I was asked to tell my story here of where I was during the massive earthquake and tsunami that struck the Touhoku area on March 11th, 2011. I am not much of a story teller, and alas, I do not even feel I am in a position to be looking for an audience for this tale. I was extremely lucky through the tragic events. I was at my office in downtown Sendai, which suffered little damage compared to so many other places. And the host family with whom I am staying were all equally fortunate. Our house was entirely spared damage, save a few dishes. And our whole neighborhood has recovered very quickly. Utilities have been sporadic, but for the most part, our daily lives have only been inconvenienced temporarily. So I do apologize in advance; my story is, in comparison to others', lackluster, vain, and/or totally uninteresting. Furthur disclaimer: the following has been largely taken directly from an email I hastily typed out as soon as I first gained internet access. So it clearly feels rushed, but I'm only posting this blog as a favor, I would much rather be using my first day of internet access to scour English news sources. I speak very limited Japanese, so I barely know what's all been going on. And there may be grammatic or narrative inconsistencies I have overlooked in my editing for this medium. All names have been changed, because why the hell not.
The earthquake on Wednesday, March 9th, 2011 was the first earthquake I have ever experienced. In Virginia, I live near a quarry, so I am used to occassional rumbling. The explosives they use to break up rocks or whatever else it is they do there would probably be equivalent to a 3 or 3.5 on the richter scale, but only for a brief moment. I was in the office on the 12th floor when it happened. The whole building just started shaking. I realized of course what was happening, but having been in Japan for only 7 months, and in Sendai for only about 2 weeks, I was completely clueless as to how routine it was. It was scary but i couldnt help but have a dumb grin on my face the whole time. It was an exciting first experience. The other staff (all Japanese) noticed I was smiling and asked if I liked it. I had never experienced anything like that before and so I wasn't sure how I should feel about it. Was it a regular occurance? Was it scary for the others? I was confused, and the staff weren't too disturbed, so I kind of just tried to emulate their feelings. That earthquake was like a 5.2 I heard.
On Friday, I was at my office again. It was right around 2:40. I felt the rumbling, and just thought, `oh no here we go again.' I didnt think it was a big deal. There were 4 others in the office, plus myself, including Yamada, sort of the second in command here. Soon after it started shaking, Yamada san ducked under his desk and told me to do the same. the 3 others were in the adjacent room packing tissue packs to hand out on the sidewalk. So I'm assuming they were just under a regular table. My desk is pretty sturdy, like a teachers desk in a public school. Well the shaking started getting worse and I soon got really scared. No one was saying anything, just waiting. I could hear stuff falling all around me and saw stuff falling around my desk as well. The power went out but we have an emergency generator, so there was still some light. The drawers of the filing cabinets were flying open. I heard glass break. I don't even know how long the initial quake lasted, but it was a solid couple minutes. After it stopped, we got up and I saw how trashed the office was. I snapped a couple photos. Again, I wasn't sure how scared I should have been. But everyone was ok. We caught our breath and everyone said that was the biggest quake they ever felt. That was the first sign for me that it was serious. While we were still trying to come to terms with the present, it started shaking again, so we dove back under the desks. The initial after shock was really intense as well, and lasted for seemingly a long time. I don't remember exactly when I truly felt scared or when I started texting, but i think it wasn't until the aftershock, just because the others said it was the biggest they felt and they were scared also. Having no earthquake training, I had no idea how safe I was or what the best course of action would be. So I prayed. And I started texting people. I never totally lost it, just because I was unsure how serious the situation was. so I didn't want to over-react and panic. Had I more experience with lesser earthquakes, I probably would have been more terrified last Friday. I had no idea what being on the top floor of a 12 story building meant at a time like that. Would the building collapse? I knew being so high, there was nothing I could do to protect myself were that to happen. I did consider at least momentarily my mortality. However, I didn't panic. And I didn't ever really have some cinematic near death experience