SUMMERSIDE - Nao Hockin of Summerside struggles to speak through her rolling tears when she thinks of her parents and pregnant sister who are in Japan, fearing for their lives.
"I am in a safe place. But my family is not in a safe place. I can't do anything here, I just wait for their answer when I email, every day I email," said Hockin, who followed her heart to P.E.I. four years ago to marry Three Oaks Senior High English teacher Tim Hockin.
Nao's family is in Miyagi Prefecture, a northeastern area that is said to have been hit the hardest by the recent magnitude 9.0 earthquake and tsunami. Thousands have lost their lives, tens of thousands remain missing, hundreds of thousands are in emergency shelters, and millions are without water and electricity.
It is a spine-chilling sensation when the phone rings before the sun rises, and that is exactly what the Hockins felt on Friday, March 11, the morning of the disaster.
"My aunt called and said there was a bad earthquake in my wife's hometown," Tim recounted. "We immediately got online and looked at the earthquake, but Japan goes through almost an earthquake a week so (Nao) didn't really panic right away, but then the images started coming in."
Fortunately, Nao was able to contact her family through email on her sister's cellphone within a matter of minutes and received the confirmation she prayed for - her family survived. Their home has been turned upside down and they have no electricity, but they are alive.
"All I want is to hear their voices, but I cannot. I cannot know what my family is thinking. I do not know what they are most worried about. I do not know how they are coping with the extremely difficult situation they are in, and I do not know what I can do to help them," Nao said.
Nao's father, Suzuma Aoki, is a school bus driver and was driving teachers and students home from school when the earthquake hit.
"It was 2:46 p.m., he was driving his bus over the bridge and the swaying was so intense that all the cars on the bridge had to stop so he was trapped in the middle. My father prepared himself mentally, he was very scared and convinced this was his time to die," Nao shared in a soft, heartbroken voice. "Luckily for my father the bridge maintained. He survived."
The town's telephone poles are down and the roads have cracked open but luckily, the Aoki family's home is far enough inland that the tsunami did not reach it.
The family's prized possession right now is their generator, but they are quickly running out of fuel.
"Now they just sit and wait. They are not working, the only people working are the city workers who try to find people and get food to emergency shelters," said Nao. "I'm worried about them every day because there are still so many frequent aftershocks that they can no longer tell when the ground is actually moving or not. They have a lot of sea sickness."
At night, Nao's family sleep in their clothes, shoes and helmets to protect them from falling debris. They keep their personal documents, money and family treasures next to their pillows in case they need to move quickly from their home. They have survived an earthquake and tsunami that swallowed thousands of lives and they are together and unharmed, but for how long?
The crisis at a nearby nuclear power plant looms in their thoughts. Their home is about 125 kilometres away from the plant, beyond the evacuation zone but not beyond fear. They do not know if they are at a safe distance, and all they can do is wait to see what happens.
"I have asked them if they can move further north to where my grandmother and aunt live, just so they can put more distance between them and the plant, but unfortunately they cannot find enough gas to fill their car, and even if they could the roads are impassable. All they can do, including my sister who is seven months pregnant, is sit and wait and pray. All it seems I can do is the same," Nao shared.
How you can help
- There are collection boxes at P.E.I.'s 18 liquor stores and they will be accepting donations in form of cash, debit, credit card or personal cheque.
- Visit the Canadian Red Cross website at www.redcross.ca or call 1-800-418-1111. Using your cellphone you can text ASIA to 30333, to donate $5 to the Canadian Red Cross Japan Earthquake/Asia-Pacific Tsunami fund.