Watching, worrying and waiting

While the world watches Japan struggle to overcome the effects of a deadly tsunami, earthquakes and nuclear radiation leaks, Junko Nakayama watches more closely than most.

Nakayama, trainer for the La Crescenta Valley High School baseball team, said a cousin is stuck in Tsukuba, 120 miles from the Fukushima nuclear plant where high levels of radiation have forced evacuations. Nakayama’s parents are in her home town of Hachinohe, a northern port city where residents are waiting out food and supply shortages.

“My cousin wants to come home, but there is no transportation,” Nakayama said. “The bullet train has stopped, and no cars are coming through.”

The tsunami wiped out schools and businesses in Hachinohe, Nakayama said, “but the majority of the city was fine.”

She said her parents are doing errands on foot because gasoline supplies are dwindling. Food supplies are, too, but Nakayama said her mother is prepared.

“She’s always overstocked,” Nakayama said. “I told her, ‘You can clean out your freezer.’”

Nakayama and the Crescenta Valley Falcons were at Stengel Field for a doubleheader Wednesday, where well-wishers donated to the American Red Cross Japan relief fund.

“I really appreciate people coming up to me, asking how is my family doing and how can they help,” she said. “My high school trying to get money to my city — that means a lot to me.”

She was used to earthquakes growing up in Japan, she said. Even so, the country’s biggest challenge may not be the lingering problems with nuclear reactors.

“I don’t know how they can build back up the destroyed cities,” she said. “My hometown is not bad, but there are a bunch of cities that just washed away.”

The mood in Japan has grown more grim in the last week, according to Tokyo educator and former Burbank resident John Vaughters.

Since 2003, Vaughters has operated English language schools in Tokyo. He was at work March 12 when the 9.0-magnitude quake struck.

“In movies, people always run around and scream,” Vaughters said in an e-mail. “Everyone just froze and was staring at the buildings. When you see a 30-story building sway, it's hard for the brain to process what it's seeing.”

Since then, Vaughters said, blackouts and transportation problems have hamstrung Tokyo life. The Walt Disney Co. shut its two Tokyo attractions and provided food, water and blankets to visitors trapped in the theme parks. On Tuesday, the Burbank-based company announced a $2.5-million donation to the Red Cross.

Burbank and Glendale have sister cities in Japan, but they are hundreds of miles south of the severely damaged areas. Burbank Library Services Director Sharon Cohen said contacts in Ota, Burbank’s sister city, reported occasional blackouts and a supply shortage, but they are among the lucky ones.

Glendale has two sister cities, Higashiosaka and Hiroshima, which experienced little direct impact.

Glendale community relations coordinator Zizette Mullins said the city as had no contact with people in Hiroshima, while students visiting Glendale from Higashiosaka report their families are out of harm’s way.

Donations to the local chapter of the American Red Cross for Japan relief efforts remain steady, executive officer Ron Farina said.

But the disaster has also prompted locals to examine their own preparedness, he added. The Glendale chapter has sold more than 80 of its emergency preparedness kits — which include a three-day supply of food, water and other supplies — since the quake struck Japan.

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