By Megan Boatwright
Channel 3 Eyewitness News Reporter

SODDY-DAISY, TN. (WRCB) -- An earthquake hit off the Northeast Coast of Japan, Friday.  It measured 8.9 on the richter scale.  The earthquake hit 81 miles off the coast, and is the largest to hit Japan in 140 years.

Channel 3 talked to a Soddy-Daisy mom whose son is in Chiba teaching English.

28-year-old James Hughes was in his classroom teaching when the earthquake hit and spent the next 14 hours stuck at work with his students.

"I said to my husband, 'Earthquake turn the TV on the news',"  says Hughes mom, Ernestine Perkey.

Perkey and husband Jerry spent Thursday night and Friday glued to their TV

"I could hear a commotion and I said, 'James is that you?' and line went out,"  says Perkey.

Around 1 a.m. the parents began getting frantic and spotty calls from their son in Japan.

"He called back at least 5 more times," Perkey says.  "Finally when he did get through he said, 'I'm okay, earthquake' and the line went dead again." 

Hughes moved to Chiba in August to teach English and be close to girlfriend Akiko.

"Just when the earthquake happened he took the students and they went out into the parking lot," the mother says. 

Hughes e-mailed a picture of cracked asphalt in the parking lot of his school to family early Friday morning.  Although communicating over the phone has been difficult, Hughes e-mailed family members throughout the night, saying he was okay but worried about Akiko.

"She works at one of the airports that flooded," Perkey says.  "He couldn't get in touch with her at all." 

Finally after 6 hours of no news, Hughes writes his family that Akiko is safe, 'thank Jesus' he says.  His mother can't help but want her son to find the fastest way home.  Still she knows that's not something he'll do.

"I think he'll stay with Akiko," Perkey says.  "To make sure she's okay."  The graphic tsunami images on her television screen are little comfort to Perkey, still the mother says she's trusting God to keep her youngest son safe.

"I'm really worried about him and his girlfriend," she says.  "I'm also worried about the rest of the Japanese people ." 

Perkey says she heard from James again around 4 p.m. Friday.  He and Akiko had managed to get back to his apartment safely.