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Video: Ann Curry helps American in Japan reunite with family

  1. Closed captioning of: Ann Curry helps American in Japan reunite with family

    >> reunion that ann played a role in. she's back with details. ann , good morning again.

    >> reporter: good morning once again to you, matt. as we have been reporting, many people are looking for missing loved ones including americans. this morning i received a tweet from a young woman searching for her sister . she had arrived in japan on the day of the quake. the tweeter from san francisco wrote, my sister , american english teacher, is missing in minamisanriku . please help with any news of evacuations. the coastal fishing village of minamisanriku is one of the hardest hit by the tsunami. it's where this home video captures just how deadly the wave was, rushing in at four stories high and pushing sixle miles deep. 10,000 people are still missing. the teacher was described as 25, an english teacher in minamisanriku who returned on the day of the quake to see her students graduate from middle school . we arrived with her picture at the middle school , which had been turned into an evacuation center for survivors. when suddenly, this woman said she was okay and somewhere outside. cannon is a popular teacher and soon everyone wanted to help. one took us to another evacuation center and there she was.

    >> hi!

    >> reporter: are you cannon?

    >> yes.

    >> reporter: with her, two other american teachers.

    >> we had to run up into the mountains and stay there for a while.

    >> reporter: mary kaitlyn churchill of boston, massachusetts. and steve mendoza of riverside, california, unable to reach their families, stranded in a place without phones and cell service. steve took this dramatic home video .

    >> hi. can you hear me?

    >> reporter: meantime, in san francisco , we reached cannon's sister megan walsh and parents john and adrian.

    >> you have my sister ?

    >> reporter: i have her.

    >> oh, my god. it's her. she's on the phone.

    >> are you okay?

    >> i'm totally okay. i'm absolutely -- i have been fine the whole time.

    >> reporter: mary, kaitlyn and steve were able to talk to their families. probably relieved for good news in a story with so much bad, matt.

    >> it's really good news. i know cannon purdy is with you and her family joins us as well. her sister , mom and dad . good morning to all of you.

    >> good morning.

    >> can you describe what the last 72 hours have been like for you?

    >> well, just been on the computer, on the television searching for any sign of news of people in that devastated area. we are so fortunate to be able to speak to them last night.

    >> you reached out with a tweet to ann curry and others. my sister , american english teacher, is missing in minamisanriku . please help with news of evacuees. ann tweeted back, i will do my best and, boy, did she. she found your sister , slash, daughter. can you see her there? can you see her face?

    >> yeah, we can. it's great. hi!

    >> hi!

    >> cannon, i can only imagine the frustration on your part knowing that your family would be so worried about you and unable to reach out to them. what was it like to place that phone call ?

    >> it was a great relief. we didn't have cell service and no hope of reaching cell service any time soon. so i kind of had to tuck it away and hope for the best and hope they weren't too worried and try to do what i could here. it was great to just know they knew i was okay and that the other families knew their children were okay.

    >> i know you have been teaching in japan for a couple of years now. i understand from your mom that you began to loathe the daily tsunami warnings that would wake a lot of people up there every day. i would imagine you placed those in perspective now.

    >> most definitely. you know, everyone here was very concerned and very serious about the warnings. coming from a different culture, i kind of understood, but blew it off a little bit. now i will never make that mistake again. it's certainly been more devastating than i could imagine.

    >> mom, dad, megan , i know how badly you must want to get cannon back in your arms. i understand she has travel plans. can you jump in and overrule those and get her back home?

    >> i don't think so. i think she got my mother's itchy feet.

    >> you're headed to india?

    >> she's fine now. she can do whatever she wants.

    >> i don't actually -- my passport was lost so i don't know if i can make it to india.

    >> oh, no.

    >> i feel some responsibility to stay here and help as long as i can. i'm not sure if i would be a bigger burden or not. but i have really good friends here and good people who have helped us this whole time. i haven't made up my mind when i need to go home.

    >> it's obvious why you are so popular there. our thoughts are with you and your friends and clearly the people who have lost so much over the last 72 hours . please stay safe. we are glad you got to talk to your parents. mom, dad and megan , we're glad you got to see her as well.

