How Twitter reunited a family after Japan's tsunami

Canon Purdy tells her sister Megan (with their mom) she's safe, after Japan's devastating tsunami. (Courtesy of Purdy tells her sister Megan (with their mom) she's safe, after Japan's devastating tsunami. (Courtesy of …
Before this weekend, Megan Walsh used Twitter to share shopping deals and her love of Lady Gaga with friends. But this weekend, after Japan's devastating Tsunami, she began sending a very different kind of message on Twitter: "Please help find my sister, an American unaccounted for in Minamisanriku."

On Friday, Canon Purdy, a 25-year-old English teacher became one of the tens of thousands missing when an earthquake tore through Japan and triggered a series of catastrophic natural disasters (we have some of the latest videos here). Purdy had arrived in the coastal fishing village of Minamisanriku, just as the area was ravaged by the tsunami. After teaching in an local elementary school, she had returned to the town to see her students graduate. But only hours later, the school had become an evacuation center housing survivors.

Back in San Francisco, Purdy's sibling, Walsh, took the internet, reaching out to reporters and anchors at CNN, NBC, BBC and Time through Twitter, in hopes that someone could locate her sister. It was a long shot but it worked. The Today Show's Ann Curry saw her tweet, and traveled to Minamisanriku with Purdy's photo in hand, asking locals if they'd seen the missing American. "Canon is a popular teacher and everyone wanted to help," Curry reported from the halls of the school where Purdy once taught.

Finally, Purdy was identified, along with two other American teachers, at another nearby evacuation center. None of them had been able to reach their friends and family back home to assure them of their safety.

When Curry reunited Purdy with her family over the phone on Sunday, both sisters were moved to tears. (Watch their reunion here)

"It was a great relief," Purdy told NBC's Matt Lauer on Monday. "We didn't have any cell service and no hope of reaching cell service any time soon."

Now that her family back home knows she's alive and well, she plans to stay in Japan and help with relief efforts. "I do feel some responsibility to stay here and help as long as I can...if I'm not a burden," said Purdy from Japan, as her family looked on via live telecast from California.

"We love you," Walsh said from her parents home in San Jose. She also took to Twitter to send a message to Curry. "I love you. Thank you for finding my sister."

To help victims of the disaster, see Shine's roundup of aid organizations providing relief efforts in Japan.

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