By Galen Holley and Danza Johnson/NEMS Daily Journal
Northeast Mississippians expressed relief Friday to learn that their loved ones in Japan and Hawaii survived the deadly earthquake and tsunami.
“When I heard they were OK, I breathed a sigh of relief,” said Christine McAlister of Tishomingo County after speaking with her granddaughter, Traci McAlister of Meridian, at 10:30 a.m. CST Friday.
That was 5:30 a.m. on the island of Oahu, where Traci and her boyfriend moved eight months ago for work.
The couple was rousted from their home Thursday night by warning sirens and police evacuating their neighborhood.
Along with many of their neighbors the couple began trekking up nearby Round Top Mountain, a developed area, ahead of waves that were expected to bring as much as six feet of sea water onto land.
At 4 a.m. the couple realized the waves weren’t coming, so they descended the mountain.
“We were really concerned, and we were praying for people in Japan because we saw the enormous damage there,” said Traci, who by late Friday morning had returned to work as a housekeeping supervisor at a beachfront hostel.
From Tupelo, Mieko Kikuchi spoke with her family early Friday morning and, like McAlister, was relieved to hear they were safe. The Japanese liaison with Renasant Bank said her nephew in Tokyo had to evacuate school and sought safety in a park along with his mother and grandmother.
Land line telephones were out of service, Kikuchi said, but she was able to speak with her relatives by cell phone.
The same was true for Kumiko Richardson, a banking specialist with BancorpSouth whose sister’s family lives in Tokyo, which is about 200 miles away from the epicenter of the earthquake.
Richardson said many of the Japanese who are here in Northeast Mississippi working with Toyota, are from Toyota City, near the city of Nagoya, which is on the country’s western coast.
The earthquake and tsunami devastated the eastern coast.
University of Mississippi students, meanwhile, were on both sides of the disaster.
Four of them – Christopher Andrew Daves of Carrolton, Wesley Clayton McGee of Myrtle, Robin Hilton of Oxford and Nicholas Ewing of New Orleans – are studying in Japan.
According to their adviser, Blair McElroy, all the students are safe and were in an area that was not directly affected by the tsunami. At least one of the students did post on Facebook that he had just experienced his first earthquake.
In Oxford, graduate students Michiyo Fujimoto and Yusuke Takahashi contacted family members in Japan via Skype.
“I couldn’t believe it when I saw it on the news,” said Fujimoto whose family lives in Kobe. “I made sure everyone was OK. It was scary not knowing if my family was hurt, but not everything is fine.”
Fujimoto said her family said they didn’t feel much of the quake in Kobe.
But Takahashi said his parents were in Tokyo when the earthquake hit and were still stranded there in a shelter.
“I talked to my sister this morning and she said she was fine and back home,” he said Friday afternoon. “My parents are still in Tokyo and can’t get home because public transportation is down so they are stuck there. But everyone is fine.”
Contact Galen Holley at (662) 678-1510 or firstname.lastname@example.org; Danza Johnson is at (662) 678-1583 or email@example.com.