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Relief As Chicagoans Return From Japan

Alicia Cabral Returns From Japan

Alicia Cabral is greeted by her family at O’Hare International Airport. She was in Japan when the earthquake hit on Friday. (Credit: CBS)

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UPDATED 03/14/11 9:45 p.m.

CHICAGO (CBS) – Chicagoans are returning from Japan, and some Japanese citizens are still in Chicago, after surviving the earthquake and tsunami.

As CBS 2’s Susanna Song reports, a plane from Tokyo landed at O’Hare International Airport just before 9 a.m. Monday. Each passenger had a story to share and different sentiments about leaving Japan.

They embraced, kissed and greeted their family members affectionately just outside the international terminal. Some, such as Sara and Jason Oberg, were glad to be home in Chicago after visiting Asia and finding themselves stuck in the middle of a natural disaster.

“I’d just gotten out of the shower and it just started shaking, and we ran out into the parking lot. It shook for a good few minutes,” Sara Oberg said.

But for Japanese businessman Yukihiro Hayashi, it was more worrisome to be in Chicago, away from his wife and kids.

“It’s very sad. We just need to make an effort to cooperate,” Hayashi said. “For example, my area – no gas, no water.”

Koji Kubota brought a newspaper with him from Tokyo to show us the devastation.

“I’m scared,” he said.

Masaki Suzuki is the conductor of the world famous Bach Collegium in Japan, an orchestra and chorus that performs baroque music.

“This says more than 10,000 people might be dead,” he said as a woman showed a Japanese newspaper behind him. “There’s no possibility to count.”

Suzuki and 30 of his performers flew in Monday for a two-week tour throughout the Midwest, and said the tragedy at home would not stop them.

“This is our responsibility to give this music to you, and it gives us a lot of energy to overcome the situation,” Suzuki said. “We are going to be strong against this situation.”

He said he has felt tremors before, but nothing like the earthquake last week.

It really shook him, but he felt strongly about fulfilling his obligation to perform in concert for the next couple of weeks.

On Sunday, Alicia Cabral was greeted by her four children after stepping off the plane Sunday. She was on her first ever international trip near Tokyo when the earthquake hit Friday.

Cabral and her four children said it was a struggle to get her back, but are so relieved she is home.

“I was actually at a Buddhist temple, so the buildings were horrible, and it was – it’s kind of like being knocked around when you’re outside, and then you think you’re safe outside until you see things coming at the buildings, and hitting people, and just everyone crying,” Cabral said. “It was actually horrible.”

Added Cabral’s daughter, Celena Flores, 16: “Just because my mom was there, it was a big deal to me, and I was thinking, how could nobody be scared? How could nobody be thinking anything? But if my mom hadn’t been there, it wouldn’t have been a big deal, to be honest, and it kind of shows me, honestly, that I should be thinking; I should be a little bit more considerate to them.”

Others were visiting friends on school-related trips when the earth began to shake. One Niles man said he decided to head back to the U.S. when his friends rushed to help victims.

“They actually went to volunteer, so you know, as much as I wanted to, I felt it’s better to be back here and kind of be out of their way,” said Henry Kotlinski.

The first flight from Tokyo after the earthquake arrived Saturday.

Among the arrivals from a later flight Monday was Ottawa businessman David Ksiackiewicz, who offered this reaction: “Sweet home Chicago.”

He said he saw “a lot of flattened buildings, disrupted roads … so many of the people without water and food and electricity.”

Florida mom Susan Prout, whose husband works in Japan, said her time in Japan was “terrifying.”

“It felt like the earth was going to swallow us up,” she told CBS 2’s Mike Parker.

Many returning said it took hours, or even a couple of days, to learn just how devastating the death toll and damage was in and near Sendai.