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LDS families finally hearing from missionaries in Japan

SALT LAKE CITY — In the hours following the devastating magnitude-9.0 earthquake in Japan and subsequent tsunami in the area where his LDS missionary son was serving, Friday proved to be a long, gut-wrenching day for Mike Taylor and his family.

By 11 p.m. that night, he had received word from officials of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints that someone had talked to someone who in turn had talked to his son — Elder Kelvin Taylor, who was among nearly two dozen missionaries in a makeshift evacuation center.

An hour later, the Taylors received a confirming e-mail from their missionary that he was OK. And by Monday afternoon, the Taylors were exchanging photos and e-mails with other families sent by their missionaries in Japan, relieved to see familiar faces safe and sound and to hear firsthand accounts of survival followed by service.

Some 20 missionaries from the Japan Sendai Mission — including those serving in some of the most affected coastal areas — were attending a zone conference in Koriyama when Friday's quake hit. Koriyama is located 35 miles inland from one of the damaged nuclear plants.

"Really crazy ?— cannot even describe how humbling it was, living off Ritz crackers and bread that the fire station gave us, basically like refugees," wrote Elder Taylor Ellis to his family in Heber City.

"You really gain an understanding for what is really important: your family (which is also right now my friends), having the necessities and really, really relying on the Lord — that is all we can do," Elder Ellis added.

"We're staying on blue tarps in a massive fire station with blankets and food they provided for us, not showering for a few days."

Taylor wrote to his family in Fruit Heights of the damaged nuclear plant and the fears of toxic water supplies and tainted rains. "You know, it's real hard to see the real effects of a disaster 'til you're in it," he wrote.

"I'm sorry my time is short today — we did a great service project for a member today, and now I'm really starting to feel like we are doing something."

"The first few days were so hectic that service opportunities were little, and we just had to get settled in, but now we are able to start doing stuff. Me and another elder just fixed a member's roof all day and will probably go out and ask people tomorrow if we can fix their roofs ..." he added.

"I'm grateful that we were so protected. I can honestly say though I've never been more tired in my life — and I love it. Losing yourself is amazing."

Mike Taylor said missionaries told family members that many are still wearing the same clothes from Friday, as they were not able to go back to their areas for several days — or not even yet.

"They are in good spirits and are anxious to help the people there in any way they can," Mike Taylor said.

Shortly after the earthquake, The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints was able to account for the status and safety of all the missionaries from five of the six missions based in Japan. Located closest to the quake's epicenter off the northeast coasts of Japan, the Sendai mission was unable to make contact promptly with all of its missionaries because of downed communication systems.

While the Taylors and others received confirmation late Friday night of their missionary son's status, some families waited while contact was trying to be made with several missionaries based farther inland. The lack of contact was not so much because of actual damage as it was for hampered communications in the region.

They were contacted Saturday, with the LDS Church announcing Saturday morning that all missionaries ?— including those in the Sendai mission — were safe and accounted for.

Mike Taylor said Monday evening that most of the missionaries who had been housed in the Koriyama evacuation center had been allowed to go home, with the Sendai mission president and office staff relocated. However, his son was among the eight who still remained, unable to return to their living quarters as of yet because of quake damage.

Meanwhile, in the wake of last week's devastating combination of earthquake and tsunami that hit northeast Japan, the LDS Church continues to assess its potential involvement in relief efforts and the direct impact to its members.

News reports say the death toll of Friday's earthquake and ensuing tsunami is approaching 3,000 and expected to continue to rise, with most of the casualties expected to be the result of tsunami rather than the quake. The national government is responding to the casualties, the tens of thousands who are homeless and the millions without power by mobilizing troops, plans and ships in major emergency-response efforts.

FIRST PRESIDENCY STATEMENT: The LDS Church's First Presidency issued the following statement: "We express our love and support to the people of Japan as they deal with this terrible tragedy. Our prayers, and the prayers of millions of Latter-day Saints across the world, are with them as they begin to recover from this disaster.

MISSIONARIES: The church reported Saturday that all missionaries serving in the six Japan-based missions are safe and accounted for, and all missionaries are located a safe distance away from Japan's damaged nuclear plants. Mission leaders continue to take precautions that their missionaries remain safe.

CHURCH MEMBERS: While initial reports contain no reported deaths, church leaders say it is likely members have been directly impacted by the earthquake. An estimated 95 percent of the LDS members in the affected areas have been contacted; however, there is limited information on the status of members in the areas most adversely affected.

RELIEF AID: Despite communication and transportation difficulties in the most devastated areas, local LDS leaders are meeting with government and humanitarian organizations to discuss possibilities of providing assistance.

CHURCH BUILDINGS: Church leaders acknowledge some buildings having sustained varying degrees of damage, with local leaders continuing to assess the condition of other church buildings. Reports on the status of the Tokyo Japan Temple said it suffered no significant damage.