    >> we love you. thank you so much for the opportunity.

    >> i'm so thankful. we love you.

    >> take care, sweet heart .

    >> the one tweet that family sent to ann afterwards, ann curry , i love you, thank you for finding my sister . a nice end to the

By
TODAY contributor
updated 3/14/2011 11:41:05 AM ET 2011-03-14T15:41:05

The world watched in horror as the scene was replayed over and over: a 30-foot wall of water ripping through Japanese villages such as Minamisanriku, leaving 10,000 of its 17,000 residents missing. But few felt the terror more deeply and personally than the family of 25-year-old Canon Purdy, who arrived in Japan the day the earth turned upside down.

“My sister ... is missing,” Purdy’s sister, Megan Walsh, wrote in a desperate Twitter message to TODAY’s Ann Curry, who arrived in Japan Saturday to cover the disastrous effects of the earthquake and resulting tsunami. “Please help with any news of evacuees.”

“I will do my best,” Curry tweeted back.

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‘She’s OK’
Formerly a teacher of English in Japan, where she was highly popular with her students, Purdy had left the country, but returned just before the quake to see her former students graduate. Like thousands of others, including two fellow American teachers who were with Purdy, she was quickly sent fleeing by the nightmare of the March 11 quake and the tsunami that followed.

Interactive: Japan before and after the disaster (on this page)

On Monday, moved by Purdy’s family’s plea and armed with a photograph of the teacher, Curry made her way to the middle school in what was left of Minamisanriku, which had been turned into a makeshift evacuation center.

The good news came a few moments later: “She’s OK,” and “somewhere outside,” other survivors told Curry. Taken to another refugee center, Curry found Purdy, along with the two other American teachers. All three were safe and sound.

Disaster at a glance

Within minutes, Purdy used Curry’s phone to call her frantic family in San Francisco. “I’m totally OK,” she told her sister.

“It was a great relief,” Purdy told TODAY’s Matt Lauer. With no cell phone service after the tsunami and no hope of getting any “any time soon,” Purdy knew that there was no chance that she could reach her loved ones back in the United States to let them know that she had survived. “I had to tuck it away, and hope for the best,” she said. “And hope that they weren’t too worried, and try and do what I could here.”

Video: Death toll rises amid Japan disaster (on this page)

A sense of responsibility
During her time in Japan, Purdy admitted, she had come to loathe the frequent tsunami warnings that would often disturb her sleep. Now, she feels differently about them.

“Everyone here is very concerned and serious about the warnings, and coming from a different culture, I kind of understood, but blew it off a little bit. But now, I will never make that mistake again.” The tragedy and destruction that she’s seen have “been more devastating than I ever could have imagined,” Purdy told Lauer.

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Even so, Purdy said she is not in any real hurry to leave. Though she had planned to travel on to India, those plans are now on hold. For one thing, her passport was washed away in the flood. But more than that, she said, she feels she has a debt to the people of Minamisanriku.

“I do feel some responsibility to stay here and help as long as I can. I’m not sure if I’d be a bigger burden or not, but I have really good friends here and people who helped us the whole time.”

Video: Ann Curry helps American in Japan reunite with family (on this page)

Purdy’s mother, Adrian, told Lauer that she understands Purdy’s sense of responsibility, and despite the 72 hours of desperate fear the family endured, she has no plans to pressure her daughter to come home. “I think she got my mother’s itchy feet,” Adrian said.

Another reunion
As moving as Purdy’s story is, it may not be unique. In a nation where even the most basic lines of communication have been disrupted, U.S. expatriates such as John and Jessica Musumeci, who have been living in Japan for three years with their young sons, Zach and Max, and appeared in a subsequent TODAY segment Monday, turned to social networks like Facebook to reassure frightened relatives back home.

Jessica and John Musumeci and their twin sons reunited live via satellite link with Jessica’s sister Monica on TODAY.

