UPDATED: North Dakota native Allison Colby alive and well in Japan
Jessica Colby and her family in Velva, N.D., got the news they had waited for since an earthquake hit Japan Friday: Jessica's younger sister, Allison, is alive and well.
Allison Colby, a 23-year-old living in Kamimachi, Japan, where she taught English, escaped unharmed by both the earthquake and a tsunami that devastated Sendai - a city of about 1 million just to her south.
"She was all right," Jessica said this morning. "She just sounded exhausted."
Electricity to Kamimachi, located in Miyagi Prefecture, was restored Monday night, and Allison was able to get word via text message at about 6 this morning to Jessica in Velva for the first time since just after the quake.
"It's amazing," Jessica said. "Just the relief I can't even explain. ... Now it's just getting her home."
Allison and a fellow English teacher have access to water, but food and gas are becoming hard to find, Jessica said.
"They're having trouble driving anywhere," Jessica said. "Sendai is starting to become a little scary."
Allison plans to take a plane to Osaka, Japan, and eventually home, but it could be a while, Jessica said.
"Just getting out of the north would be wonderful," Jessica said.
Jessica, 26, returned March 6 from Japan after spending Allison's 24th birthday with her.
The trip was an opportunity for the sisters, both North Dakota State University graduates, to spend some time together and for Jessica to see the country Allison had come to love during high school and college, eventually moving there in August to teach English.
"I just left her Sunday (March 6) night," Jessica said. "I was just there. I really wish I was still there so I could be with her."
Allison registered with a Japanese police prefecture about 45 minutes after the quake, said Stephen Fasano of the Japanese Exchange and Teaching program in New York.
A tsunami likely struck about 15 to 30 minutes after the earthquake, but the timing was too close to know whether Allison registered before it hit, he said.
"We don't have an exact time," he said. "It looks as if they made contact after the two events, but they can't be absolutely sure."
The family hopes someone can help them find Allison in one of the areas most heavily affected by the earthquake and tsunami, said Allison's mom, Pam Colby.
"We've been trying every avenue we can think to make contact with her," Pam said.
The teaching program is working with the Japanese consulate to help locate the undetermined number of unaccounted for American and Canadian teachers who work in the Miyagi Prefecture in northern Japan, said Masaaki Akagi, executive director of the program.
With cell phones likely down in the area, the family has relied on the Internet for clues, Jessica said.
Using Facebook, Pam was able to contact some fellow American teachers in other areas of Japan, but no one had heard from Allison.
Until word comes, Pam will continue watching television news coverage of the devastation.
"It's my only link to her right now," she said.
Jessica is trying to stay positive, even as it gets more difficult each day the family doesn't hear from her sister.
"I'm telling myself that she hasn't been able to get to a phone," Jessica said. "We just think she must be out helping people. It's just hard because we don't know where she is, if she has any food or water."