Two weeks ago, Japanese Tri-Citians awoke to terrifying news from 6,000 miles away.
A powerful earthquake near their native land had unleashed a tsunami, triggered a nuclear crisis and killed an unknown -- but certainly high -- number of people.
They spent the next hours frantically reaching out to parents, siblings and friends. Hoping, praying to hear the voices of their loved ones, to hear proof they had survived unharmed.
For several families with ties to Japan, word came back that relatives and friends were alive and safe.
But the quake's aftermath was ongoing -- in good and bad ways, and on both sides of the Pacific.
Naoko Kobayashi works as a subcontractor at Hanford. She lives in Kennewick with her husband, John Schiffern.
On March 11, like every weekday, she quickly checked her email before rushing off to work at 6 a.m.
"An earthquake hit us," her mother wrote. "It's really bad. Dad was in the subway."
Kobayashi didn't know what to do. "I didn't know if my dad was alive," she said.
She went to work, where she got the good news from her sister.
Their 65-year-old father was on his way home from work when the quake hit. He was stuck in a tunnel, with aftershocks rattling away, for hours until transit workers led passengers off the train. He spent three hours walking home.
But he was safe.
That didn't yet relieve all of Kobayashi's worries. Her aunt lives in Sendai, the nearest major city to the quake's epicenter. Parts of it had been leveled.
"I just spent hours at work staring at my phone," Kobayashi said.
Finally, an email -- her aunt was alive, but had no electricity, food or water.
And then there were the images of thousands dead, hundreds of thousands homeless and towns devastated.
"I was afraid I was losing my home -- the home to my identity," Kobayashi said. "This time has been the most stressful I've ever had."
Nanako McEntire has been glued to the footage from Japan.
"I can't leave the TV," she said. "All day, I'm ..."
She mimed changing channels with a remote.
She has been doing that since her husband, John, woke her up before 5 a.m. in their West Richland home two weeks ago.
The couple lived in Tokyo in the early '90s. Two of their children were born there, and Nanako's family still lives there.
She ran to the TV that morning and found out that Tokyo hadn't borne the brunt of the tsunami. She was able to get through to her elderly parents and found they were safe.
But her mother uses an oxygen tank and has regular hospital appointments. Getting to those appointments will be tough in the face of power outages and gasoline rationing.
And stores in Tokyo are sold out of necessities.
"I feel really bad for my in-laws," John said. "They lived through the atomic bombs and had rationing. Now they're living through it again at the end of their lives."
The couple offered to send a care package to Nanako's parents. But her parents didn't think it actually would get to them.
Naruki Hiranuma grew up in Nagoya, about 200 miles southwest of Tokyo and 400 miles from the quake's epicenter.
He lived there during the nearby Kobe earthquake of 1995, which killed more than 6,400 people. Now he lives in Richland with his wife, Natsuko.
Their families are safe, though affected by the shortages of water and other provisions going on even far from the disaster areas.
Naruki has been watching Japanese coverage of the disaster online and is heartened by one thing he's seen there -- how much smoother communications are about the greatest needs in the disaster areas.
"Back in '95, people (in Japan) wanted to help and sent anything they could spare," he said.
Volunteers then would spend valuable time sorting through the many shipments to find the goods that actually were needed in the hardest-hit areas.
This time, the word's out on Facebook and Twitter about victims' needs.
"There's less confusion," Naruki said.
The death toll -- currently at more than 10,000, but expected to reach 20,000 once everyone is accounted for -- could have been even worse in a less-prepared country, he said.
He, and anyone else living near the coast, has gone through earthquake and tsunami drills since elementary school.
A changed society?
The training that the Japanese undergo has benefited other nationals too, which has been one of several positive storylines emerging from the tragedy.
One story getting a lot of attention in Japan, Nanako McEntire said, was that of a Japanese owner of a fish processing plant giving his life for his Chinese workers. The workers didn't know what to do in a tsunami and wanted to hide inside the low-lying factory.
Their boss corralled them to higher ground first, then died while trying to save his family.
China and Japan have been at war many times through the centuries, and continue to clash on a diplomatic level.
McEntire also heard reports from Tokyo neighborhoods that teenagers were looting vending machines. The twist was that the kids did this to bring food to old or sick neighbors, bridging the generational gap.
The stereotype about Japanese people is that they don't show feelings toward others and keep to themselves, Nanako said.
But much of that is a symptom of urbanization, not of Japanese values, she said. The disaster has brought out the mentality that prevailed before Japan became a nation of metropolises.
"Because of this, people think more of their families," Nanako said. "People are coming together as one."
A thousand cranes
A lot of Japanese people living abroad are really sad and depressed as they helplessly watch, Naoko Kobayashi said.
"But this sad story can be an opportunity for the Tri-Cities," she said.
She's putting together a collection for victims of the disaster.
In Japanese folklore, anyone folding a thousand paper cranes will have a wish granted. The tradition gained international attention when a young girl who was poisoned by radiation from the bomb on Hiroshima folded 1,000 paper cranes to be cured of leukemia.
Today, strings of paper cranes are a popular gift for hospital patients.
Kobayashi plans to get volunteers to fold as many cranes as possible and display them in businesses around the Tri-Cities. People then could sign their names on the paper cranes' wings and donate money.
The money could go to the Japanese Red Cross or The Nippon Foundation's CANPAN relief fund.
For information on how to help, write to email@example.com.