University of Central Florida student Jonathan Ulrich and his friends were supposed to be on a subway heading for their hotel in Tokyo when an 8.9 magnitude earthquake rocked the island causing massive damage and triggering a tsunami that threatens the United States.

“I accidentally got us lost, so we didn’t end up getting on the subway on time,” Ulrich said. That mistake may have saved the group’s life. Instead Ulrich and friend Michael Tuttle rode out the record-setting quake in a café near a Buddhist temple.

“We thought we were just getting really tired and dizzy after a day of sightseeing,” Ulrich said.

They ran outside, and saw others holding onto lampposts, so they did the same. The shaking lasted for what seemed about a minute or two, said Ulrich. It felt like he was on a rocky boat.

Little did they realize that the quake was so devastating. Early reports say dozens have been killed in the quake or the tidal wave that hit afterwards.  Millions are homeless and the quake has triggered a tsunami that threatens Hawaii and the west coast of the United States some 5,000 miles away.

The UCF students, who are traveling with a third friend from Titusville, Fla., were visiting the island during their Spring Break. Now they’re simply trying to stay safe and find a way home.

“All cell phones lines are down, and most transportation has stopped,” said Ulrich’s mother, Peggy Ulrich, who heard from her son via Skype overnight. “Jon and Mike are engineering students using their skills to Skype and find other alternatives to call and communicate.”

Ulrich said the streets outside the hotel are gridlock. People are gathering at a Buddhist temple where there are no high-rise buildings that can come toppling down upon them as aftershocks continue.

The group has access to food, water and shelter, but won’t be flying back to Florida on Saturday as they had planned.  They’re safe, but shaken up, and thankful for the thoughtfulness and help they’ve received from others.

“Everyone is so kind to each other here,” Ulrich said.

Two other UCF students are at Japanese universities as part of our international study abroad program as is a faculty member. The Office of International Studies confirmed that they too are all safe.

Meanwhile UCF officials are reaching out to nine international students from Japan studying at the university this semester. Rocky Blesso, cultural programmer for the International Services Center, said his office and the university’s counseling center are trying to reach each student and offer assistance.

“We’re deeply concerned about our Japanese students and have reached out to make sure that they are safe and that their families are safe as well,” Blesso said. “We have offered our support and will provide assistance in any way that we can.”