LOS ANGELES – Nancy Niijima switched on the TV in her room at the Keiro retirement home to see images from her native country of submerged neighborhoods, cars being carried in giant ocean tides, collapsed buildings and cracked roads.

“It’s like science fiction, not like what really happens in Japan,” said Niijima, who is concerned about her sister in the Okinawa island chain, whom she has been unable to reach. The good news is that she has no family near the hardest-hit areas.

In the Los Angeles area and other U.S. regions with large Japanese-American and Japanese expatriate populations, those with ties to the Asian country expressed shock at the damage wrought by the 8.9-magnitude quake and fear for the safety of their loved ones there.

They also grew frustrated with their inability to reach family and loved ones back in Japan, normally not an issue in such a technologically advanced nation where the Internet and cell phones provide numerous ways to communicate with people in the U.S.

“I tried calling my sister in Japan, but all the phone lines were jammed,” said Misa Washio, a clerk at a counter selling pens in a Kinokuniya Japanese language bookstore in New York City, who learned of the quake from a friend early Friday and quickly switched on the radio. “I tried about 10 times.”

Doug Erber, president of the Japan America Society of Southern California, said his office has been fielding a constant stream of queries from people who have not been able to reach friends and family in Japan.

“The phone has not stopped ringing, and text messages and e-mails,” he said. “It’s been a busy day just trying to keep up. I think I got about 45 minutes of sleep last night.”

Erber’s organization had added a special section to its website with links to resources that could help users track down loved ones in Japan. These included services by Japan’s biggest mobile phone providers that allow users to input friends’ phone numbers to access messages posted about them.

The site also links to Google’s Person Finder service for the Japan earthquake, where users can ask for and provide information about individuals in Japan they’ve been unable to reach.