CONCORD (KCBS) – Like so many other towns and villages, the northern Japanese community of Kitakami suffered greatly in the March 11 earthquake and tsunami.

News of the devastation has hit particularly close to home for the men and women who are involved in the sister city program between Kitakami and Concord – a relationship that has existed for more than 35 years.

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KCBS’ Dave Padilla Reports:

“It’s absolutely gorgeous,” Susan Burkitt described Kitakami. Burkitt is a member of Concord’s Ambassador Program, which facilitates the sister city endeavor. “The pictures I saw on the television were just heartbreaking. Absolutely, absolutely heartbreaking.”

According to Burkitt, there were plenty of tense moments as she and other Ambassador Program participants struggled to make contact with their Kitakami counterparts.

“All the host families in Concord are checking in with the families in Kitakami,” she explained. “They’re e-mailing them, they’re getting e-mails back saying yes, we’re okay, we’re safe, a lot of shaking going on.”

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Roughly 48 hours after the earthquake, Burkitt was also able to make contact with her sister, who teaches English just north of Kitakami.

“It was great to be able to hear her voice, you know I felt way better knowing that she was safe and I could talk to her and she wasn’t hurt,” said Burkitt.

Still shaken from the tragic events, the two women vowed to be more prepared.

“You know, I want names of neighbors and phone numbers and e-mail addresses,” Burkitt told her sister. “This is a really good example of how everybody needs to be prepared in an earthquake because you’re not always going to be around your loved ones so you need to have a really good plan.”

Burkitt was relieved to report that there were no deaths among the Kitakami host families, though they are all dealing with water and power shortages.

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