"It was one of the hardest decisions I've ever made in my life." - KLTV.com - Tyler, Longview, Jacksonville |ETX News

"It was one of the hardest decisions I've ever made in my life."

HENDERSON COUNTY, TEXAS (KLTV) - Tiffany Browne and her 4-year-old son, Gerrit, were sitting inside a Sendai sushi bar. They were having lunch with a Japanese family friend. Suddenly, the restaurant around them began to shake. Browne's 'mommy instincts' kicked into full gear.

"I was holding [Gerrit], telling him, 'hey, it's okay, it's just an earthquake, it'll be over in just a minute.'"

For more than a minute, the increasingly violent swells rocked the restaurant. She said it took nearly an hour and a half once the shaking stopped to get to her three other children whose were at school when the quake hit.

It took Browne's husband, Major Steven Browne nearly 21 hours to get home from Tokyo after the quake. He'd soon have to leave for a US military base just a few hours north.

Browne's husband is military liaison to the Japanese Self-Defense Force.

"It was over 24 hours before I was able to even speak to [Steve] again," said Browne. "Then I didn't see him until Friday morning when he came to pick us up and take us to the bus stop."

A week after the quake, Browne said her husband called about the U.S. embassy issuing a voluntary evacuation.

"He said, 'what should we do,' and I said, 'I don't want to go.'" She said she prayed about it. "It was one of the hardest decisions I've ever made in my life."

Browne's husband didn't want to risk anything happening to his family, so Tiffany and the kids started packing. They met a bus bound for Tokyo.

"He dropped us off, and we hugged and kissed and said goodbye, not knowing when we'd be able to go back to our home," she said.

The bus ride to Tokyo took 15 hours, three times longer than normal because of the damage. Tiffany, Jacob (13), Jaelyn (12), Grace (9), and 4-year-old Gerrit boarded a 12-hour flight to the states. They touched down in Milwaukee, then flew to Houston, and eventually to Tyler where Browne's parents met them at the airport. They've been in Athens ever since.

Browne says she emails and calls her husband as often as possible. "He's working 20-hour days, sleeping on a cot in his office," she said.  "He's not able to go home, we're not there, so I know it's so hard on him."

She was able to Skype with her husband a few days ago. "The kids were so excited to see Daddy, and he was choked up and crying."

"He's doing it because it needs to be done and he loves the Japanese people so much."

"There's the devastation," she said, "But there's also a blessing that can be had by learning so many values--going out and helping people and working hard to rebuild."

Browne said she doesn't regret her decision, but wishes she never had to make it in the first place.

"I want things to get better because I want to go home."

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