By Tas Anjarwalla, Emily Hoefer, Desiree Murphy, Amy Smith
Just over a month ago, Kaytlin Error, an Ohio State University junior, was sitting in a South Korean airport. She had spent a week in Seoul hoping to return to friends in Japan where she fled two days after the nation's earthquake and tsunami instead, she was waiting for a plane back to Ohio.
The U.S. State Department began advising Americans to avoid Japan, and Ohio State sent Error an email "along the lines of, you have the choice to stay, but basically, we want you to come home," she said.
On March 11, Error was alone in her apartment near Waseda University. As the earthquake began, she grabbed her cell phone and sat on her floor, waiting for the shaking to stop.
It started small, but, "it kept building to the point where I was actually getting frightened," she said.
Things began falling off shelves, and the elevator rattled within its shaft next to her room. The thin apartment building began to sway back and forth to where she thought it might topple over.
Though she was frightened, friends talked to Error through the second half of the earthquake over the phone to calm her.
Error walked to a nearby cafe on campus to meet with friends. They watched as news about the tsunami in Sendai played within 15 minutes of the first waves hitting shore. Tokyo began to shut down as trains stopped, leaving people stranded.
Restaurants flooded with people looking to get out of the weather.
"The whole time, the restaurant is packed and there's just aftershocks nonstop," she said.
That night, Error and her friends stayed together at her apartment glued to the television and Internet, amazed at the devastation only 200 miles north.
Her Japanese friends had family and homes to go to. But, she said, "For foreigners, we're in a country by ourselves, we only know other foreigners and Japanese people. So handling it was OK because our friends would help us if we needed anything, but I felt that just the comfort level would be different."
Then there was the paranoia.
"Anytime someone would bump the table or I'd see a light kind of swinging from like air conditioning or a fan or something, I'd freak out."
Less than 48 hours later, Error moved up a planned trip to South Korea to get away from the radiation leak caused by the heavily damaged Fukushima Daiichi nuclear power plant only 150 miles away.
But now that she's back in Ohio, Error just wants to go back to Japan.
"I love Tokyo. It was amazing," she said. "There's so many possibilities – endless possibilities. I mean, I've only seen probably half the city, and I was there for seven months. So there's so much more I could have done."