Waves of tsunami hit residences after a powerful earthquake in Natori, Miyagi prefecture (state), Japan, Friday, March 11, 2011. The largest earthquake in Japan's recorded history slammed the eastern coast Friday. (AP Photo/Kyodo News)
A Chicagoan now living in Japan offered the reminder Friday that earthquakes in that country are as comman as tornadoes in the American Midwest.
Still, the massive quake was unlike any other he'd felt.
"The way the cars and the streets and the trees and the lampposts and what-not were swaying was almost frightening," said Dave Spector, a Chicago native who's become a big TV personality in his more than 20 years in Japan. "It was almost like a disaster movie when you see people, and Armageddon, and you see the streets are buckling and people running. It was sheer pandemonium."
"The fact that I could feel anything at all shows what a massive quake it was," she recalled.
Houston, a native of Northwest Indiana, said the shaking came on slow and steady.
"It was very slow. It wasn't a rough motion, it was a slow motion, and it lasted for a long time," Houston told NBC Chicago on Friday. "That's what was so scary was thinking it was going to stop, and it just kept going and going."
Jackie Rzeczkowski, a native of Aurora who lives near Osaka, said she felt the same kind of shaking.
"It was like a boat, so I felt a bit dizzy!" Rzeczkowski posted on Facebook.
Rzeczkowski has been teaching at a high school in Hyogo Prefecture near Osaka through the JET program for about two-and-a-half years.
She's waiting to hear from friends in Sendai. Some friends living in Tokyo are stranded at work, she said, and one walked 2.5 hours to get home.
"The really scary, tragic part has been houses washed away, entire buildings washed away full of people," Houston said. "You see people leaning out the windows and waving flags trying to signal for help."
Here in Chicago, the executive director of the Japan America Society was trying to reach his family in Sendai.
"I was able to speak to some family in Tokyo and they're ok," said Mishie Baba. "But I couldn't get through to my family in Sendai. The phones are down. I'm hoping to get a message through by email."
About six flights that left Tokyo just two or three hours before the earthquake arrived at O'Hare Airport Friday morning. Some flights made an announcement, but most passengers found out about the destruction when they landed.
People looking for U.S. citizens in Japan can call the U.S. Deptartment of State, Overseas Citizens Services at 1-888-407-4747.