N. Texans Worry About Loved Ones in Japan

SMU dean in Tokyo says quake "makes you realize just how fragile the world we live in is"

By Julie Tam
|  Friday, Mar 11, 2011  |  Updated 11:43 PM CDT
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Dramatic Photos: Devastation in Japan

AP

Smoke billows from houses in Natori, northern Japan, after the area was hit by a powerful earthquake and a tsunami on Friday March 11, 2011. The ferocious tsunami spawned by one of the largest earthquakes ever recorded slammed Japan's eastern coast Friday, killing scores of people as it swept away boats, cars and homes while widespread fires burned out of control. (AP Photo/Mainichi Shimbun, Taichi Kaizuka)

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The massive earthquake in Japan hit home for a number of North Texans with have family and friends in the country.

A magnitude-8.9 quake struck off Japan's northeastern coast Friday, the fifth-largest recorded earthquake since 1900, according to MSNBC.com. The earthquake set off a 23-foot tsunami, and up to 1,000 people are feared dead.

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William Tsutsui, the dean of Southern Methodist University's Dedman College of Humanities and Sciences, is in Tokyo. He felt the earthquake and aftershocks.

His wife, Marjorie Swann, an SMU professor, had some frantic moments Friday trying to get in touch with him.

She woke up to images of the destruction on television and immediately got online to check if her husband had e-mailed her.

"It was a terrifying five minutes," she said.

To her relief, Tsutsui had e-mailed her, writing about a"significant quake in Tokyo." He "was on the bus and could see the buildings shake." But he was OK, he said.

NBC DFW reporter Ellen Goldberg also had family in Tokyo, which is about 200 miles from the epicenter, at the time of the quake.

Her sister, Sarah Lien, sent Goldberg a text message says that she was in an earthquake. Lien, who is in Tokyo on business, said she was at her desk working when she building began shaking.

"I actually had my Blackberry with me under my desk, and I sent a message to Ellen just saying, 'I love you, and I'm in an earthquake. I'm scared; I'm not sure what's happening,'" she said. "It was a very quick message, just because I wanted somebody to know where I was and what was going on because it was just so terrifying."

Tsutsui talked by phone Friday from the 10th floor of the Tokyo Prince Hotel, still feeling the aftershocks. It is his 15th time in Japan, and he's experienced other earthquakes there in the past.

"This time, it really looked like the skyscrapers were trees blowing in the wind," he said. "The roads are absolutely packed with cars still. It makes you realize just how fragile the world we live in is."

Tsutsui has been in Japan for the past week meeting with high-level Japanese leaders in government, business and education, as part of the Japanese American Leadership Delegation.

Chances are slim that Tsutsui will be able to catch his flight back to Dallas on Saturday because much of Japan's transportation is crippled.

NBC DFW's Meredith Land contributed to this report.

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