Saratoga County

Local families, friends try to contact Japan; Shen graduate is OK

Clifton Park native Geoffrey Robbins was safe at home in Tokyo when the magnitude 8.9 earthquake hit

Clifton Park native Geoffrey Robbins was safe at home in Tokyo when the magnitude 8.9 earthquake hit off the coast of Japan.

Robbins and his wife, Megumi Saito, and their infant son were eating lunch on Friday afternoon Tokyo time when the quake started, said his mother, Jo Anne Robbins of Clifton Park. Friday was his day off.

“Their building was just shaking back and forth, and their furniture was just flying around,” she said. “It’s been a very scary day for them.”

Damage in Tokyo was fairly minor compared to the tsunami devastation on the northeast coast, and the city’s buildings are constructed to withstand earthquakes.

“He said there was very little damage to their building,” his mother said. They were fortunate not to lose power like many buildings in and around the city did.

When Robbins found out about the earthquake, she called her son on the Internet phone and video service Skype and got through. Japan is 14 hours ahead of the East Coast.

“I’m very thankful that they weren’t injured,” she said.

The city had about 40 aftershocks after the initial event, one of which Robbins saw when she talked to her son Friday.

“I could see this lamp shaking,” she said. Wind chimes in their living room rang. “He said, ‘Mom, that’s not wind. That’s the quake.’ ” He told her the couple had considered going out for lunch, but then decided to eat at home. Then the quake happened.

“They lucked out,” she said.

Trains and subways were shut down after the earthquake and are expected to remain closed until Tuesday. Businesses also are closed.

The couple didn’t go outside on Friday after the quake, but watched a steady stream of business people walking past their building all day heading home. He would have made that hike himself through miles of city if he had gone to work, as his job is a 40-minute train ride.

“He said, ‘Can you imagine — millions of people, no trains, no subway?’ ” Robbins said.

Geoffrey Robbins graduated from Shenendehowa High School in 1990 and went to SUNY Oswego. He used to work in advertising and now teaches English to Japanese executives. Robbins, 39, met his wife on a trip to Japan several years ago and they lived in Los Angeles before getting married in Tokyo in 2009. She went to college in New York and is a graphic artist. Their son, Sean, is 6 weeks old.

Waiting to hear

Not everyone with friends in Japan was fortunate to hear from them Friday.

Retired Union College professor Don Thurston was one of the many hoping to hear confirmation that friends in the earthquake- and tsunami-stricken region survived. Thurston sent an e-mail to his longtime friend Michiko Sato, who lives in stricken Sendai.

The e-mail’s subject read simply, “Are you OK?”

“I told her we hoped she’s OK and to please let me know as soon as she can,” Thurston, 81, said Friday from his Burnt Hills home. “I also told her our hearts are with her and all the Japanese people.”

Thurston hadn’t heard a reply from Sato by late Friday afternoon, but he hoped she was safe. Her home was on higher ground. He knows power outages would prevent her from responding.

Thurston taught English conversation to Tohoku University students and others in Sendai from 1956 to 1958. He met Sato while there and they’ve kept in touch over the years. Thurston and his partner Robert Englebach last visited Sendai and Sato in 2004.

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