Jamie Cook today: "Walking the tracks in the mountains after the big quake forced us off a small cable car." )
Detroit native Reggie Austin clung to a streetlight as buildings swayed and the ground rumbled today in Tokyo, about 200 miles from the 8.9 magnitude earthquake that hit off the northeast shore of Japan.
"To see the buildings move is crazy," Austin told The News this morning. "There were huge buildings moving. Everybody just stood still."
Like many who once called Metro Detroit home, Austin, 38, and an IT manager in Japan, has been updating today friends and family members here following the largest earthquake in Japan's recorded history. He said today he has lost track of time because of numerous aftershocks. There were at least 50 aftershocks, some more than 6.0 magnitude, Japanese officials said.
"This is one of the times I wished I didn't speak Japanese because there is so much bad news coming out," Austin said. "I pray that everybody that's there (on the coast) can get to safety."
Austin has lived in Japan for about six years, moving from Detroit. He said he has felt tremors and earthquakes in the past, but they did little to prepare him for today's quake.
Traffic is at a standstill in Tokyo, and people are jamming bars and walking streets to look for loved ones and buddies, he said. Cellular phone and Internet access is spotty and trains, the lifeline of transportation for many, aren't running, Austin said.
"Thank God for social networking (sites)," he said. "Otherwise, I wouldn't be able to get in touch with anyone. It is just chaos."
Wyandotte native Jamie Cook, 33, was on a packed commuter train headed to a resort in the mountains of the Hakone area of Japan when the quake — about 350 miles north — and aftershocks hit, he said.
The train shook violently and the 125 or so passengers had to get off and walk to the nearest town. Cook and his girlfriend then hopped on a taxi and made it to their weekend getaway.
He didn't know how bad the quake was until he turned on a television and saw the devastation.
"The magnitude came into focus," said Cook, an English teacher and comedian. "I came out here to relax and it turned into a stressful situation. There are a lot of people worse off than I am."
Farmington Hills native Angela Shetler, who lives in Koriyama, was at an area high school where she is a teacher when the quake hit — about 160 miles north. She said staffers at first didn't think much of the quake but its intensity soon had people scurrying for cover.
"I just held on as my desk shifted above me and things came crashing down," the 29-year-old said via e-mail. "It was terrifying, and I couldn't stop shaking."
There were no students in school during the quake.
After the quake and aftershocks died down, she ran home to check on her apartment and husband, who was OK. Her apartment was a mess.
Shetler said trains aren't running and stations have been turned into shelters. Stores are rationing out merchandise. People have formed lines to use payphones because cellular phones were not getting service.
Gas service is off and the authorities have told residents to stay calm and keep telephone lines open, she said.
"There are still strong aftershocks, every few minutes," Shetler said. "The trains aren't running, so many people are stranded."
As result of the earthquake, tsunami waves swamped Hawaii's beaches before dawn there today but didn't cause any major damage.
Kauai was the first of the Hawaiian islands hit by the tsunami. Water rushed ashore in Honolulu, swamping the beach in Waikiki and surging over a break wall in the world-famous resort but stopping short of the area's high-rise hotels.
The island of Maui recorded waves as high as 7 feet. Oahu recorded 3 feet. Officials warned that the waves would continue and could become larger, and a scientist at the Pacific Tsunami Warning Center said there was likely damage to mooring facilities and piers.
Antonio Perez, 32, a restaurant worker and Detroit native who now lives on Kauai, said residents had prepared for the worst, but were for now breathing sighs of relief.
"The thing that made it more nerve-wracking was hearing the emergency sirens going off," Perez said. "We knew it was here."
When the tsunami hit, there were small waves and some damage, but not the widespread havoc some expected, Perez said.
"People were definitely relieved," he said. "We are pretty much fine."
Joel Groomes, 37, is another islander originally from Romeo.
He lives about two miles form Kauai's shore so he knew his wife and kids would be safe. He drove to work where he is a DJ for Kong Radio to help with gathering information and get the word out to people.
"We are totally relieved," he said. His drive into work — typically congested with other commuters — was not busy today.
"It was kind of eerie when you have to make that drive and the roads are empty."
Associated Press contributed to this report.