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New Yorkers With Family, Business Ties to Japan Scramble to Make Contact

Friday, March 11, 2011

WNYC

Saori Kawano got a call from her brother at 6 a.m. on Friday.

"Luckily, my family has electricity, and he could call me," said Kawano, who owns Korin, a company in Tribeca that sells Japanese-made knives to restaurants and hotels.

She said her brother lives in Yokohama — 30 miles from Tokyo and 250 miles from Sendai, where the earthquake hit the hardest.

"It's really a heart-breaking matter," said Kawano, who had been checking Japanese news outlets all Friday for more information. "The damage is so huge."

Many New Yorkers with ties to Japan, like Kawano, spent Friday trying to reach family, friends, co-workers, and in Kawano's case, suppliers and manufacturers affected by the earthquake and tsunami on the other side of the globe.

"I was on the phone with one of my knife makers' owners. He was so worried about my family. So we all exchanged information and are making sure everyone was okay," said Kawano, who imports 95 percent of her products from Japan. Also, half of her employees have family in Japan. She said all of her employees' family members were unharmed.

Like small businesses around New York City, large multinational companies also spent today accounting for employees in the affected areas.

John Odermatt, Citi's global head for business continuity, received a call at 2:50 a.m. on Friday.

Citi employs 5,000 people in Japan and 260,000 worldwide. Because the earthquake happened during the work day and created huge disruptions in subway and train service, many employees were forced to stay over night at Citi's offices.

"Every employee at Citi has been accounted for in Tokyo," Odermatt said.

Odermatt said five branches suffered damages, but he expects they'll be back up and running by Monday.

"We're very lucky," he said.

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