where my life flashed before my eyes, or accept my impending doom or anything. I just prayed. I asked God to keep me safe. And I said may your will be done. If I am going to die, please make it quick. But that would be a shitty thing to do to my girlfriend, and my family whom I haven't seen in a long time. Once it was over, Yamada san said we were going home. So we walked down 12 flights of stairs into the crowded streets. Most people were kinda just standing around on the sidewalk, unsure what to do. I walked to my bus stop. It ws now about 3pm. traffic was a huge mess, since the traffic lights were all out. I don't think there were many, if any accidents though. I knew the buses wouldnt be on time so I was prepared to wait for a while. Well I waited for while indeed. Most of the busses that came were so full the driver just slowed down enough to say they couldn't take any more passengers. I don't know when I finally got on a bus but I'm gonna put it around 5pm, maybe slightly sooner. It was rediculously full, and in Japan thats saying something. The driver tried to refuse us getting on, but I was getting on that bus dammit. I boarded through the front door; normally you board at the rear. It took some work, but I got on and the door could close. I was basically sitting on the dashboard. The driver told us he wouldn't be making the full route. The final stop would be about halfway to where I live. Whatever, it was closer to home than I was. When I got there I asked a police officer how long it would take to walk home. He told me about 2 hours. I asked him what I should do. I didn't have enough money to take a taxi and the busses were sporadic at best. He said indeed it seemed like walking was the best way, and wished me good luck and to be safe. There was no way I was gonna walk 2 hours home, especially considering I didn't actually know the way, although the cop gave me some general directions. So I waited. And waited. Cell service was attrocious. It took multiple tries to send texts, and I had to manually search and recieve them. I finally got a message from my host dad timestamped almost 30 minutes earlier, saying to wait where I had told him I was stuck and he would pick me up. So I waited some more. Over an hour had passed sinced he sent me the message, so I texted him again, saying I knew trafffic was crazy but if he was near by? Normally it would just be a 10 minute drive, so even with the traffic it was hard to imagine it would take more than an hour. After 90 minutes passed, I started looking around for alternatives, while still keeping an eye on the bus stop where my host dad said to wait. I wanted to call my house but I didn't know the number. Plus I couldn't place any calls on my cell. Luckilly I had some [random phone numbers of Japanese people associated with my work] in my backpack. I found a pay phone and called the first number. It didn't work. I tried another. できた! I asked for my host moms number. My host mom is [in a network with the person I called], so she would know. They said it was miraculous I was able to get a call through, and gave me the number for my house. I called it but it didn't work. so I started again, looking around me. Finally I found an ATM that was working. The post office ones I always use have an english option, this one didn't. Luckilly I had my ipod with an electronic dictionary app (I hate you apple, but that ipod touch is magical). So I was able to get money. I texted my host dad again, saying I was looking for a cab, he didn't need to pick me up, and apologized for the inconvenience. It was really cold outside, and it had been 2 hours since he said he was coming. The traffic had cleared up and I didn't get any other messages from him. Finally I was able to flag an empty cab and headed home. In the cab, I finally got a message timestamped from way before from my host dad saying my host mom was in a white car and would be there soon. I got home, completely exausted. I don't know why but I was surprised the power was out at home. My host dad was very surprised to see me without my host mom. Cell reception was even worse at our house than where I was, explaining the terrible communication breakdown. The mix up got sorted out and we were all there together. I got home around 8:15. It took me over 5 hours to get home, normally just a 30 minute commute, but I was just relieved to be there. Along the way, I had seen a fallen bus stop, some broken windows, and just general cracked ground and random rubble around, but I never would have imagined the distruction caused elsewhere. That about sums it up. The gas went off sometime friday night, The electricity came on sunday evening, and the water went off sometime sunday night. Cell reception has slowly gotten better.
Thank you for your e mail from all over the world!
They made us so happy!!
From Tomodachi(friends) in Natori
See you soon on e mail by W