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Japanese foreign exchange student in Perham hears that family is safe

When news of an 8.9-magnitude earthquake hitting northern Japan on March 11 broke Western media, one Japanese teenager in Perham was anxiously trying to contact his family in Tokyo.

Shogo Suzuki, 17, an exchange student studying in Perham, said he tried calling his family more than 10 times that morning before he heard his father's voice and relief swept over him.

"I was so worried," he said. "Then they finally answered and said they were okay."

He said he has also been in contact with friends via Facebook, and knows of no one killed or missing.

The earthquake triggered a tsunami that washed away nearly everything in its path. Now, Japan faces a mounting humanitarian, nuclear and economic crisis following the massive earthquake and tsunami.

While Suzuki says he feels for his fellow Japanese, he is relieved that his family and friends are OK. His home city of Tokyo was still impacted by the natural disasters.

"Even in Tokyo they felt shaking," Suzuki said. "And some buildings are broken because of the earthquake."

Suzuki's family was on vacation in Hawaii at the time of the earthquake. His 21-year-old sister remained in Tokyo and had to walk home from work after train service was stopped.

"It took her four or five hours to get home on foot," Suzuki said. "Everybody had to."

Events in Hawaii were also cancelled after the tsunami warning was issued, Suzuki said.

Since the initial 8.9-magnitude quake, Japan has been struck by hundreds of aftershocks. Millions of people are without water, food or heating in near-freezing temperatures along the devastated northeast coast. Meanwhile, a third reactor at a nuclear power plant lost its cooling capacity this week, raising fears of a meltdown, while the Japanese stock market plunged over the likelihood of huge losses by Japanese industries including big names such as Toyota and Honda.

While the official death toll rose to nearly 1,900, the discovery of the washed-up bodies and other reports of deaths suggest the true number is much higher.

Suzuki hopes that people in Perham and the surrounding area will reach out to help his home country. His host father is Pastor Dirk Currier of Northwoods Assembly of God in Perham. On Monday, March 21, a community prayer service will be held at the church at 6 p.m. where an offering will be taken to help. Suzuki will be speaking at the service.

He said that even if everyone contributes a little, it can make a difference.

"I have over 600 friends on Facebook," Suzuki. "And if everybody donates, it'll be over $600 we make."

Suzuki, who hopes to get a driver's license soon, has been in Perham since September and will be staying until July.

While a student at Perham High School, he has participated in basketball and track. He said he likes Minnesota and the cold.

"I don't sweat so much here," he said.

While he'll have to repeat a year of school once he gets back to Japan, he said the experience in Perham is "worth having to repeat a year."

After going back to Japan, he hopes to use his English skills to take over the family hotel business.