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Jessica Colby, left, and her sister, Allison, are shown earlier this month in Japan. Jessica and her family in Velva, N.D., have not heard from Allison since a tsunami hit Friday near Sendai, Japan, where she was living. Special to The Forum

Where is Allison? North Dakota native missing in Japan

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Jessica Colby received a text message early Friday morning from her sister saying the area where she lived north of Sendai, Japan, was hit with a large earthquake.

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The text messages from Allison Colby continued through the early morning, stating she was safe and planned to stay with one of her fellow English teachers.

But as of Monday, no one - Jessica, her family in Velva, N.D., or the Japanese exchange program for which Allison taught - had heard from Allison since about 45 minutes after the quake.

That contact might have come before a tsunami swept through the area with waves of destruction, officials from the exchange program told the family Monday morning, Jessica said.

"It's been really hard to just sit and wait," Jessica said from Velva, about 245 miles northwest of Fargo in north central North Dakota. "Just to get that phone call this morning makes it so much more difficult just to know that nobody can find them."

Jessica, 26, returned March 6 from Japan after spending Allison's 24th birthday with her.

The trip was an opportunity for the sisters, both North Dakota State University graduates, to spend some time together and for Jessica to see the country Allison had come to love during high school and college, eventually moving there in August to teach English.

"I just left her Sunday (March 6) night," Jessica said. "I was just there. I really wish I was still there so I could be with her."

Allison registered with a Japanese police prefecture about 45 minutes after the quake, said Stephen Fasano of the Japanese Exchange and Teaching program in New York.

A tsunami likely struck about 15 to 30 minutes after the earthquake, but the timing was too close to know whether Allison registered before it hit, he said.

"We don't have an exact time," he said. "It looks as if they made contact after the two events, but they can't be absolutely sure."

The family hopes someone can help them find Allison in one of the areas most heavily affected by the earthquake and tsunami, said Allison's mom, Pam Colby.

"We've been trying every avenue we can think to make contact with her," Pam said.

The teaching program is working with the Japanese consulate to help locate the undetermined number of unaccounted for American and Canadian teachers who work in the Miyagi Prefecture in northern Japan, said Masaaki Akagi, executive director of the program.

With cell phones likely down in the area, the family has relied on the Internet for clues, Jessica said.

Using Facebook, Pam was able to contact some fellow American teachers in other areas of Japan, but no one had heard from Allison.

Until word comes, Pam will continue watching television news coverage of the devastation.

"It's my only link to her right now," she said.

Jessica is trying to stay positive, even as it gets more difficult each day the family doesn't hear from her sister.

"I'm telling myself that she hasn't been able to get to a phone," Jessica said. "We just think she must be out helping people. It's just hard because we don't know where she is, if she has any food or water."

Readers can reach Forum reporter Heidi Shaffer at (701) 241-5511

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