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Triangle residents report from Pacific

Posted March 11, 2011 11:18 a.m. EST
Updated March 18, 2011 9:37 a.m. EDT

— Students, singers and vacationers far from their Triangle homes reported back from Japan and Hawaii Friday, where a massive earthquake spawned a tsunami.

A team of students and teachers from Raleigh’s Exploris Middle School who traveled overnight to Japan saw their arrival diverted to Osaka after the earthquake was reported.

Eight students, teacher Devon Banks and principal Kevin Piacenza left Raleigh Thursday for a three-week exchange program. They were to fly into Tokyo and meet their host families, who live about three hours outside the capital.

Jennifer Prestifilippo said her 12-year-old twin daughters Lauren and Livia are in the travel group that was supposed to land minutes before the quake hit. 

"We had the flight tracker on the computer screen, so we could take a look and then realized, it wasn't showing the flight anymore," Prestifilippo said.

Then, Prestifilippo heard the news of the earthquake. After four hours of worry, she finally got word that the group was safe. Their connection in Dallas was delayed, so the pilot had time to re-route them away from the chaos.

A school spokesperson said Friday morning that despite the diversion, the group had arrived and was safe, although communication with them has been spotty.

"One of my daughters text me and said, 'Oh Mom, we just heard 60 people are dead,'" Prestifilippo said. "So, they do know it's serious." 

The annual exchange program is slated to last about 10 days.

Prestifilippo said she was able to see and speak with her daughters later during an online video chat. 

"They said, 'Well, we're in Osaka because there was an earthquake, but we're OK. We're here. We're tired,'" she said. "It was so wonderful to see their faces." 

Students, singers check in from Japan

Keith Lawrence, spokesman for Duke University, said he had heard from several graduates and students in Japan and was making contact with others using social media.

University of North Carolina students who are studying in Japan are also safe, The Daily Tar Heel reported.

Members of the Lillington-based gospel quartet, The Taylors, were on vacation in Japan at the time of the quake.

"We felt the earth move under our feet," 23-year-old Jonathan Taylor said.

Taylor,  and his sisters Suzanne, 21, and Leslie Taylor, 20, were standing on Mount Fuji, Japan’s highest mountain, when the quake hit.

"We actually felt it and saw it. We asked our tour guide and she told us there was an earthquake," Suzanne Taylor said. 

It took them 14 hours to get down the mountain. They eventually made it to the sixth floor of a Tokyo hotel.

"At about 8 in the morning, someone called and said to watch the news," their father, James Taylor, said. "We didn't know where our children were, so we were very concerned and worried."

James Taylor tried all day to reach his children. He finally found out they were safe around 3:30 p.m. when he received a Facebook message from them.

"We were crying. We were shouting. We were happy," he said. 

They have since talked via Skype. 

The Taylors hope their story will help provide hope for others who have unaccounted for family members in Japan. 

The fourth member of the quartet, Chris Taylor, stayed behind in Lillington so he could propose to his girlfriend. 

Find out how you can donate to help the victims of the earthquake and tsunami

Apex family watches waves in Kauai

An Apex family vacationing on the Hawaiian island of Kauai was carefully watching the waves from their hotel balcony.

After the tsunami warning was issued, Greg Monteleone said, hotel employees moved his family from the third floor to the 11th.

“I'm glad the hotel has this evacuation plan in place. They're evacuating people from the first three floors so hopefully we're high enough so it's not going to effect us," he said.

Monteleone, who is on his first trip to Hawaii, saw wave after wave on Friday. 

"It sounded like a truck coming through," he said. 

A tsunami watch remained in effect on Friday night, Monteleone said. 

The NC Baptist Men in Raleigh, who have provided aid to other disaster areas, are sending two volunteers to Japan as part of an initial assessment team to determine what aid is needed there.