Even so, without power or regular access to the Internet, it took the family more than 48 hours to send out a message on Facebook that they were all right. “I apologize for not getting back sooner ... but this is the first opportunity we have had to try to reach anyone. We were able to find a nice couple who rarely enough have power and Internet,” John wrote Sunday. Though he described the preceding three days as a nightmare of aftershocks and deprivation, he assured his family and friends back home that there was good news: “We are all alive and we have a good network of expatriates here in Sendai helping each other out.”

And in a tearful reunion with Jessica’s sister, Monica Cohen, played out live via satellite link with TODAY’s Natalie Morales, the family said that they had been spared the worst of the devastation, and recounted the ordeal of being unable to let anyone back home know that they were safe. “It was so hard to know that they were trying to get in touch. There really was no way to do it,” John told Morales.

“We had very limited resources,” Jessica added. “We had no Internet, no cell phone ... it’s heartbreaking to think that they thought the worst.”

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“It’s been 72 hours of hell for myself and my family,” Monica confirmed.

As terrifying as the disaster was for the adults, for 8-year-old twins Zach and Max, the events must have been earth-shattering. But the boys maintained a brave front, their father said. “They were very good through all of this.”

“The first night we had aftershocks every five minutes,” John added. “And they were big.”

Still, the family counts itself as fortunate. They are running low on food and water, they said, but they’re surviving.

Video: American family abroad in Japan: ‘We’re OK!’ (on this page)

“In our immediate area, we were so lucky,” Jessica said. “We escaped the devastation that we’re literally just miles from ... to think that the people who have been so good to us here in Japan are so devastated and the supplies are so low. The people of Japan really need help.”

That was the Musumecis’ message. The family of Canon Purdy had a more personal one, this one for Ann Curry.

“Ann Curry I love you,” Megan Walsh tweeted. “Thank you for finding my sister.”       

© 2013 NBCNews.com  Reprints

Photos: After Japan's earthquake and tsunami - week 8

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  1. A radiation measuring instrument is seen next to some residents in Kawauchimura, a village within the 12- to 18-mile zone around the Fukushima Daiichi nuclear plant, on April 28. Most residents of Kawauchimura have evacuated in order to avoid the radiation, but some remain in the area of their own accord. (Koichi Kamoshida / EPA) Back to slideshow navigation
  2. A brazier heats the house of Masahiro Kazami, located within a 12-mile radius of the Fukushima Daiichi nuclear plant, April 28. (Koichi Kamoshida / EPA) Back to slideshow navigation
  3. Volunteers help clean a cemetery at Jionin temple in Ishinomaki, Miyagi prefecture, northeastern Japan, on April 29. Many volunteers poured into the disaster-hit region at the beginning of the annual Golden Week holiday. (Hiro Komae / AP) Back to slideshow navigation
  4. Japanese government adviser Toshiso Kosako is overcome with emotion during a news conference on April 29 in Tokyo announcing his resignation. The expert on radiation exposure said he could not stay on the job and allow the government to set what he called improper radiation limits for elementary schools in areas near the tsunami-damaged Fukushima nuclear plant. (AP) Back to slideshow navigation
  5. Fuel rods are seen inside the spent fuel pool of the Fukushima Daiichi nuclear plant reactor 4 on April 30. (Reuters) Back to slideshow navigation
  6. A volunteer girl from Tokyo works to clean the debris of a house in Higashimatsushima, northern Japan, on April 30. (AP) Back to slideshow navigation
  7. Farmer Tsugio Sato tends to his Japanese pear trees in Fukushima city, May 1. He said he expects to harvest the pears in October. Farmers and businesses face so-called "fuhyo higai," or damages stemming from the battered reputation of the Fukushima brand. (Hiro Komae / AP) Back to slideshow navigation
  8. Members of Japan Ground Self-Defense Force in protective gear receive radiation screening in Minamisoma in Fukushima prefecture, after searching for bodies at an area devastated by the March 11 earthquake and tsunami. (Reuters) Back to slideshow navigation
  9. Ruriko Sakuma, daughter of dairy farmer Shinji Sakuma, rubs a cow at their farm in the village of Katsurao in Fukushima prefecture on May 3. Thousands of farm animals died of hunger in the weeks following the quake. (Yoshikazu Tsuno / AFP - Getty Images) Back to slideshow navigation
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Interactive: Japan before and after the disaster

These aerial photos show locations in Japan before and after the 9.0-magnitude earthquake and tsunami that struck March 11. Use the slider below the images to reveal the changes in the landscape.

