Relatives and friends of former Fort Worth resident Jessica Fleming rejoiced Sunday after hearing that the Southwest High School graduate is alive and well in earthquake-ravaged Japan.
Fleming, 26, finally managed to reach her mother via e-mail Sunday afternoon to tell her that she is well and staying with her fiance's family in Shiogama, about a 40-minute drive from her home in Sendai, a northeastern coastal city near the epicenter of the 8.9-magnitude quake.
Attempts to reach her by phone and e-mail had been unsuccessful since the earthquake shook the island nation and triggered tsunami.
"We just got power back," she wrote to her mother. "I love you and I'm OK."
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Her family's fears were matched perhaps only by the sudden dread Fleming experienced in the moments after the earth began to shake.
Fleming, a 2007 graduate of Texas Christian University, said she was walking into the lobby of the James English School, where she teaches, when she realized that this earthquake was out of the ordinary.
"We had had a lot of smaller quakes lately, so the shaking didn't bother me," Fleming said. "I just stopped in place and as it got worse, I moved to the floor.
"The closest thing I had to peril were those first few minutes, when it finally occurred to me why people fear these things."
Fleming was pursuing her enthusiasm for culture and languages when she decided to move to Japan three years ago. She met her future husband, Tomohiro Tsuzuki, there. He and his mother were moving boxes into the couple's new apartment Friday afternoon, Fleming said.
She said that after she left the school, everyone started to go home, but she couldn't because the trains weren't running. Instead, she went home with a co-worker who lives nearby.
"When we stopped to buy water, I realized I didn't know where Tomo was and started crying," Fleming said. "When we got to her place, I saw that he had called my cell and that gave me hope. A few hours later, we got to the streets and headed for downtown because I knew he would come for me."
Tsuzuki works for a funeral home in Sendai and has been going to work every day since the quake, despite not being able to shower or get gas for his car, she said.
Fleming couldn't make calls but finally got through to him. They made arrangements to meet in front of her school, and the two drove to his parents' house in Shiogama.
"As a mother you always feel you have some sort of connection with your children," said Fleming's mother, Joan Greene. "I felt the whole time she was alive; I just didn't know what situation she might be in."
The worst part, Greene said, was "just not knowing if she was injured or alone."
Fleming was far from alone. She said she is in a house with seven people, including her fiance's parents and grandparents.
"We've been sleeping in our clothes and coats to keep warm," said Fleming, who added that her future mother-in-law has been rationing food and using a camp stove to cook meals. For breakfast on Sunday, she said, they each had about five spoonfuls of granola with milk along with a "large chocolate and walnut cookie and a couple of pieces each from a large chocolate bar that I received from a friend in a package from the USA months ago.
"I donated all of my hoarded American food to our group survival," Fleming said. "There is no telling when we will be able to get more food. We are really excited to have the electricity back on, but we don't know how long that will last either."
She said she wasn't aware of the scope of the devastation until Sunday when power was restored and the family began watching TV news reports.
Fleming was born in Bedford before her family moved to Fort Worth. She graduated from Southwest in 2003.
"We listened to a battery-operated radio all day and night, but my Japanese isn't good enough to tell if the numbers of people I heard were dead or missing or displaced."
She couldn't communicate with her family because her phone stopped working.
"Howdy," she wrote in an e-mail to the Star-Telegram on Sunday afternoon. "This is Jessica Fleming, live from Shiogama. My cellphone provider is apparently still having issues with making calls but I can send an e-mail so that is what this is."
Two weddings are planned for Fleming and Tsuzuki, one in Japan and one here.
Her mother said that plans for a May visit to Fort Worth were in the works before the quake.
Suffice it to say that, whether that visit occurs in May or later, a celebration will be in order.
"We are incredibly luck to be alive," Fleming said. "Hopefully we get to stay that way."
John Henry, 817-390-7539