SHANGHAI (Reuters) - It took a massive earthquake back in her homeland to persuade Yuki Kosuge to look beyond traditional news sources and log in to Twitter for the first time.
“I was relying on conventional media initially, but Twitter is by far the best,” said Kosuge, a 35-year-old music manager living and working in London. “You realize you can share the sense of fear more easily, it makes you feel close to the people affected and those who are concerned about Japan.”
Across the globe, Japanese expatriates are hungry for the least scrap of news about a double disaster that their prime minister has dubbed the country’s most serious crisis since World War Two.
They are obsessively watching television, refreshing news websites, and telephoning and turning to social media to connect with their loved ones and share emotions.
Back in Japan, officials were scrambling Sunday to avert a meltdown at earthquake-crippled nuclear reactors as estimates of the death toll from a tsunami that raced across the northeast of the country rose to more than 10,000.
“You do have questionable information on Twitter, such as toxic rain ... but I filter that out,” said Kosuge.
Many of the roughly one million Japanese who live overseas spent the first hours after Friday’s earthquake desperately trying to get in touch with family members and friends.
“I freaked out,” said a JPMorgan executive in London, who gave just his family name, Akiyama. “Earthquakes are our worst nightmare — living overseas and having family in Japan, we tend to think about the worst case.
“I spent hours trying to get through. It was very difficult to get through. Very frustrating and worrying.”
It was a similar harrowing story for Misako Kurakami, a 33-year-old housewife in Shanghai who spent two days on the phone trying to reach her mother who had been traveling in the region hit by the earthquake and tsunami.
“As TV footage showed people and cars desperately trying to outrun approaching tsunami waves, I prayed that my mother wasn’t there,” she said.
Kiyo Takahashi, a 34-year-old pianist in Treviso, northern Italy, has been using Google News in Japanese, the BBC, video streams of Japan’s NHK TV and even watched a nuclear safety agency news conference being streamed over the Internet.
Living deep in the countryside, she was glad to have Skype to connect with her family: “Only when I spoke to my mother ... did I begin to feel how awful it is,” she said.
Jason Packman, who lives in San Diego, California, and is married to a Japanese, wrote on Twitter: “We haven’t turned off a U.S. cable channel TV Japan since Thursday.”
But Reiko Hirai, an aid worker in Afghanistan, said that watching alarming scenes on television are “not really good on your psyche” and Tweets can be plain wrong.
Indeed, officials have warned about false information making their rounds via chain emails and social media.
One email chain claimed that a fire at an oil refinery in Chiba prefecture would cause harmful substances to rain down had been circulated Friday.
Even the U.S. ambassador to Japan, John Ross, posted a warning on the embassy’s website: “Please understand that there will continue to be substantial misinformation in the public. We urge American citizens in Japan to follow the instructions of Japanese civil defense authorities.”
Additional reporting by Jean Yoon and Yoko Nishikawa in SINGAPORE, and Natsuko Waki in LONDON; Editing by John Chalmers