Words of worry and comfort on GMA News' People Finder

The last his family had heard from Edito Magno, a Filipino overseas worker in Miyagi, Japan, he was stranded on the second floor of his office building and the water from the tsunami was rising fast.

"Please help us as we are so worried," said the message found on GMA News' People Finder for Filipinos in Japan.

That was one of nearly 2000 messages left by mostly family members in the Philippines frantically trying to contact loved ones in disaster-torn northeastern Japan on the online help form on this web site.

Barely 24 hours have passed since the magnitude-8.9 earthquake struck Japan on March 11.

On Friday night, several hours after the earthquake, GMA News Online set up its own version of a People Finder, which is similar to Google's service but caters to Filipinos in Japan and their families back home.

It received hundreds of posts within hours. Many of the submissions range from expressions of uncertainty to cries of urgency. But there are also messages of relief and comfort.

Miyagi Prefecture hardest hit

According to the Department of Foreign Affairs (DFA), there are some 230,000 Filipinos in Japan but most are in the cities of Tokyo and Osaka —both of which are away from the main tsunami danger zones.

However, Miyagi Prefecture north of Tokyo — which bore the brunt of the quake — is just 130km from the Pacific Ocean epicenter. The DFA said that there are some 1,309 Filipinos in Miyagi.

As of Saturday afternoon in the Philippines, there is still no official word on their condition as communications are still down in the area. However, as of 5:30pm on March 12, there were 140 entries in the People Finder concerning Filipinos in Miyagi.

Messages of concern

Said the loved ones of Alma Kokubo: "Nung nag earthquake na, nakalabas sila sa bahay. Di namin alam kung ano na ang nangyari, kasi nakatawag pa sya nung lindol pa, nasa sasakyan na sila. Tapos di na po ma-contact ang kanyang telepono. May anak sya na three months old."

(When the earthquake hit, they were able to get out of the house. We don't know what happened next, because the last time she called, the earthquake was still taking place but they were already in the car. After that, we couldn't contact her phone anymore. She has a three-month-old child.)

"Nasa second floor daw po sila ng office. Stranded po sila dun kasi mataas daw po yung tubig. (They said they were stranded on the second floor of their office because of the high water levels.) Without electricity and without food. Now we don't have any contact with him and we don't know what's happening as of now. Please help us as we are so worried," wrote the family of Edito Magno.

Moreover, most of the entries are from families in the Philippines expressing worry that their relatives in Japan could not be contacted.

Reassuring messages too

However, there were also messages of assurance on the People Finder posted by Filipinos in Japan for their loved ones back home:

"Our house is still OK after the earthquake and there's no flood yet outside my house. But please tell me where we can evacuate to be more safe," wrote Luz Kobayashi from Sendai Shi in Miyagi at around 8:30pm, around four hours after a tsunami hit Honshu.

"Okinawa is safe from earthquake, though it has a tsunami alert. Please pray for all people here in Japan," wrote Bienrose Tarre.

Spreading the word

The continuously updated database is being shared with DFA officials and the Office of the Undersecretary for Migrant Workers Affairs (OUMWA), which is still trying to get in touch with all the Filipinos on the list.

The People Finder was also posted on the Noynoy Aquino Facebook Fanpage late Friday night. With its two-million strong fan base, the page drove eyeballs and posts to the People Finder.

Some Filipinos in tsunami-stricken areas have reported that landlines are down but they can still communicate through their smartphones.

"We're using the (People Finder) list to help monitor the situation. We're conducting calls and trying our best to contact the people on the list," said DFA spokesman Ed Malaya in a phone interview.

"What we're doing is sharing the list of names with leaders of local Filipino communities (in Japan) and we hope to get word from them soon," he added.

"(The database) has been very useful in our efforts. It goes hand in hand with our hotline system."

No Filipino casualties reported yet

According to Malaya, as of March 12, the DFA has been able to contact eleven Filipinos in Japan, whose safety has already been relayed to their families here.

The DFA still has yet to receive any reports of injured Filipinos, but continues to remain vigilant.

The full list of DFA hotlines can be found here. You may also use the GMA News People Finder to help inform authorities about the status of individual Filipinos in Japan. — GMA News