Two very different visits to Tokyo

Passengers rest on the floor of the Narita International Airport, March 12, 2011.
Passengers rest on the floor of the Narita International Airport, near Tokyo, after flights were disrupted following Friday's magnitude 8.9 earthquake, on Saturday, March 12, 2011.
AP Photo/Mark Baker

Ben Tracy is a CBS News correspondent based in Los Angeles.

This past Thursday I flew from Los Angeles to Tokyo on my way to a four day vacation in Hong Kong.

I was at the Tokyo/Narita airport for two hours and remember thinking "it would be nice to see this city, I have never been to Japan." I continued on with my trip and had a fantastic 24 hours in Hong Kong.

Special report: Disaster in Japan

However, during the afternoon of my first full day there I was having a drink with a friend of mine looking out on the city skyline. My blackberry started blowing up. There was a major earthquake in Japan and a tsunami was coming. A friend of mine working in Tokyo was some 30 floors up as the buildings started to sway. He emailed to say he was ok. Yet when the images started to appear on TV, clearly that was not the case for thousands of others.

People in Hong Kong gathered on street corners and in the ferry terminals staring in disbelief. One man shouted "where is that?" I think people were rightly concerned that giant wall of water was headed towards their city.

How to help victims in Japan

I knew my vacation was over and I needed to get to Tokyo ASAP. It took 24 hours but when I landed it was a very different airport than the one I had been at less than 36 hours earlier. People were quiet, in a hurry, a little nervous. This story is tragic and heartbreaking. The images on TV are overwhelming. I am covering the story from Tokyo today but some of my colleagues are en route to the hardest hit towns and cities. We can't fully appreciate the scope of the loss yet.

The all new
CBS News App for Android® for iPad® for iPhone®
Fully redesigned. Featuring CBSN, 24/7 live news. Get the App