SALT LAKE CITY — In the hours following the devastating magnitude-9.0 earthquake in Japan and subsequent tsunami in the area where his LDS missionary son was serving, Friday proved to be a long, gut-wrenching day for Mike Taylor and his family.
By 11 p.m. that night, he had received word from officials of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints that someone had talked to someone who in turn had talked to his son — Elder Kelvin Taylor, who was among nearly two dozen missionaries in a makeshift evacuation center.
An hour later, the Taylors received a confirming e-mail from their missionary that he was OK. And by Monday afternoon, the Taylors were exchanging photos and e-mails with other families sent by their missionaries in Japan, relieved to see familiar faces safe and sound and to hear firsthand accounts of survival followed by service.
Some 20 missionaries from the Japan Sendai Mission — including those serving in some of the most affected coastal areas — were attending a zone conference in Koriyama when Friday's quake hit. Koriyama is located 35 miles inland from one of the damaged nuclear plants.
"Really crazy — cannot even describe how humbling it was, living off Ritz crackers and bread that the fire station gave us, basically like refugees," wrote Elder Taylor Ellis to his family in Heber City.
"You really gain an understanding for what is really important: your family (which is also right now my friends), having the necessities and really, really relying on the Lord — that is all we can do," Elder Ellis added.
"We're staying on blue tarps in a massive fire station with blankets and food they provided for us, not showering for a few days."
Taylor wrote to his family in Fruit Heights of the damaged nuclear plant and the fears of toxic water supplies and tainted rains. "You know, it's real hard to see the real effects of a disaster 'til you're in it," he wrote.
"I'm sorry my time is short today — we did a great service project for a member today, and now I'm really starting to feel like we are doing something."
"The first few days were so hectic that service opportunities were little, and we just had to get settled in, but now we are able to start doing stuff. Me and another elder just fixed a member's roof all day and will probably go out and ask people tomorrow if we can fix their roofs ... ," he added.
"I'm grateful that we were so protected. I can honestly say though I've never been more tired in my life — and I love it. Losing yourself is amazing."
Mike Taylor said missionaries told family members that many are still wearing the same clothes from Friday, as they were not able to go back to their areas for several days — or not even yet.
"They are in good spirits and are anxious to help the people there in any way they can," Mike Taylor said.
Shortly after the earthquake, The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints was able to account for the status and safety of all the missionaries from five of the six missions based in Japan. Located closest to the quake's epicenter off the northeast coasts of Japan, the Sendai mission was unable to make contact promptly with all of its missionaries because of downed communication systems.
While the Taylors and others received confirmation late Friday night of their missionary son's status, some families waited while contact was trying to be made with several missionaries based farther inland. The lack of contact was not so much because of actual damage as it was for hampered communications in the region.
They were contacted Saturday, with the LDS Church announcing Saturday morning that all missionaries — including those in the Sendai mission — were safe and accounted for.
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