Former La Cañadans spared brunt of quake

The devastation caused Friday by the 9.0-magnitude earthquake and subsequent tsunami in Japan should serve as a warning for Foothills residents to take the threat of such disasters more seriously, says a former La Cañada Flintridge resident now living near Tokyo.

Marshall Adams, Mika Nabeshima and their teenaged sons, Tyler and Leo—who both attended Paradise Canyon Elementary and participated in local Boy Scout activities—moved last August from their home on Alminar Avenue in La Cañada to Yokohama, Japan, after Nabeshima received a job transfer.

About an hour’s commute south of Tokyo, and more than 200 miles from the epicenter of the quake, Yokohama was rattled by the temblor but was spared any major damage, said Adams, who keeps a blog at and was reached by telephone Monday night (Tuesday morning in Japan).

Still, anxieties ran high. Train service came to a halt, temporarily stranding Nabeshima in Tokyo, where she works for a large insurance firm. Tyler, 15, was stranded at his school and forced to spend the night at a friend’s house.

Even after the family was reunited the next day in their high-rise apartment, they faced hundreds of aftershocks, predictions of rolling blackouts and the threat of radiation leakage from damaged nuclear power plants.

“The experts said within three days of Saturday there was a 70% chance of aftershocks of 7.0 or more [the 1994 Northridge quake registered 6.7], and the bigger question is, where that would happen. Aftershocks are happening all over the place, not just in the original spot of the [nearly] 9.0 quake, so we feel like there’s still something hanging over our heads,” said Adams, 42, a former employee of the Los Angeles County Regional Planning Department.

The threat of ongoing trouble had the family carrying backpacks filled with emergency supplies — including food, water, medicine, clothes, eyeglasses, gloves, hats, rain ponchos, lists of phone numbers (in case cell service was out), insurance information and pocket knives — wherever they went.

Despite his relative proximity to the disaster zone, Adams said people in his city know only as much about the most devastated areas and the ongoing threat of nuclear radiation leaks as many others around the world who are also glued to their televisions.

“It’s all really fuzzy and cloudy, with innumerable experts on TV saying this and that. Even the closest people [to the epicenter] don’t know what’s going on,” Adams said of reports about damaged power plants.

Fears of nuclear disaster and memories of the Chernobyl meltdown in 1986 prompted many European families whose children attend school with Tyler to leave the country, Adams said.

He said his family plans on staying put. His wife, who was born in Japan, has already returned to work and Leo, 12, will graduate this week from his elementary school.

“On one hand, maybe I’m optimistic,” Adams said, “but you can’t know what’s really happening there.”

The widely reported calm with which the Japanese people have responded to the emergency — no panic on the streets or runs on groceries at the local store, Adams writes on his blog — has also influenced the transplants.

“People are pretty patient here,” said Adams. “First of all, there’s a fatalistic side — the idea that whatever’s going to happen is going to happen. Second, I would say people are pretty trusting. If they have a problem, they go to City Hall rather than taking off on their own. My personal opinion is America could do with a little more patience, not always try and go Lone Ranger so quickly. The government here just delivered 70,000 blankets [to displaced quake and tsunami victims]. People have been cold and waiting, but if you take off on the road yourself is that really going to work out better?”

Despite cultural differences, Adams said Californians could learn from the Japanese about personal disaster preparedness.

“I think we Americans depend more on our wits to respond the right way in an emergency, as opposed to planning ahead. Instead of saying we’ll meet at a given time or place, we say ‘I’ll call you.’ But in a disaster, the first thing that might go out is your cell phone,” he said. “The No. 1 thing is just to make a plan.”

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