The images flew onto Yuta Hirokawa's computer screen the way water washed across parts of his native land.
But here, half a world away from his family in Japan, all he could do was wait and watch and hope. The one consolation for the Winthrop tennis player is that he's far from alone, no matter how far from home he might be.
Hirokawa is representative of the international nature of college tennis in general, but Winthrop in particular.
Of the 121 players on Big South Conference rosters this season, 74 (61.2 percent) are from outside the United States. A total of 35 countries will be represented this weekend when the Big South plays its conference tournament at Winthrop's Memorial Courts, spanning the alphabet from Algeria to Uzbekistan. Of Winthrop's 17 players, 16 are from another country.
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While that has the potential to create communication issues, Winthrop coach Cid Carvalho said the opposite is true.
"These kids, they are together, because they're all in the same boat," Carvalho said. "They're part of a team, lifetime friends, they become a family here. It actually makes it easier for me to coach, because they unite by themselves.
"They have come together in a way that is impressive."
Hirokawa, a freshman from Niigata, found out from a classmate about the earthquake and tsunami that rattled his home country on March 11. His family was removed from the immediate danger, since they live in Sendai, 100 miles away from the epicenter, tucked away on the northwest coast of the island country. They have struggled to get supplies at times, but there is a relief in his voice when he talks about what they're going through.
That didn't mean he was without worry. He said once he learned the news, he immediately began trying to reach his family 12 time zones away. He's insulated here, but still watches the news from his homeland with a sense of wonder bordering on despair.
"It is just so unbelievable," Hirokawa said. "You see the video, this huge tsunami, you just can't believe it's happening there."
He'll return home this summer, and though he knows his loved ones are safe now, the concern remains.
"When I get home, I want to find a way to help," he replied.
But like many of his teammates, he's most often reduced to watching and reading.
Sophomore Yasmine Alkema is from Algeria, and monitors pro-democracy demonstrations in her country carefully after the recent revolt in Egypt. Senior Lisa Wilkinson from New Zealand had to check on family and friends after an earthquake hit Christchurch in February. For senior Elizaveta Zaytseva, wildfires in her native Russia were the concern last year.
Carvalho can empathize. The longtime Winthrop coach recalls his early years here, when his stepfather died in Brazil, leaving him hanging by a pay phone for news since this was pre-Internet, pre-Skype, pre-cell phone.
"It's so much easier for them now to stay connected," Carvalho said. "When my stepfather died, another time my mother was sick, I remember feeling very helpless, very alone. You're so far away from home, there is nothing you can do."
That's why he's as much counselor as coach, helping players push through their own worries. At the same time, he has both the Eagles' men's and women's teams at the top of the conference, top seeds with first-round byes this weekend.
"Thank God for all our players, their families are safe," Carvalho said. "But while we're here, they have their studies, their tennis. Life has to go on for them. They do worry, but they're in constant contact. Every time you see them, they're on the phone, talking to people back home.
"At the same time, this is good for them, because it gives them something else to focus on. And they know they're not alone."