokyo, though they were reunited by evening.

Wallitsch said that throughout Friday she was impressed by the city she now lives in.

"Tokyo is a well-oiled machine, and I saw that machine in action today. People filed out of their offices wearing their protective gear and headed to the safe zones. In a city of 13 million, that is impressive. People were terrified but there was no chaos."

Still, in a culture that respects personal space, she said, a stranger held onto her "for dear life during the quake."

Kentucky poet Chuck Clenney is in Shimonita, Gunma Prefecture, northwest of Tokyo, and was at a junior high school, cleaning up after a graduation ceremony when the shaking began. He was able to talk to his American family shortly thereafter through Facebook by way of his iPhone.

"I'm with a group of friends, and we've all been awake all night from aftershocks shaking the building we're in," he wrote in an e-mail. "Everyone is struggling to contact their loved ones and friends and rushing to buy what supplies they can at 7-Eleven and other convenience stores. The first things to go were batteries, ramen noodles and bread."

Clenney added that the earthquake warnings were coming every 15 minutes and everyone was running to find cover. He said the building he was in was shaking — and so was he — as he wrote the note.

"We're all frightened and no one will be sleeping comfortably tonight in Japan," he wrote. "We're all unsure about the future of Japan and ourselves."

Reach Amy Wilson at (859) 231-3305 or 1-800-950-6397, Ext. 3305.

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