SALT LAKE CITY — Utahns learning about the massive earthquake in Japan were  reminded Friday of their personal ties with that country.

Google Crisis Response: 2011 Japanese Earthquake

LDS missionaries and members

The church's headquarters in Salt Lake City issued a statement Saturday morning.

"Church leaders confirmed this morning that all missionaries from The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints serving in Japan are safe and accounted for."

E-mail to church leaders from current Sendai mission President Reid Tateoka indicated the mission president was traveling when the quake hit. "He attempted to go back to Sendai by car, but the roads and bridges are out and the traffic was such that he's not able to get back into Sendai," Elder Grames said. "The electricty is out. The gas is out. The water is out. The situation is really difficult in terms of all of the utilities."

"We have been able to make contact with at least two-thirds of the mission, the missionaries," Elder Grames said. "There are no reports of injuries to any of the missionaries."

In Tokyo, Elder Conan Grames, a Draper resident who is currently a public affairs missionary at the church's area headquarters in Tokyo, described the quake as violent enough to spin the statue of the Angel Moroni atop the Tokyo temple around. "It has turned and is facing another direction, which gives you some feel," he said.

"There was no serious damage here in Tokyo," he said, adding that church leadership in Japan is currently focused on communications and hopes soon to start offering assistance. "We will be manning the phones and office here for the next 48 hours," Grames said.

Utahns in Japan

Salt Lake attorney Jeff Hunt was in Tokyo with a business partner and client and was walking from the jetway onto a plane at Tokyo's Narita International Airport at the moment the earthquake hit.

"I never felt anything so strong. It felt like the worst turbulence you'd ever experienced, but the plane was on the ground. The plane was bouncing around, people were being thrown around and falling down and crying," Hunt said.

The pilot thought it was safer to have people on the plane than in the terminal. "Once we got seated on the plane, there was a massive aftershock," he said. "You could look at the radio and radar towers at the airport. They were just swaying in the wind like corn stalks."

The plane sat on the tarmac for perhaps six hours. "There was no security or escort to get us off the plane." Meanwhile, the airport itself was being evacuated. Once the runway was checked for damage, the plane, bound for Portland, was allowed to take off.

Kami Ishikawa and her husband were in Kobe, Japan, when a devistating earthquake measuring 6.8 hit in 1995. Now she and her family live in Kawasaki, outside Tokyo. She spent much of the day reassuring family from Utah. "As soon as our power went on, I had over 150 e-mails in my inbox and about 80 more just coming up as I was trying to respond to people."

Her oldest daughter's junior high class was talking about earthquakes when the rumbling started. Ishikawa said she expects the longer-term impacts will be minimal compared to those in other parts of Japan.

Layton resident Betty Tart first learned about the earthquake when her daughter Susan called from Hanamaki, Japan, early Friday. "She described the earthquake as like being a doll in a doll house and having a toddler pick it up and shake it."

Susan has been working in Japan as a teacher since 2009. "She's doing OK physically. With an earthquake of that size, even though they were some distance from the epicenter, they really felt it," her mother said.

Political reaction

Rep. Rob Bishop, R-Utah, issued the following statement Friday morning: "Natural disasters such as the earthquake and tsunami in Japan remind us that Mother Nature can unpredictably wield her power when the world least expects it. My heartfelt condolences go out to the residents and visitors of Japan and all those who have been affected by this tragedy. They will remain in my thoughts and prayers."

Utahns in military service

Initial reports indicate that American military forces stationed in Japan are situated by areas less affected by the earthquake and resulting tsunami, and that U.S. service members are or will be participating in relief efforts. There have been no reports of Utahns injured or unaccounted for.

West Jordan resident David Bresnahan's 21-year-old son, Michael, is stationed with the Navy in Okinawa. "He was able to send a text and e-mail to let us know he is OK," his father said, adding that his son, a Seabee, fully expects to be part of the emergency response effort. "There are tsunamis going all over the place, but they are not expected here," Michael's e-mail home says.

Defense Secretary Robert Gates issued the following statement Friday about 1:30 p.m. Eastern Time: "I've been kept informed all day long about the tsunami in Japan, the earthquake and tsunami. As best we can tell, all of our people are OK, our ships and military facilities are all in pretty good shape.  We obviously have huge sympathy for the people of Japan and we are prepared to help them in any way we possibly can. It's obviously a very sophisticated country, but this is a huge disaster and we will do all, anything we are asked to do to help out."

Travelers

The State Department issued a travel alert urging U.S. citizens "to avoid tourism and non-essential travel to Japan at this time. Tokyo airports are currently closed; other airports in Japan may be closed or have restricted access. Public transportation, including trains and subways, are closed in the Tokyo area, and service has been interrupted in other areas."

Utahns in Hawaii: tsunami warnings

Utahns in Hawaii said tsunami preparation interrupted tranquil paradise though tsunami waves capped at only 3 feet when they reached the islands.

Rob Andrews, from Highland, is vacationing with his family at a hotel on Kaanapali Beach on Maui. He said tsunami warning sirens started going off every 30 minutes around 9 p.m. Thursday. Friday morning he waited an hour and a half to get food and water at a local store.

"(It was) a little crazy. People are trying to get filled up on gas, trying to get groceries. (It) looks like people are trying to get to higher ground. We're actually just staying here at the hotel," he said. Their room is on the hotel's fifth floor.

Salt Lake City resident Doug Archibald and his family are staying on Waikiki Beach and were supposed to fly home Friday. But the airport shut down around 1 a.m. "They told everybody to stay in the hotel rooms," he said.

From his hotel window, Archibald said he could see a police plane flying along the beach and hundreds of boats. "There is a line of boats trying to make it out to deep water. They're stretched out for miles."

When the tsunami actually came ashore, he said the water came up the beach higher than normal but did not reach the boardwalk or any of the hotels, though he said he saw water coming up through storm drains.

Read more on this story here.

How to help

The American Red Cross is updating its online newsroom with people-finding links. Information about other legitimate relief organizations will be added to this list as they become available. 

Consumers are advised that fraudulent solicitations are also circulating among e-mail, social media and other online sources.

Francine Giani, executive director of the Utah Department of Commerce, said scammers are quick to take advantage of people who want to help those in need. She said she most recently saw that after the earthquake in Haiti.

The FBI says phishing scams, originating overseas, are most prevalent.

"Scam artists will send e-mails out randomly and hope someone bites," FBI spokesperson Debbie Dujanovic said. "When someone thinks they're actually donating to help the cause and the people of Japan, what they're actually doing is lining the pockets of a con artist."

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E-mail: sfidel@desnews.com

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