Explainer: The 10 deadliest earthquakes in recorded history

  • A look at the worst earthquakes in recorded history, in loss of human life. (The March 11, 2011, earthquake and tsumani that affected eastern Japan is not included because the fatalities caused, about 15,000, are fewer than those resulting from the temblors listed below.) Sources: United States Geological Survey, Encyclopedia Britannica

  • 1: Shensi, China, Jan. 23, 1556

    Magnitude about 8, about 830,000 deaths.

    This earthquake occurred in the Shaanxi province (formerly Shensi), China, about 50 miles east-northeast of Xi'an, the capital of Shaanxi. More than 830,000 people are estimated to have been killed. Damage extended as far away as about 270 miles northeast of the epicenter, with reports as far as Liuyang in Hunan, more than 500 miles away. Geological effects reported with this earthquake included ground fissures, uplift, subsidence, liquefaction and landslides. Most towns in the damage area reported city walls collapsed, most to all houses collapsed and many of the towns reported ground fissures with water gushing out.

  • 2: Tangshan, China, July 27, 1976

    Chinese Earthquake
    Keystone  /  Getty Images
    1976: Workers start rebuilding work following earthquake damage in the Chinese city of Tangshan, 100 miles east of Pekin, with a wrecked train carriage behind them. (Photo by Keystone/Getty Images)
    Magnitude 7.5. Official casualty figure is 255,000 deaths. Estimated death toll as high as 655,000.

    Damage extended as far as Beijing. This is probably the greatest death toll from an earthquake in the last four centuries, and the second greatest in recorded history.

  • 3: Aleppo, Syria, Aug. 9, 1138

    Magnitude not known, about 230,000 deaths.

    Contemporary accounts said the walls of Syria’s second-largest city crumbled and rocks cascaded into the streets. Aleppo’s citadel collapsed, killing hundreds of residents. Although Aleppo was the largest community affected by the earthquake, it likely did not suffer the worst of the damage. European Crusaders had constructed a citadel at nearby Harim, which was leveled by the quake. A Muslim fort at Al-Atarib was destroyed as well, and several smaller towns and manned forts were reduced to rubble. The quake was said to have been felt as far away as Damascus, about 220 miles to the south. The Aleppo earthquake was the first of several occurring between 1138 and 1139 that devastated areas in northern Syria and western Turkey.

  • 4: Sumatra, Indonesia, Dec. 26, 2004

    Aerial images show the extent of the devastation in Meulaboh
    Getty Images  /  Getty Images
    MEULABOH, INDONESIA - DECEMBER 29: In this handout photo taken from a print via the Indonesian Air Force, the scene of devastation in Meulaboh, the town closest to the Sunday's earthquake epicentre, is pictured from the air on December 29, 2004, Meulaboh, Aceh Province, Sumatra, Indonesia. The western coastal town in Aceh Province, only 60 kilometres north-east of the epicentre, has been the hardest hit by sunday's underwater earthquake in the Indian Ocean. Officials expected to find at least 10,000 killed which would amount to a quarter of Meulaboh's population. Three-quarters of Sumatra's western coast was destroyed and some towns were totally wiped out after the tsunamis that followed the earthquake. (Photo by Indonesian Air Force via Getty Images)

    Magnitude 9.1, 227,898 deaths.

    This was the third largest earthquake in the world since 1900 and the largest since the 1964 Prince William Sound, Alaska temblor. In total, 227,898 people were killed or were missing and presumed dead and about 1.7 million people were displaced by the earthquake and subsequent tsunami in 14 countries in South Asia and East Africa. (In January 2005, the death toll was 286,000. In April 2005, Indonesia reduced its estimate for the number missing by over 50,000.)

