Pinehurst Pair Experience Japan Earthquake
Despite being thousands of miles away, Pinehurst resident Kathy Byron still felt the impact of a 9.0-magnitude earthquake that rocked Japan last week.
Byron was doing her best to focus on her work and not think about her husband and daughter, who were in Japan, when a wall-mounted clock in Sandhills Community College's Dempsey Center shook her emotionally.
"I was doing just fine," she said. "Then I looked up and saw that clock (with the time) from Tokyo and I realized they were 12 hours ahead of us. It was 1:15 in the morning there, and I still had no idea where my family was."
Her husband, Dr. John Byron, and their 24-year-old daughter, Julia, were vacationing in Nikko, Japan, a city north of Tokyo famous for its Shinto shrines. The pair was on a tour bus just outside Nikko when the quake hit.
It was a windless, sunny day, and the bus had stopped at a local lake. The tourists had disembarked when the water rippled, John Byron said.
"It was shimmery, like boiling water," he said.
Seconds later, they felt an aftershock. Then another.
"It was intense," Julia said. "It's the strangest feeling to have the ground, which you take for granted as being solid, move beneath you."
The March 11 quake was the strongest ever recorded to hit Japan. More than 3,400 died in the quake, and thousands more were injured or are missing, according to reports out of Japan.
When the quake hit, Japanese officials closed the main roads, forcing the Byrons' tour bus to take back roads to get back to Tokyo, where they were staying.
The 100-mile return trip to Tokyo took nearly 13 hours.
"On the bus ride, we didn't have much of a clue what was going on," Julia said.
The bus was equipped with televisions, and a tour guide translated the newscasts into English as they rode back.
"Information was definitely coming through a filter," she said. "She (tour guide) didn't want us to panic, but you could see the worry in her face."
The Byrons had no way to contact home. Communication services were down in the hours after the quake, and back in the Sandhills, Kathy and her other daughter, Sarah, frantically tried to make contact with their loved ones.
"Phone service was down," Kathy said. "Internet was down. Calling the most-connected, most-wired country in the world and not being able to get through was absolutely overwhelming."
Eventually, John and Julia made it back to their hotel at about 4 in the morning. They used Skype to contact home.
And while emotions back home calmed considerably, things literally were still shaking in Japan.
"It was like turbulence on a plane, but you're not on a plane," Julia said in describing the frequent aftershocks over the next 48 hours.
She said at night her father joked they were being rocked to sleep while in their beds in their 14th-floor hotel room.
"There was nothing we could do but get used to the back-and-forth swaying," John said.
Both Byrons said the damage in Tokyo was minimal - limited to cracked tiles in their hotel bathroom and some cracks in the concrete buildings.
The disaster was worse in other parts of the country, affecting nearly every aspect of life.
Explosions at nuclear reactors damaged in the quake have workers trying avert nuclear fallout, while fears have increased of exposure to radiation
Cold weather and snow in the days following the quake have increased the hardship for disaster victims and rescuers.
Across the country, emergency workers from foreign governments and international aid groups continue to scour tangled and displaced piles of debris, searching for survivors. Ninety-one countries and regions and six international organizations have offered assistance, according to the Japanese foreign affairs ministry.
Local media sources in Japan have reported that 450,000 people were living in shelters, and many schools had turned into emergency shelters.
The Byrons, who left Tokyo on Sunday, both said they felt fortunate to have been in a country so well-prepared to handle such a disaster.
"What struck me was the Japanese people and how calm and efficient they were," Julia said. "Even though there was this disaster the people were moving forward and helping each other."
Her father added, "I was thankful we were someplace where they were used to it (earthquakes . They were organized and didn't panic. They kept putting one foot in front of another and proceeded with what needed to be done."
The Byrons made it back to Pinehurst early Monday morning after having to drive more than nine hours from New York when they missed their connecting flight to Raleigh.
"I think it was definitely a vacation they will remember for a long time," Kathy Byron said.
Contact Tom Embrey at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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