Search Mounts for American Teacher Missing in Japan

PHOTO Monty Dickson is a 26-year-old American teacher missing in Japan.
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Monty Dickson's family has been on "Japan time" since the March 11 earthquake and tsunami ravaged the city where Dickson teaches and lives.

"We sleep sporadically when we can and not much," Gloria Shriver, the mother-in-law of Dickson's sister, said. "We're all having a very hard time."

Dickson, who is from Alaska, hasn't been heard from since the tsunami struck Japan. He is a teacher with JET, the Japan Exchange and Teaching Program where university graduates sign contracts with local governments in Japan to teach English at Japanese schools.

"We're still looking for him and still looking for information on him," said Matthew Gillam from the New York branch of the Japan Local Government Center.

Dickson's family are among a dwindling number of Americans clinging to hope as the hunt for survivors is now nearly two weeks old and search efforts are petering out. The State Department now says it is focusing on less than 10 cases of Americans unaccounted for in the hardest hit areas of Japan. Those cases came to their attention from loved ones like Dickson's family.

In the days following the quake, those numbers were much higher, but as electricity was turned on and cities began to rebuild, loved ones established contact with their missing relatives.

Dickson teaches in the small fishing village called Rikuzentakata. It's located in the Iwate Prefecture, one of the hardest hit regions.

Monty Dickson, 26, is missing in the aftermath of Japan tsunami (Courtesy of Ian Dickson)

Gloria Shriver's Anchorage, Alaska, home has become command central in the search for Dickson. She is the mother-in-law of Dickson's sister, Shelley Frederickson. The two, along with Dickson's brother, Ian, spend hours online searching for tips about the young man and calling officials to check in on the progress. Relatives in Hawaii and even England are helping in the search.

Frederickson became Dickson's legal guardian when both of his parents died as a child.

The family last spoke to Dickson March 8, but his Japanese girlfriend spoke to Dickson in the hour after the 9.0 magnitude earthquake struck the island on March 11, but before the massive tsunami hit.

Dickson told her that he and his students had evacuated to the town's civic center.

"It was a three story steel and concrete building in town and it's the only building that's left standing, but water did reach the third floor," Shriver said.

Huge waves struck the town of 23,000 people. At least 3,000 people have died in Iwate Prefecture, Japan's broadcaster, NHK, reported. More than 700 people have died in Rikuzentakata and nearly one in 10 are feared dead, according to media reports. Dickson was the only American teacher in the village.

Air Force Convoy Searches For Monty Dickson

Dickson's girlfriend biked through the town searching for him only to find his apartment building destroyed.

"When we started seeing photos come out of Rikuzentakata, we really panicked," Shriver said.

On March 15, the family heard a report that he had made it to the civic center. The same day, they also got a report that he was alive at a junior high school.

"It's confusing. It's horrible. It's up and down and we're still hopeful we're going to find him, but we also understand the devastation and the horrible pain that everyone in Japan is going through," Shriver said.

The family speaks daily with the consulate.

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