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Wadsworth resident worries about Japanese relatives

Residents look over destroyed buildings half submerged water from tsunami Japan. | The Associated Press

Residents look over destroyed buildings half submerged in water from the tsunami in Japan. | The Associated Press

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Updated: May 10, 2011 8:41PM

Friday morning’s news from the Ring of Fire brought back memories for Karen Ukena, who moved to Waukegan from her native Japan in 1959.

Though she was only 7 at the time and had never experienced a major temblor herself, she recalled that her father, Thomas Kodowicki, told her how the Great Kanto earthquake of 1923 struck “the minute he left Japan ... He and his family left right before, and boom, it hit.”

That 7.9-magnitude quake, the most devastating in Japanese history, killed more than 140,000 people and destroyed much of Tokyo, Yokohama and many other communities on the main island of Honshu.

Friday’s 8.9-magnitude quake struck off Japan’s northeast coast and generated a 23-foot tsunami that swept inland, turning structures and vehicles into flotsam. Though she was 6,000 miles away, Ukena was connected to the disaster in more ways than one, with concerns arising from both the quake itself and the tsunami that raced across the Pacific Ocean.

“I do have relatives in Tokyo today. I have a half-brother who just moved there with a new business,” she said late Friday. “I’m having trouble getting a hold of him, and I’m starting to wonder if he’s in the middle of all this. I’m starting to get a little concerned.”

Ukena, who now lives in Wadsworth, said she initially thought that Tokyo “was much farther” from the quake’s epicenter, which was located some 230 miles away in the Pacific. She did take comfort that other relatives live in Osaka, which is another 250 miles south of the capital.

The other concern was for her son, Matthew, even though he was on the U.S. mainland Friday morning.

“I’ve got a son in Los Angeles right now, so we were more worried about him when we heard about the tsunami,” she said. “I was able to talk to him, and he told me they posted ‘no surfing’ signs. He was amazed that something as far away as Japan was affecting California.”

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