Japanese exchange student in Homer learns family is OK

Posted: Thursday, March 17, 2011

Since coming to Homer from her homeland in Japan in August, 17-year-old Eri Sugiyama has maintained contact with her family thorough Skype, a text, voice and video computer program. That connection proved vital recently after an 8.9 earthquake struck just off Japan's east coast.

Earlier this week, in communication with her family, Eri was told by her family they would be traveling from their home in the Tokyo suburbs to Japan's east coast city of Sendai. About 11 p.m. Thursday, after completing volleyball practice in Soldotna, Eri was informed of the earthquake.

"My friend said the worst city hit was Sendai," Eri said. "I was really, really worried."

After reaching the home of her Homer host family, Eri turned on her laptop, eager to find more information.

"I checked e-mail and my parents were worried about me because they knew about the tsunami coming to Alaska," she said of the tsunami advisory that was issued after the earthquake for areas of Alaska, Washington, Oregon and California.

Through Skype, Eri was able to see her family and hear the details of their experience. Fortunately, they were out of Sendai when the earthquake struck.

"They were in the car and the land started vibrating," said Eri. "All the stop lights were shaking. All the signboards were swinging. They told me it was the biggest earthquake they'd ever had."

While earthquakes are not uncommon in Japan, "this time everybody is freaked out," said Eri.

Through text message on her cell phone, Eri also has been in contact with friends.

"Some of my friends were at school when the earthquake happened and they had to spend the night there because all transportation is shut down. They haven't gone home yet," she said.

Although she isn't scheduled to return to Japan until June 14, Eri's attention is focused on the events unfolding in the wake of today's earthquake.

"I guess everything is in chaos," she said.

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