Families turn to web for news of earthquake-hit loved ones
British families have posted desperate pleas for information about loved ones caught in the Japanese earthquake on websites.
By David Barrett 9:00PM GMT 12 Mar 2011
As the country’s once peerless communications network suffered almost complete collapse in the affected zones, friends and family of Britons who fear their loved ones have been affected turned to the world wide web in a bid to find the missing or to obtain even the smallest crumb of comfort.
Websites listed thousands of entries about missing Japanese nationals, some with photographs and heart-rending pleas.
Google has created a special “person finder” page which gathers messages about the missing, and matches them with scraps of information emerging from Japan. On Saturday night there were more than 60,000 entries on the database, with the total rising by the hour.
The family of British teacher Brian Hickebottom were desperate for news of the 34-year-old, his infant daughter and Japanese wife, who live in the coastal city of Tagajo, about seven miles from Sendai, the worst-affected area of the disaster.
Brian, who is originally from Birmingham, has lived in Japan for three years and teaches English in schools.
Emma Hickebottom, his sister, said: “We are all very worried. Mum and dad were due to go and visit Brian in two weeks’ time because they haven’t yet met their grand-daughter.”
Emma, a 28-year-old retail manager based in Cardiff, posted the appeal for information about her brother’s whereabouts on the Google page.
“This is a very tough time for my parents. They are very shocked and upset,” said Emma.
“We have tried e-mailing, phoning and texting to see if the family are all okay but we’ve heard nothing yet.”
Brian’s wife Sanae gave birth to their first child, Erin, six months ago.
News of Anna Francis, a British 24-year-old living in Sendai, was also being sought by her friends and family through the Google website.
Bertie van der Beek, a friend, said the Bristol woman had been teaching in Japan for eight months.
“Anna’s family have not heard from her and obviously they are worried,” he said.
Some of those feared missing managed to pass messages to their family on the internet as communications were haltingly restored.
Shirley Joy, from Hull, said she had traced her son Christopher Andrews, 34, who is teaching in the city of Mito.
“We had a brief message on Facebook saying he was okay. He had 85 missed calls on his phone asking if he was alright,” she said.
The parents of a young British civil servant working in Sendai spoke of their relief after hearing he was alive.
Luke Happle, 23, was at his government office until 6am the following morning helping to make contact with co-workers and friends as part of the relief effort.
His mother Nicola, from Chandler’s Ford, Hants, said: “When I turned my computer on and saw the email with Luke’s name on it the relief was immense. I had to keep re-reading his words.
“He said 'Mum, I thought I was going to die. I thought my life was going to end under that desk’. That’s when I started crying.”