Friday was filled with anxiety for Mainers who awaited word from friends and family members in Japan.

For some, it was a long day of failed phone calls, rejected e-mail messages and pleas for prayers on Facebook, as news channels broadcast dramatic images of flooding, fire and swaying buildings.

“When I see the extent of the devastation on television, I’m floored by it. It’s unfathomable,” said Stephen MacDougall of Lewiston.

MacDougall, chairman of the Maine-Aomori Sister State Advisory Council, tried to contact friends in Aomori, the northernmost prefecture on Japan’s main island of Honshu. E-mails sent in the morning bounced back. Messages sent later in the day seemed to go through, but he still had no news about friends by late afternoon.

MacDougall said that once he’s able to make contact, he will find out what kind of help Mainers can offer.

A Maine delegation went to Aomori in October, and a group from Japan was planning a reciprocal trip to Maine for this year.

Atchan Tamaki, the founder of ISF Trading in Portland, also was worried about friends in northern Japan. “I keep calling them, but the phone won’t go through,” he said.

His hometown, Wakayama, toward the southern end of Honshu, is OK, he said.

Tamaki had been watching the news since 3 a.m. Friday and had seen footage of damage in Aomori, a major market for his seafood export business.

“Exactly the same place we’re shipping. And that place is totally gone,” he said.

Annmarie Gadbois of Gray spent the day worried about her son, Philip, a Marine who is stationed in Oceanside, Calif., and deployed in Japan.

Another son in the Marines, Trey, stationed in Hawaii, called her at 3 a.m. Friday and told her to turn on the news.

All day, she fretted about Philip. Finally, at 6 p.m., she learned that he is safe.

Early in the day, she posted a plea for prayers on Facebook.

“That’s the hardest part, the not knowing,” she said. “I had to deal with that all day. I needed strength from everybody. I usually don’t ask people to pray for support, but when it comes to my kids, I will ask the world.”

She said Philip is on an aircraft carrier, which was not in Japan at the time of the earthquake and tsunami; it had been deployed to Malaysia.

Now, she said, he is “heading back to Japan to help out with the recovery.”

She said she was a nervous wreck, and took a sick day from work so she could deal with her anxiety and await word from her son.

As soon as Keiko Myer heard about the earthquake, the Orono resident tried calling her family in Tokyo. The calls wouldn’t go through, so she e-mailed, asking them to let her know as soon as possible how they were doing.

“I didn’t know what to do because I couldn’t reach anybody. That scared me so much,” said Myer, who works in the University of Maine’s purchasing department and takes classes there. She moved to Maine from Tokyo in 2003.

Myer’s sister called about 15 minutes later, and Myer talked to her parents a couple of hours after that.

The earthquake was so strong that her sister couldn’t remain standing. Public transportation was disrupted, so her brother had to borrow a bicycle and ride 15 miles to home.

Her husband, Paul Myer, teaches business and marketing at UMaine. He takes students to Japan and other Asian countries each year to introduce them to the global economy at work. He has a trip to Tokyo planned for May.

The status of his trip wasn’t a concern on Friday, he said. “Our primary concern is focused on the health and well-being of our family and friends,” said Myer, who lived in Japan in the early 2000s before moving back to Maine with his wife.

The economic impact of the quake will be massive, he said. “This will have potentially very strong economic implications around the world for a while. It will take some time for the Japanese to recover . . . The devastation is extreme, but not something they are incapable of handling.”

Thom Burns of Old Orchard Beach teaches English at a college in Tokyo. He described the scene in an e-mail.

“The shaking quickly became extremely violent and soon the entire building was rocking back and forth with glass creaking like it was ready to burst. Staff screamed and got under desks, and I grabbed a support column near the elevator,” he wrote.

“What was most alarming was that it didn’t stop after a few seconds which is often the case. It just kept going and going and going and every few seconds it got really bad where we thought the building might come down.”

Social media proved an effective outlet for exchanging messages.

Joe Kester, a Mainer living in Japan, posted on his Twitter page: “I’m doing fine, thanks! Just felt a small earthquake where I am.”

Gov. Paul LePage issued a statement of support for the people of Japan.

“Mainers join people across the world in shock and sympathy over the natural disaster that has struck Japan,” he said. “Maine has a sister-state relationship with the Prefecture of Aomori. We send our deepest condolences to the people of the region while praying for the discovery of the lost and the survival of the injured.”

Keiko Suzuki Steinberger of Rockland returned last week with her son, Takuma, 3, from a visit to her home and family in Sendai, the epicenter of the quake.

She spent Friday morning trying to get through to her family, with no luck. She owns Suzuki’s Sushi Bar on Main Street.

She is hoping for the best, said her husband, Joe Steinberger. He said his wife was not available to talk. She had been unable to communicate with her family, but managed to exchange an e-mail with friends who live not far from her mother.

Jane Langley of Ellsworth said she’s feeling better knowing that her son, David, is safe. He works in Osaka, about 700 miles from the earthquake’s epicenter. He is a design engineer working on electric car technology for Diamond Electric.

“He felt the earthquake but there’s no damage where he is,” Jane Langley said Friday morning. She had been Skyping with her son for a few hours, after her father called to find out how David was after the tsunami that followed the quake.

Tremors are a part of life in Japan, but he hasn’t gotten used to them, his mother said.

“He’s mostly concerned about getting around if something happens because he dislocated his knee playing soccer last week, so he has a leg brace and crutches,” she said.

The families of all five Japanese students at the University of Southern Maine appear to be safe, said Kaoru Phillips, coordinator of student services in USM’s Office of International Programs.

But there were some tense moments as the students scrambled to get in touch with their families, she said. “One was really worried about his grandpa,” Phillips said.

Phillips, who came to USM in 1984 as a student, is a native of Chiba, Japan, about a four-hour drive from the earthquake’s epicenter.

She said she was relieved to find that her family back home was safe, after her husband woke her up in the night with news of the quake. She eventually reached them by telephone.

“My father was at the supermarket,” she said. “He said he never felt so strong an earthquake.”

Staff Writers Bob Keyes and Kelley Bouchard contributed to this report.

Staff Writer Ann S. Kim can be contacted at 791-6383 or at:

[email protected]

Staff Writer Beth Quimby can be contacted at 791-6363 or at:

[email protected]

Only subscribers are eligible to post comments. Please subscribe or to participate in the conversation. Here’s why.

Use the form below to reset your password. When you've submitted your account email, we will send an email with a reset code.