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When a disaster strikes, thousands of people rush to the telephone to contact their loved ones, tying up much-needed phone lines.

At the time of 1995 Great Hanshin Earthquake, cellular phones were considered a new reliable means of communications because their facilities sustained little damage in the quake.

But with the dramatic rise in cellular phone use since then, major cellular phone operator NTT Mobile Communications Network Inc. now predicts that it will be somewhat difficult to call to or from a disaster-hit area; the company expects traffic to be 30 times greater than normal in the event of a major earthquake.

To avoid telephone congestion during emergencies, Nippon Telegraph and Telephone Corp. is offering a recorded message service people can use to assure their friends and family they’re safe.

Dial 171, plus 1 and your phone number including area code to record a message that will be stored on a tape at an NTT facility. To check if a friend or family member has left a message, dial 171, plus 2 and the phone number of the party you want to contact.

The service is only available during emergencies, and messages can be registered only for phone numbers in disaster-struck areas.

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