Two AtlantiCare executives were in a 24th-floor conference room in Tokyo when the earthquake struck Japan the afternoon of March 11.
"Through the windows we could see other buildings sway," said Jim Kilmer, corporate director of radiology. "It is amazing no buildings around us collapsed."
Kilmer, of Lumberton, Burlington County, and Director of Finance Laura Campbell, of Ventnor, were attending a seminar at Tokio Marine, a risk-management insurance firm, through St. Joseph's University's Executive MBA Program.
The 36 participants in the program, which ran March 4 to 12, met with executives from global companies, such as Campbell Soup Co., Sam's Club and Pfizer. The tour included stops in Shanghai, Beijing and Tokyo. Participants were set to fly home Saturday before the magnitude 9 earthquake disrupted all travel. A 90-minute commute to the airport turned into a nine-hour trek, causing Kilmer and Campbell to miss their flight.
They returned safely Monday.
Immediately after the earthquake, however, Kilmer and Campbell were focused on calling home to let family members know they were safe. Not until hours later, when the aftershocks had subsided, was Campbell able to reach her husband, Pat.
"Our ability to communicate was very poor," she said. "Cell phone reception was sporadic."
Campbell said her phone call woke up Pat, who immediately turned on the TV. He quickly knew more about the overall situation, she said, even though it was the middle of the night in New Jersey.
The tsunami did not travel as far inland as Tokyo, but Kilmer and Campbell said they saw footage of the wreckage on their bus to the airport.
"I've been in burning buildings, but I've never been so scared," said Kilmer, who has been a volunteer firefighter in Lumberton and Riverside, Burlington County, for the past 20 years. "It was an eerie feeling."
Jessica Musumeci, a former Linwood resident, also was able to safely relocate in the face of disaster.
The U.S. government relocated her, her husband and their twin sons from Sendai, northern Japan, which was near the epicenter of the earthquake, to the Misawa Air Base farther north, said her father, Abe Narkunski, who lives in Florida.
"They have been treated very, very well," he said, adding Jessica was with one son when the earthquake struck and was quickly reunited with her other son, who was at the nearby school the boys attend.
Musumeci and her husband, John, have worked and lived in Japan for the past three years directing educational videos. Musumeci called and e-mailed home to tell her family they were okay.
"They were not affected by the tsunami," Narkunski said.
Narkunski said Thursday that the family was transported by bus to the air base and, since then, have been provided with food, shelter and other necessities.
With his daughter thousands of miles away, Narkunski said he was happy his family is doing well. More important, he is glad they are in a safe location. Masses of Japanese citizens are struggling to maintain their health and livelihood as the nation tries to rebuild.
"We're waiting for them to give us the word if they need assistance or not," he said. "It's like a war up there, there's so many needs in the country."
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