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Anchored down in Anchorage

Msnbc.com's Stokes Young left JFK Thursday for Tokyo to start a 2-week vacation. However, the devastating 8.9-magnitude earthquake and subsequent tsunami has grounded him in Anchorage, Alaska.
Image: Anchorage
Tokyo-bound travelers diverted to Anchorage, Alaska, because of the 8.9-magnitude earthquake in Japan, watch the devastation unfold on airport television sets.Anthony Galloway / NBC News (@liveanthony on Twitter)
/ Source: msnbc.com

I'm supposed to be in Tokyo right now, having woken up from a long flight to a jet-lagged "morning" of night in Japan. Instead, it's the breakfast buffet at the Aft Deck Ballroom of Anchorage, Alaska's Captain Cook Hotel, with a certain Michelle Shocked chorus running on permanent loop in my head.

My girlfriend and I settled in to our seats on American Airlines Flight 135 on Thursday night, prepared for a 14-hour nonstop haul from JFK to Tokyo Haneda. We were somewhere east of Anchorage when the pilot announced we were diverting to Anchorage after a major earthquake off the coast of Japan.

We landed soon after and sat on the tarmac for about an hour and a half as the flight crew waited on directions and information from Dallas, and for Customs staff to return to the airport so we could deplane.

From there it was a wait in the airport (with Dateline NBC colleague Anthony Galloway, who happened to be on the same flight, and tweeted the picture on this story from the airport) for a shuttle bus to the comfortable hotel in view of the bay. Watching reports of the devastating quake and tsunami on msnbc tv and Twitter feeds and breakingnews.com was only interrupted by a few hours of sleep and a handful of texts and calls with the news staff at msnbc.com.

Our plan was to spend a few days in Tokyo, then to fly to Manila on Sunday. After a few days in the Philippines' capital city, we'd be on to Palawan for a long week at the beach with a return through Tokyo on the 26th.

We're concerned about transportation in Tokyo — reports from Narita and the streets of the city paint scenes of sleeping on floors and walking many miles to get anywhere — so I called American Airlines a few times to see if we could rebook to Hong Kong or if there are any other options for us.

There are not. Our business class tickets were booked with frequent flyer miles and, despite a State Department advisory against non-essential travel to Tokyo and the uncertain state of affairs at Tokyo airports, American AAdvantage staff say our only option, absent buying tickets elsewhere, is to carry on to Tokyo: "That's what is input into the system."

The sign in the hotel says our flight should fly to Haneda this afternoon. At this point, we are planning to take it. While I wish we had better options (any, really), I do hope it flies — a fellow traveler at our breakfast table is a resident of Tokyo and really wants to get home to his family, and if appearances are any indicator probably represents the majority of travelers on Flight 135.

Obviously, our little travel delay doesn't mean a whole lot in the context of this tragic series of events.

While I would never have planned it this way, this unexpected trip to Alaska lets me check off the 50th U.S. state I've visited, so for a few hours we're going to see what a walk around downtown Anchorage has to offer.

Others affected by quake, tsunami
Read on for some more first-hand accounts from readers about how the Japanese earthquake and subsequent tsunami have affected them:

  • "This earthquake has ruined my march break plans. I'm 15 and in Grade 10 and was going to go to Tokyo with a couple of my friends over the break. The flight is scheduled to leave in two days, however I can't see the trip happening anymore. We were all looking forward to it for many weeks, counting down each individual day. We will probably have to reschedule if not abandon the whole trip."

  • "Camped along Washington coast very close to the ocean and at 11:30 p.m. someone pounded on side of our trailer with news of the Japanese quake and tsunami.  Packed up and left for home."

  • "I live in Crescent City and am a volunteer firefighter. Downtown has been evacuated and another surge just came in minutes ago. No pics yet but the harbor is destroyed. The docks have broken loose and are free floating and boats have received lots of damage. Tsunami sirens have been going all morning and we are just standing by for more swells." — Damian Wallace