  • 5: Haiti, Jan 12, 2010

    Haitians walk through collapsed building
    Jean-philippe Ksiazek  /  AFP/Getty Images
    Haitians walk through collapsed buildings near the iron market in Port-au-Prince on January 31, 2010. Quake-hit Haiti will need at least a decade of painstaking reconstruction, aid chiefs and donor nations warned, as homeless, scarred survivors struggled today to rebuild their lives. AFP PHOTO / JEAN-PHILIPPE KSIAZEK (Photo credit should read JEAN-PHILIPPE KSIAZEK/AFP/Getty Images)

    Magnitude 7.0. According to official estimates, 222,570 people killed.

    According to official estimates, 300,000 were also injured, 1.3 million displaced, 97,294 houses destroyed and 188,383 damaged in the Port-au-Prince area and in much of southern Haiti. This includes at least 4 people killed by a local tsunami in the Petit Paradis area near Leogane. Tsunami waves were also reported at Jacmel, Les Cayes, Petit Goave, Leogane, Luly and Anse a Galets.

  • 6: Damghan, Iran, Dec. 22, 856

    Magnitude not known, about 200,000 deaths.

    This earthquake struck a 200-mile stretch of northeast Iran, with the epicenter directly below the city of Demghan, which was at that point the capital city. Most of the city was destroyed as well as the neighboring areas. Approximately 200,000 people were killed.

  • 7: Haiyuan, Ningxia , China, Dec. 16, 1920

    7.8 magnitude, about 200,000 deaths.

    This earthquake brought total destruction to the Lijunbu-Haiyuan-Ganyanchi area. Over 73,000 people were killed in Haiyuan County. A landslide buried the village of Sujiahe in Xiji County. More than 30,000 people were killed in Guyuan County. Nearly all the houses collapsed in the cities of Longde and Huining. About 125 miles of surface faulting was seen from Lijunbu through Ganyanchi to Jingtai. There were large numbers of landslides and ground cracks throughout the epicentral area. Some rivers were dammed, others changed course.

  • 8: Ardabil, Iran, March. 23, 893

    Magnitude not known, about 150,000 deaths

    The memories of the massive Damghan earthquake (see above) had barely faded when only 37 years later, Iran was again hit by a huge earthquake. This time it cost 150,000 lives and destroyed the largest city in the northwestern section of the country. The area was again hit by a fatal earthquake in 1997.

  • 9: Kanto, Japan, Sept. 1, 1923

    Kanto Damage
    Hulton Archive  /  Getty Images
    1923: High-angle view of earthquake and fire damage on Hongokucho Street and the Kanda District, taken from the Yamaguchi Bank building after the Kanto earthquake, Tokyo, Japan. (Photo by Hulton Archive/Getty Images)
    7.9 magnitude, 142,800 deaths.

    This earthquake brought extreme destruction in the Tokyo-Yokohama area, both from the temblor and subsequent firestorms, which burned about 381,000 of the more than 694,000 houses that were partially or completely destroyed. Although often known as the Great Tokyo Earthquake (or the Great Tokyo Fire), the damage was most severe in Yokohama. Nearly 6 feet of permanent uplift was observed on the north shore of Sagami Bay and horizontal displacements of as much as 15 feet were measured on the Boso Peninsula.

  • 10: Ashgabat, Turkmenistan, Oct. 5, 1948

    7.3 magnitude, 110,000 deaths.

    This quake brought extreme damage in Ashgabat (Ashkhabad) and nearby villages, where almost all the brick buildings collapsed, concrete structures were heavily damaged and freight trains were derailed. Damage and casualties also occurred in the Darreh Gaz area in neighboring Iran. Surface rupture was observed both northwest and southeast of Ashgabat. Many sources list the casualty total at 10,000, but a news release from the newly independent government on Dec. 9, 1988, advised that the correct death toll was 110,000. (Turkmenistan had been part of the Soviet Union, which tended to downplay the death tolls from man-made and natural disasters.)

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