It was 1:30 a.m. It was her son Derek at college in Oregon. He asked if she knew about the magnitude 8.9 quake and the massive tsunami that slammed northeastern Japan. After a few moments, Eileen Hanson turned on CNN to see the devastation for herself.
"I was just hit by the visual imagery. It was surreal," Hanson said. "It's so disorienting just trying to understand what you're seeing. Instead of a few inches of water swirling, you're actually seeing a large boat being caught in a huge whirlpool."
Hanson, whose mother was born in Japan, has extensive family who live in Sapporo in northern Japan on the west side of the island Hokkaido.
She and others throughout Snohomish County spent frantic moments Friday morning trying to learn if their loved ones were safe after Japan was struck by one of the strongest earthquakes ever recorded.
Hanson, a pastor at Trinity Lutheran Church in Lynnwood, learned early through e-mail that her aunts, uncles and cousins were all safe. She later got a more troubling message from a friend in the Kobe area who hadn't been able to reach some of her husband's family in Sendai, one of the hardest-hit cities on Japan's eastern coast.
"We worry about them very much," Toshiko Hasui wrote to Hanson. "Very scared … This is just a scene from hell."
Others in Snohomish County were still trying to reach family and friends Friday. Bob Bavasi of Everett was hoping to hear from friends in Sendai, a seaport in northeast Japan. A former owner of the Everett AquaSox, Bavasi now owns JapanBall, a business that organizes tours to Japan for baseball fans.
Bavasi said he's hoping to get in contact with friends including Marty Kuehnert, the former general manager of the Tohoku Rakuten Golden Eagles in Sendai, and Japan Times sports columnist, Wayne Graczyk in Hokkaido.
"We have a lot of friends over there we have not heard from," Bavasi said. "We are concerned."
At Edmonds Community College, students sought help Friday to locate family in Japan. About 50 Japanese nationals are registered as students at the college.
"The students we have seen are shaken. They are still raw," said Lisa Thompson, director of the school's International Student Services. "We are reaching out to those students that we know have family in the affected areas and some students are seeking help in finding alternatives in reaching their families in Japan."
Currently the college is suggesting students use the Internet, which has been a more reliable than phones in the hours after the quake. Thompson is also reminding students to check Facebook, Twitter and live blogs.
"Right now, we are simply being available," said Thompson. "It is all so new."
Faculty at Everett Community College held a brief meeting Friday to find out if any of the 23 students who are originally from Japan needed any assistance to contact their families.
"The students who haven't been able to contact their families are very worried," said Kathy Koss, program coordinator of the Nippon Business Institute Japanese Cultural and Resource Center on campus. "The best we can do is support each other and that's what we're doing."
The American Red Cross is also helping to connect local families with their loved ones in Japan.
"It's very distressing and frightening for family members here," said Bev Walker of the Snohomish County Chapter. "There are resources for contacting family members. Even though communication networks are overloaded right now, the access may change and the Internet will improve so we want families to continue trying."
Jody Bourgeois, a University of Washington professor of earth and space sciences who lives in Seattle, was in Sapporo, Japan, when the quake hit. She arrived in January to study with seismologists and tsunami experts at Hokkaido University. She said some of the leading tsunami scientists in the world are in Japan.
"This one will be the best studied ever because Japan is so well instrumented and it happened in the daytime and there's lots of videos and observations," she said.
Lucille Miller of Oak Harbor couldn't contact her son, Tysen Osborn, a sailor serving at US Naval Air Facility Misawa, Japan. She tried for an hour and a half before finally connecting by Skype about 12:30 a.m. Friday.
"They shook for a full half-hour with the big quake but they didn't see the tsunami," she said. "They hadn't seen any footage yet and they had no power when I talked to him."
Reporters Bill Sheets and Mina Williams contributed to this report.
Help contacting people in Japan
The Red Cross has set up a page at www.icrc.org/familylinks for people to connect with family or friends in Japan. Google has launched a similr site: http://japan.person.finder.appspot.com/?lang=en.
To inquire about Americans who are living or traveling in Japan, call the U.S. State Department at 888-407-4747 or 202-647-5225.
You can also check to see if loved ones have registered messages via cell phone on these sites:
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