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News of earthquake troubles exchange students in Auburn

Teens reached families Friday
By: Jenifer Gee Journal News Editor
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News of a devastating earthquake and its resulting tsunami in Japan hit a little closer to Auburn than expected. A classroom full of Japanese exchange students huddled around two laptops at Placer High School Friday to keep tabs on Internet news relaying the devastation of an earthquake and a tsunami that hit Japan Friday. The teenage students in Auburn, however, were somewhat relieved after Friday morning when each was able to get in touch with their families living in Japan and heard that they were OK. Exchange student Takafumi Ishi, 17, spoke through a translator Friday. ``It's my first time in a foreign country and they have an earthquake like this so I'm worried and nervous,'' Ishi said. ``But I'm happy to hear from (my family).'' An 8.9 magnitude quake struck offshore along Japan's east coast Friday, which caused a 23-foot tsunami to tear through parts of the country, according to an Associated Press report. Much of the country was also hit by more than 50 aftershocks, some registering at more than a 6.0 magnitude, in the hours following the initial quake, the Associated Press reported. The official count of the dead was 763, but the government said the figure could far exceed 1,000. according to a Saturday report from the Associated Press. Toru Morikiri, a teacher in Japan who accompanied the students to Auburn for the two-week exchange program, said he talked to his mother this morning. ``The wall around my house fell,'' Morikiri said. Morikiri also said his mother told him some roofs in the area had been damaged. Morikiri said he was also happy to hear via e-mail from coworkers at his school in Japan. ``They said everybody in the school in Japan was fine so I was relieved,'' Morikiri said. Morikiri said he's watched some of the footage being aired showing the damage. ``It's so terrible in Japan,'' Morikiri said. Around the state early efforts to mobilize were starting Friday. Gov. Jerry Brown released a statement saying he's notified the California Emergency Management Agency and California stands ready to assist. Cal Fire spokesman Daniel Berlant said crews were working to evacuate some residents in Southern California and had crews on standby in case Pacific Coast cities in the state would be impacted by any tidal waves. Richard Simmons, emergency service program manager for the Placer County Office of Emergency Services, said the office is in a wait-and-see mode and will act on any direction from the state. Another staff member in the office was also on alert, but for a different reason. Rod Rodriguez, a senior emergency services specialist for Placer County, has been a U.S. Coast Guard reservist since 1999. He recently responded to the oil spill in the Gulf Coast. He said the Coast Guard asked him to be on standby Friday. ``My specific function is to help out and go into FEMA (Federal Emergency Management Agency) region 9 command center in Oakland or the Cal-EMA state warning center or as directed by my unit,'' Rodriguez said. Donation efforts by the American Red Cross and the Salvation Army started up Friday. Bob Thornton, regional manager for the American Red Cross Auburn office, said they received their first donation Friday morning. ``The first donation that walked into here at the Red Cross office was from a family who lost their home in the 49 Fire,'' Thornton said. ``They gave a significant donation to Japan relief through the American Red Cross.'' And the help continued as well for the group of exchange students and their teachers in Auburn. Christy Briggs, who helps coordinate the program locally and hosts exchange students, said that she and many others have offered to let the students stay as long as necessary should they not be able to make it home for their scheduled departure Thursday. ``I think we all need to remember that we're all international neighbors and need to help each other,'' Briggs said. Morikiri said it was hard to express his gratitude for the host families. ``I really appreciate the host parents,'' Morikiri said. ``They told us we can stay as long as we want. I'm very happy to hear that. I can't tell them how I really appreciate that.'' Reach Jenifer Gee at jeniferg@goldcountrymedia.com. ---------- Want to help? The Salvation Army and American Red Cross are mobilizing relief efforts to Japan citizens. The Salvation Army is asking for monetary donations only through: - Text ``Japan'' or ``quake'' to 80888 to make a $10 donation - Call (800) SAL-ARMY (725-2769), designate gift for Japan earthquake/tsunamis - Online at salvationarmy.usawest.org, designate gift for Japan earthquake/tsunamis - Send a check marked ``Japan earthquake/tsunamis'' to The Salvation Army World Service Office, International Relief Fund, P.O. Box 630728, Baltimore, MD 21263-0728 To donate through the American Red Cross: - Visit redcross.org and donate to Japan Earthquake and Pacific Tsunami - Text REDCROSS to 90999 to make a $10 donation ----------