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Foreigners in Japan rely on Twitter for breaking news

James Niccolai | March 14, 2011
Twitter has been a lifeline for Westerners both inside and outside of Japan as they try to keep up with fast-moving events following Friday's massive earthquake and the tsunami that followed.

"We are finally getting to look at the damage near Sendai Airport. It is a stunning scene. Planes and cars are under water, he tweeted Sunday morning.

Twitter has also relayed alerts from Japan's earthquake early warning system in close to real time. The warning system interrupts television shows with an alarm and flashes information on the screen in large red letters about the location of a quake and the prefectures where strong shaking is expected.

They too are being translated almost immediately into English. The tweets may not reach people in time for them to prepare, but they at least let them know what they are experiencing, or that the expected tremor occurred in another part of the country.

Social networking sites also shared news about which trains in the capital city were running. A search for "Narita Express" on Sunday morning, for example, revealed that the train service to the airport had resumed service. The most up-to-date information wasn't always posted on the Internet, and the customer service phone number for the airport service was often busy.

The massive quake, the fourth largest on record, has produced dozens of aftershocks of magnitude 4.5 or higher. Several sites, including Earthquake Bob and NewEarthquake are posting an automated stream of those events as recorded by the U.S. Geological Survey.


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