Smoke billows from houses in Natori, northern Japan, after the area was hit by a powerful earthquake and a tsunami on Friday March 11, 2011. The ferocious tsunami spawned by one of the largest earthquakes ever recorded slammed Japan's eastern coast Friday, killing scores of people as it swept away boats, cars and homes while widespread fires burned out of control. (AP Photo/Mainichi Shimbun, Taichi Kaizuka)
Tri-state residents with friends and family in Japan frantically tried to reach their loved ones after a massive 8.9-magnitude earthquake struck off the coast Friday, setting off a 13-foot tsunami that swept cars and buildings miles inland.
With phone service in the earthquake-wrecked region spotty at best, many weren't able to reach people right away as they watched horrifying footage of the disaster.
"I saw a video of water gushing in and carrying houses -- that shook me," Ayumi Kano, of Forest Hills, told NBC New York.
She did confirm that her grandmother in Osaka was safe.
And so was Kotona Okuno's mom. The mother and daughter were able to speak via Skype.
"She showed me the news and the fires going on," Okuno said. "It was terrible."
"There is quite a bit of confusion -- telephone communication is not very smooth," Sakurai told NBC New York. "It took me half an hour to reach my brother."
His other relatives have also been accounted for in the disaster that has killed at least 1,000 people, with death tolls expected to climb. It is the largest earthquake to hit Japan in 140 years.
Ayumi Kishida of Glen Rock, N.J., said she spoke with her parents and confirmed they are OK, so she has been trying to help others, including one man in our area who has not been able to reach anyone.
"He has no way to reach his family," she said. "I've been trying to call, and texting them, and I cannot find out if they are OK or not."
Ito Teoshaya, deputy director of the Japan Information Center for the Consulate of Japan on Park Avenue, was also worried about his family.
"We made a call and confirmed there was no damage," he said.
The Japanese government declared a "nuclear emergency situation" because of a failed cooling unit at two nuclear reactors in Fukushima and Onagawa. Nearby residents were encouraged to evacuate.
In New York, Sakurai said many Japanese Americans were anxiously watching television footage for news about the quake and tsunami.
Teoshaya said there's nothing to do but wait and hope for the best.
"We are watching TVs, getting information at this moment," he added. "We are doing what we should … waiting to see how people are living."
Mayor Bloomberg said Friday on his weekly radio show that the city will collect earthquake donations through its Mayor's Fund to Advance New York City. People who wish to donate can call 311.