Raleigh middle school students safe in Osaka after flight diverted

Eight students and two instructors from Exploris Middle School on a trip to their sister school in Japan are safe after their flight was diverted from Tokyo to Osaka as the earthquake struck Japan this morning.

"They were supposed to land around the same time the quake hit, but there was a delay in Dallas for whatever reason," said Mary Margaret Moffitt, administrative assistant at the school.

The delay allowed time for the flight, which was in the air when the quake struck, to be sent instead to Osaka, on the main Japanese island of Honshu. Osaka is about 500 miles southwest of the earthquake's offshore epicenter. Tokyo is about 250 miles from where the tremor began.

Two seventh-grade students on the trip, twin sisters Lauren and Livia Prestifilippo, talked with their parents in Raleigh by video chat from a hotel in Osaka shortly after 6 a.m. this morning Raleigh time.

"They seemed fine, but I do know that they're worried," said their mother, Jennifer Trella of Wake Forest. "They knew a lot about what was going on from Facebook and social networking and from the news. They did not have a lot of information until after they landed, thank goodness."

Trella and her husband, Paul Prestifilippo, were tracking the flight on the Internet when they heard about the quake.

"My husband called American Airlines, and they told us they were being diverted to Osaka," Trella said. "About 6 we found out they were safe. We're very grateful that their flight left late from Dallas, because they had been scheduled to land in Tokyo before the quake hit. Thank God."

Tremors from the quake were felt in Tokyo.

The Exploris group still plans to take a bus to Hiroshima, in southern Japan, to visit a sister school there, called Shinonome. The trip, part of a yearly exchange program, was open to students in all three grades, sixth through eighth, at Exploris. School director Kevin Piacenza and eighth-grade teacher Devon Banks are accompanying the students.

The students will attend the Shinonome school every day next week, Trella said, studying and also teaching lessons that they prepared for the Japanese students. They'll spend the evenings with host families, learning Japanese culture.

The Prestifilippo twins hosted a girl from Hiroshima last August, and recently found out that their guest also has a twin sister, whom they will meet on this trip, Trella said. Lauren's and Livia's older brother, Alec, went to Hiroshima two years ago.

"They have been so excited about this," Trella said.

The Shinonome/Exploris exchange program, according to the Exploris website, began in 2000 as part of a collaboration between East Carolina University and Hiroshima University. The program fosters collaboration in learning and student projects as well as exchange of cultures.

The group is scheduled to be back in school on March 21, Piacenza said in an e-mail before the trip. Another group from Shinonome is scheduled to visit Raleigh in August.