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Raleigh students return after Japan quake

Posted March 17, 2011 11:05 p.m. EDT
Updated March 18, 2011 11:09 p.m. EDT

— Gloria Young wrapped her arms around her 14-year-old daughter at Raleigh-Durham International Airport on Friday, a week after the teen and her classmates narrowly avoided an earthquake and tsunami in Japan. 

"I'm just relieved to have her home and know that she's safe. I'm just emotional 'cause it's over I guess," Young said. 

Young's daughter, Samantha, was among eight students from Exploris Middle School in Raleigh who, along with teacher Devon Banks and Principal Kevin Piacenza, traveled to Japan for a planned three-week exchange program.

The  program was cut short due to the disaster. Most of the group arrived home Friday evening.

Samantha Young was the first Exploris student to return home. Her parents were worried so they arranged for her to return earlier than the rest of the group.

"It wasn't that she wasn't safe in Hiroshima. It's just that once things got a little crazy with travel (and) it would be very difficult to get her out, (we felt it would) just be prudent to fly her out early," Samantha Young's father, Todd Young, said. 

Piacenza said the earthquake struck Japan last Friday as their plane was making its descent to Tokyo's airport. 

"We were about to land in Tokyo and the captain came on (and said), 'No, I'm sorry there was a sudden earthquake,'" Samantha Young said. "We were like, 'Oh it must happen all the time,' because he was very calm about it." 

Hunter Hair, father of Trevor, said, "We were terrified when we woke up that morning and they were supposed to be landing 30 minutes before the earthquake happened."

The group was diverted to Osaka, then made its way to Hiroshima, where students were paired with host families.

Despite the disaster elsewhere, Tara Boldrin said the experience was more than worthwhile.

"Hiroshima is such a great place," Boldrin said. "I would recommend going there. It's a beautiful city.

"It was totally a new experience," she said. "Everything is different about the culture, all the people and everything, so I loved it." 

During their journey, they witnessed relief efforts starting up, Piacenza wrote in an email to WRAL News.

"The highway was lined with defense force caravans on the road to Tokyo. Troop carriers, heavy equipment (and) generators were headed north, one after another," he stated.

The students were welcomed by their host school, but the natural disaster rightly consumed all the attention and energy, Piacenza said.

"My host family, they were great," Samantha Young said. "This entire experience, I'm going to remember for a while, but my host family, they were amazing." 

She said she felt bad leaving Japan. 

"What about them, and what's going to happen to them? It's scary. Our soldiers are going over there to help out so that's a good thing. I just hope there's a way I can help out too," she said.