Disaster a world away

Tremors from the devastating earthquake and tsunami in Japan were felt in Glendale Friday, as a handful of Japanese students here on an exchange program heard the news of their home country while settling in for a three-week stay in the United states.

Rei Horie, a student at Nisshin Academy outside Osaka, said she learned of the quake on the Internet Thursday night — her first evening with her host family in Glendale. Most of the other students on the trip and their chaperone, instructor Minoru Tanaka, found out while in a Glendale High School classroom Friday.

Natsuko Yamamoto and other students said they would rather be home with family and friends, knowing everyone is safe, than to find out about the disaster while on the other side of the world.

Shunji Maekawa said he spoke to relatives on Friday. Their message to him: “Don’t worry.”

The city where they live, Higashiosaka, is roughly 400 miles from Sendai, one of the cities that felt the most severe impacts of the 8.9-magnitude quake and subsequent tsunami that are estimated to have killed at least 1,000 and displaced tens of thousands more.

The students are taking part in a decades-old exchange program, Glendale High School counselor Lois Sheridan said. Glendale students usually visit Osaka during their summer vacation.

Glendale and Burbank also maintain “sister city” relationships in Japan. The relationships are forged with municipal leaders to form stronger cultural ties.

Burbank’s sister city is Ota, in the Tokyo metropolitan area, which is about 200 miles from the heart of the destruction.

Sharon Cohen, Burbank’s library services director and a liaison with officials in Ota, said she tried to reach contacts via e-mail, but had received no response by Friday afternoon. Power was disrupted throughout much of Japan on Friday, and because of the time difference — Japan lies across the International Date Line and its local time is 16 hours ahead of Pacific Standard Time — Cohen’s messages would have arrived in Japan in the pre-dawn hours Saturday.

“We are hoping that they have not experienced any damage, but know they would have experienced some shaking,” Cohen said.

Glendale’s sister cities include Higashiosaka, where the exchange students are from, and Hiroshima, which is roughly 550 miles from Sendai.

Glendale spokesman Tom Lorenz said the city had not yet heard from sister city contacts, but that it will respond to any request for aid.

“As a city and to our friends in Japan, we will certainly be there for them,” Lorenz said.

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