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Cambodian Students Recount Japan Earthquake

Police officers carry a body during a search and rescue operation in the earthquake and tsunami-devastated city of Rikuzentakata, Iwate Prefecture, northeastern Japan, March 23, 2011.

Tea Seang Houng had just been shopping for dinner with a friend in a mall in Sendai city, Miyagi prefecture, when the earthquake began.

“When we were out of the shopping mall and got to the car park, our car was shaking, along with others. It was a tremendous shake,” Tea Seang Houng, a linguistic student, said Monday, as a guest on “Hello VOA.”

“My friend told me it was an earthquake, but I thought she was just joking,” she said. “Only when it kept shaking did I start to realize it was definitely a strong earthquake.”

It was Tea Seang Houng’s first experience with such a powerful earthquake, which was later measured up to 9.0 on the Richter scale and set off a massive tsunami. So far, the March 11 disaster has killed more than 9,000 people.

During the quake, goods fell from the shelves. People ran for cover. Power and water supplies were cut off. Telephone communications closed.

“I was worried, realizing that Seng Houng was in Sendai when the earthquake occurred,” said Chea Poleng, who was in Tokyo, where the earthquake was also felt. “We could not reach her on the phone. I tried every means to get through to her, but there was no answer.”

Chea Poleng, who is a student at Hitotsu Bashi University and vice president of the Cambodian Students Association in Japan, used Facebook to look for Tea Seang Houng and other members.

With many means of transportation destroyed, Tea Seang Houng was stuck for one week before she could leave Sendai. She traveled from place to place before she reached her home in Tokyo.

Japan is still coming to grips with the disaster, and now officials are hoping to quell a mounting nuclear crisis. The Cambodian Embassy has advised residents to stay out of the capital and other cities close to nuclear reactors that have overheated in the days since the tsunami.

Tea Seang Houng has moved to stay with a family in Hiroshima.

“I will stay here until the situation in Tokyo has returned to normal,” she said.