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Forest Park businessman experiences Japan earthquakes

By Ed BrockKelly and JoAnn Sullivan's visit with their daughter in Japan was going well until a deadly earthquake hit the region of the country where they were.

So far the 6.8-magnitude quake that tore through Niigata prefecture on Japan's central island of Honshu on Saturday has been blamed for 31 deaths. Buildings collapsed, earth weakened by a recent typhoon created mudslides and for the first time in history a "shinkansen" bullet train ran off its tracks, though it was able to brake enough that nobody on board was injured.

"I was surprised how much of a disaster it was so close to us," JoAnn Sullivan said.

The couple had flown to Japan a week before the quake to visit their 24-year-old daughter Laura Sullivan who works as an English teacher in the town of Ojiya. They were at a hotel some two hours drive away from that town, eating dinner in their room, when the quake hit.

Kelly Sullivan, who is president of A&A Safe, Lock & Door Co. in Forest Park and Lawrenceville, said they felt the jolt of the quake even there.

"The owner of the hotel knew we were from that area and he came in and told us to turn on the television," Kelly Sullivan said.

Ojiya was at the center of the quake and as a result was badly damaged. At first they were unable to return to the town soon after the quake.

"Every road going into Ojiya was damaged in some way," JoAnn Sullivan said.

They learned that the Japanese carp, or "koi," farm that they had visited the day before the quake was completely destroyed. Later Laura Sullivan learned that her apartment complex had been closed due to damage and she was not able to get back in until Wednesday.

"I started the cleaning process and it is going to take a while," Laura Sullivan wrote in an e-mail home. "Things are pretty wrecked but I don't mind. I am just spending the nights in Kashiwazaki at Pauline's place and driving in for the days to clean up my house."

The high school where Laura Sullivan taught has been closed indefinitely, Kelly Sullivan said. In her e-mail Laura Sullivan said the school's principal and a teacher lost their houses in the quake and were sleeping in the school's gym.

On Wednesday a 2-year-old boy was pulled from the mud and rubble of his home that had been destroyed in a mudslide. The boy had survived four days buried in the rubble but his mother died shortly after she was rescued and his sister is still missing.

Quakes were still rattling the area on Wednesday, including a 6.1 quake that caused homeless people in evacuation centers to throw themselves to the floor and scream.

But JoAnn Sullivan said she was glad they were there with their daughter when the quake happened, because their presence meant she was also out of Ojiya when the quake hit.

"Otherwise she would have been right there in the middle of it," Sullivan said.

And the Sullivans would have been worried about her for days since the quake knocked out land lines and cell phone towers as well.

It was Kelly Sullivan's first trip to Japan and JoAnn Sullivan's second trip, but it was the first earthquake for both of them.

"We had a great time up to the earthquake," JoAnn Sullivan said.

The Associated Press contributed to this article.