Americans face search effort snags in Japan

The State Department says more than 1,000 Americans were working in northern Japan at the time of last week's earthquake. It's unclear how many of them are still missing or unaccounted for.

Among those looking for Americans who were in the disaster zone is the family of Virginia native Taylor Anderson.

CBS News Correspondent Nancy Cordes reported that Taylor, 24, was teaching English at a school near the epicenter of the quake. This morning, her family is still desperately trying to locate her.

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Right after the earthquake, but before the tsunami came ashore, Anderson left the elementary school where she teaches. Her city of Ishinomaki sits on the ocean. Sections of it were devastated, while other areas on higher ground were spared.

But which part was Taylor in? No one knew, so her parents, sister and boyfriend sprang into action. They combed Internet message boards and sent out messages on Twitter and Facebook. They even posted her typical bike route between the school and home.

Two days ago, just before they appeared on "The Early Show," the Andersons got what appeared to be wonderful news from Taylor's teaching program: Taylor had been found. She was safe in a shelter.

But 12 hours later, they learned it had been a mistake -- a false rumor from a region where communication is sporadic.

Frustrated by the lost time, but refusing to lose hope, her family got back to work, directing the search from 7,000 miles away.

Cordes asked whether the family had considered heading to Japan.

Andy Anderson said, "Yeah. We tried. And they, you know, strongly -- said strongly, no, you shouldn't do that. You can become a liability."

The State Department says it has received hundreds of inquiries about missing Americans, and they have told the Andersons finding Taylor is one of their top priorities.

Taylor's father said, "These people over there are doing the best they can with what they've got. The problem is they don't have much. They don't have sat (satellite) phones. They don't -- it's hard to get food, water, gas, shelter. They're running around sleeping in vans. I mean, they're not equipped."

Cordes added, "The Andersons are trying to remain upbeat, convinced their daughter is safe in a shelter but unable to get a phone call out.

Of the roughly 1,000 people in Taylor's teaching program, only about four of them are still missing.

The search for Taylor highlights the larger issue of how difficult it can be to find missing loved ones in the middle of a disaster.

To discuss issues many families face, David Meltzer, senior vice president for American Red Cross International Services, came on "The Early Show" Thursday. He said misinformation is rampant in the aftermath of disaster.

He explained, "We are seeing what the military calls 'the fog of war.' The fog of disaster, and maintaining contact with people when communication lines is always, always, very difficult following a disaster."

Communication, he said, is the biggest challenge.

"We live in a very technologically dependent society," he said. "So when the phone lines go down, when the cell towers go down, we see many cases of people unable to locate missing loved ones."

He advised, following a disaster, to go on the internet and start searching at RedCross.org. There, he said, you will find important phone numbers, such as the State Department phone number for looking for U.S. citizens.

He added, "There are various websites, such as ICRC.org, Family Links, where people can register, I'm looking for someone. And also see who is registered by the ICRC, as well as many other organizations."

Co-anchor Erica Hill asked Meltzer, "There's been some question about, you know, whether the American Red Cross would be in there or should be in there on the ground helping to look for people. Where is that situation stand right now?"

He answered, "Right now, we have the Red Cross, the Japanese Red Cross, is actively looking for people, including Ms. Anderson. The Japanese Red Cross has two million volunteers. They speak just Japanese. They understand the culture. And they are already on the ground helping to reunite families, such as Ms. Anderson. So searches are underway."

Hill said, "We heard (Taylor Anderson's parents) say they tried to go. They were trying to get to Japan, and they were told pretty strongly, they should not. Is that what you would say to any family thinking, you know what, 'I'm going to go in there and I'm going to start this search myself?'"

"We so much understand the compelling need for people to go and do everything possible," Meltzer said. "It's human nature. But, really, if you don't speak the language, if you don't understand the culture, and if a disaster is still unfolding, as unfortunately it is in Japan, the best thing is to maintain contact through the phone, talk to friends of your children, and start a phone tree. And you never know when one call may make a difference."

Meltzer said ongoing internet searches can pay off.

"We see it in case after case where someone is able to find a missing person through the internet," he said. "And we see this after years, in some cases. So my advice would be not to give up trying, to keep on searching through the internet, as well as calling friends of your children, and hopefully one thing will lead to another and you will be reunited. That certainly is our hope."

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