All Rock Hill's Keiko Merg could do Friday - after finding out through frantic e-mails and phone calls that her family had survived the Japanese earthquake and tsunami - was watch the nonstop news coverage and mourn for her countrymen and native land.
Merg, 50, who has lived in the United States since 1994, comes from near the city of Ibaraki, just south of the northeastern coastal area of Honshu island in Japan.
That's the area that was devastated by the quake and tidal waves. She recently visited her brother, nieces and nephew and the area where an earthquake hit last year - and is not sure what remains.
"I just wish I could be there and do something to help," said Merg. "I am almost powerless, watching. I have watched CNN all day and it just gets worse.
"So many people are suffering. It is devastating. Just so awful."
Japanese people grow up with earthquake drills in schools and businesses because of the well-known imminent threat of seismic activity.
Merg herself experienced small earthquakes when she was younger, but she said nothing could prepare her people for the magnitude of the quake that hit.
"Some newer buildings are built to withstand earthquakes, but older homes and other buildings couldn't stand up," she said. "Wood houses close to the center can't stand up to something like this."
Merg's brother in Tokyo, further south, and the rest of her family around the cities of Chiba and Ibaraki, are essentially stranded because freeways are jammed or decimated, and the commuter train service that is so vital to transportation in heavily industrialized and populated eastern Japan is shut down.
"My brother has been stuck in his office," Merg said. "Many in the country are just trying to get home. Then who knows what they will find."
The earthquake was so powerful it was felt hundreds of miles from its epicenter.
At Winthrop University Friday, Tomoharu "Tomo" Koyano, a 24-year-old graduate student from Hamamatsu, a city two hours south of Tokyo, dealt with similar feelings of despair and powerlessness to help the people of his country, which he left at age 14 to come to America.
After speaking to his mother and finding out she was fine, Koyano found out his sister in Tokyo is safe, but stranded because of the gridlocked transportation system.
Not even Japan's orderly system of social and political life, where most homes and businesses have emergency kits for earthquakes and earthquakes are planned for, could handle the immediate enormity of the problem.
"In Japan, we grow up with the fear of earthquakes and tsunamis every day," Koyano said. "We did drills at school where we would go under a desk or table and wait until the shaking was over - but nothing can prepare for this.
"We are told to expect an earthquake in Japan. But no one could expect this. I watched the videos online. It is just devastating."
Merg is heartbroken to listen to family members in Japan tell of her native country in distress not only because of the widespread deaths and injuries, but for the millions of people without electricity, natural gas, or running water.
The "Land of the Rising Sun" today is, Merg said, "a country lit by candlelight."
Yet until more news comes out of Japan, from family and news sources, about the toll of damage, all Japanese expatriates such as Merg and Koyano can do is wait.
"I hope there are no more aftershocks," Merg said.
Koyano, who played soccer for Winthrop during his undergraduate years, said the northeast coast most adversely affected has many fishing villages and smaller towns and cities that might not be on TV or Internet news yet, but have incurred loss of property and life.
"Right now," he said, "I ask everyone to pray for Japan and the people there."