"My City Was Burning"

Norio Tanabe normally solicits donations from the Japanese for disaster relief. Now the tables have turned.

By Jeff Goldblatt
|  Friday, Mar 11, 2011  |  Updated 10:30 PM CDT
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Dramatic Photos: Devastation in Japan

Norio Tanabe

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In an ironic twist of fate, a man whose job it is to raise money from the Japanese for disaster relief around the globe watched in horror Friday as fireballs devoured his hometown.

"My city was burning," Norio Tanabe said of the painful pictures on his computer screen of Kesennuma in Japan's Miyagi Prefecture.

Tanabe works for Oak Brook-based Lions Club International Foundation, which gathers money for world-wide disaster relief.  Tanabe worked with Asian countries, including Japan.

Now the foundation is turning the tables, committing $1.25 million to the island country following Friday's devastating earthquake and tsunami.

Tanabe said that Japan will need America's help in rebuilding once of the world's mightiest economies and its infrastructure.

"Yes, it’s a well-off country. But when disaster happens, I think little help, it helps," he said.

Still, he said he recognizes that no amount of money can turn back the clock.  He guessed that about 80 percent of his hometown of 50,000 people was obliterated by the catastrophe.

Tanabe said he still has an aunt and three cousins in Kesennuma.  Despite placing several calls, he has so far been unable to reach them.

"It's so terrible," he said, his eyes closed slightly.  "I don't want to visit again.  I think surely everything is gone.... I want to keep my old memory.  Now it's all gone."

People looking for U.S. citizens in Japan can call the U.S. Deptartment of State, Overseas Citizens Services at 1-888-407-4747.

Consulate General of Japan at Chicago

MSNBC.com: How to Help

Google: People FinderJapanese

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