The tsunami swallowed the family vacation house near the shore, but her brother and his wife were safe inside the earthquake-hardened condominium they moved to three years ago.
Keene's relief quickly gave way to even greater anxiety as she watched the white clouds rising over the crippled Fukushima Dai-Ichi nuclear plant. Her niece lives near the Fukushima prefecture border. Keene -- like every child who has grown up in Japan since World War II -- studied radiation poisoning as a school girl and knows full well the risks.
"I pray that (the) Japanese people will come up with some solution," she said. "If that material is exposed, it will be just like another Hiroshima ... Or maybe worse than the atomic bomb."
Now a 60-something widow who lives in the Washington suburb of Potomac, Md., Keene is among 1.27 million Japanese-Americans in the U.S. watching new horrors unfold daily from half-a-world away. They have watched the stoic resolve of their countrymen with admiration and pride, but also fear for the future of Japan.
"When I watched the tsunami, I felt the earth was angry that we have overused our natural resources," Keene said. "Mother Earth is warning us."
In those first frantic days after the 9.0-magnitude earthquake hit Japan, expatriates in the U.S. worked the phones and scoured the Internet to find loved ones in a search that was as intense as if they'd been on the ground digging through the rubble.
Twitter reported record usage. Google's Person Finder, first used after the earthquakes in Haiti, Chile and New Zealand, was tracking more records within three days than the three earlier earthquakes combined, said Jamie Yood, a Google spokesman.
Now, as the aftermath of the quake, tsunami and nuclear crisis expands into an almost unimaginable triple-headed catastrophe, Japanese on this side of the Pacific are organizing to raise millions of dollars to send home for what will surely be the largest reconstruction from a natural disaster in modern history.
A posting from Facebook in Japan, translated and now in wide circulation, captured the determination:
"My grandfather's generation rebuilt Japan. Now it's our turn."
"I am touched by these young kids who feel it's their obligation to try to help rebuild their country," said John Malott, president of the Washington, D.C., chapter of the Japan-America Society. "The least we can do in America is to come together and do everything we can to raise money."
The society, which has chapters in 25 states, is organizing fundraisers from Boston to Los Angeles. The Portland, Ore., chapter raised $50,000 in 36 hours. According to chapter president Douglas Erber, by week's end, $500,000 had been pledged to the Southern California chapter.
"It's not just Japanese-Americans," he said. "We are getting donations from as far away as India. People are volunteering their houses."
In Washington, the annual National Cherry Blossom Festival, which commemorates the 1912 gift of 3,000 flowering cherry trees from the mayor of Tokyo, will add a fundraising component to the two-week event, which begins March 26 and traditionally attracts legions of tourists.
Elsewhere, social clubs and businesses have added links to the Red Cross and other established charities to their websites, while new relief groups are springing up overnight. Japanese students at 10 Eastern colleges and universities organized the Japan Relief Project, launching its website last Wednesday. Seattle Japan Relief, set up the day after the quake, partnered with the Seattle Sounders soccer team to raise $22,000 for the Red Cross.
By Saturday, the combined relief effort had collected more than $105 million, according to the Chronicle of Philanthropy.
Haruko Koide, an investment officer with the World Bank/International Finance Corp. in Washington, was among those eager to pitch in. She had gone to bed that Thursday before word of the earthquake reached her. Friday morning, she awakened to a news report about a tsunami approaching Hawaii and knew instantly what had occurred.
"I figured there was a massive earthquake," she said. It took a day to reach her family in Tokyo. At work Monday, she gathered the Japanese staff to organize a way to raise money, arranging for donations to go to the Red Cross through the eGive mechanism on the bank's website.
"Because we speak Japanese and English, there was enthusiasm to go to Japan and help," she said. "But the first thing we want to do is send money."
The Japanese in the U.S. is a long-established population, better educated and more affluent than most immigrant groups, according to U.S. Census data. The median household income among Japanese-Americans is $64,197 -- compared with $50,221 for the entire U.S.
Among those older than 25, 46 percent of Japanese-Americans hold a bachelor's or graduate degree, compared with 28 percent of the general U.S. population. And, 48 percent of Japanese-Americans work as professionals or managers, compared with 38 percent of the U.S.
They are scattered throughout the country, but the largest Japanese-American population in the nation lives in California; the second largest, in Hawaii. Indeed, the California-Japan ties are strong: more than 1,000 Japanese companies are based in Southern California and Japan is the state's largest foreign investor, Erber said.
In Los Angeles, architect Ted Tanaka was connected within minutes to the disaster. His wife, Masako, had been visiting her ailing father in Ofunato, on the northern Japan coast.
The morning of the earthquake, Masako Tanaka had gone by train to a neighboring town to visit other relatives. She was leaving the station when she felt the ground shake violently; as she drove away from the coast, she could see the tsunami approaching. As it closed in, she abandoned the car and climbed onto the roof of a three-story building. She called her husband and told him she was going to die.
"And then I lost her," Ted Tanaka said. "For 36 hours, I didn't hear anything from her. Finally, I got another call saying, 'I'm alive.'"
By then, Masako Tanaka was driving through Ofunato with relatives, searching for her 86-year-old father and brother. The phone died again. Several more days passed before Ted Tanaka learned that the group finally reunited in his wife's father's house, which was undamaged.
Now he is trying to get his wife and her father home to Los Angeles, but they have been unable to leave.
"The regional airport she needs to fly out of is jammed. Flights are booked for the next two weeks," he said. "All the homeless are trying to get out to get to their relatives. And Narita Airport in Tokyo is just crazy right now. Everybody's trying to get out of the country."
From Washington, Koide watches the unfolding nuclear crisis with trepidation. Her friends in Tokyo are already talking about the almost inconceivable prospect of evacuating the city.
In Seattle, Linda Suyama, owner of the Azuma Gallery of contemporary Japanese art, has been glued to the TV since day one. She is a third-generation Japanese-American but for years lived in Tokyo, studying art and culture; she was planning a trip there in early April.
When her hosts in Tokyo emailed her several days after the earthquake saying they're ready for her visit, she found herself wondering how to respond.
"I admire their calmness and yet at the same time, I don't know how they can do it," she said. "They have a Buddhist spiritual base over there. Even if you are not Buddhist, if you are born in Japan, you can't help but be affected. One of the teachings is the impermanence of life.
"If that's just ingrained in you, it makes these occurrences easier to deal with," Suyama said.