Sunday, March 13, 2011

Japan's Earthquake upgraded to 9.0!!

It has been a while since I have written. So now is the best time to let you know what happening. All my thoughts go out to families and friend of people from Sendai and around Japan. I hope those who are lost will be found.

As the day as gone on I have found myself to slowly slip back in my world as it was before March 11, 2011. I am back in my house sitting alone watching television and thinking about my life and how it has changed. I remember the times when I would watch world news specials on television separated by oceans and landmasses imagining what is it like to be where those people are and to feel what is happening. That imagination is no longer there. Though I am not in any physical danger now, I do feel the need to be concerned for my safety. I don’t know what is happening. All I know is yesterday was the scariest thing I have dealt with as an adult. I have seen things and been through many tough times throughout my life. However, feeling so completely out of control yesterday was horrifying.

I was sitting alone in my classroom preparing to upload photos for my class blog. Thinking about the week and how amazing it was. Monday started out with an absolute brilliant snowfall that would make any child dream of being out of school and at home playing. Yet, we were at school and we were playing. It was the beginning of what I though was going to be a great week. As the week went on and the days became warmer and then cooler again the feel of spring was in the air. Birds were singing, flowers were beginning to bloom and the weather was seemingly letting go of its grasp on winter. New life was beginning and things were changing for this year and it felt good. Little did I know that in seconds my life and many others were about to change forever in a few seconds?

It started with a little movement in my body. Something inside said to stop what you are doing and focus. So I did just that. I tilted my head back and gazed toward the ceiling and windows and noticed the red Chinese New Year's lanterns the children made were gently swaying from side to side. I stood up from my chair and looked out the window to see people moving quickly across the bridge over the street that connects Mori Complex with Robot Park. Robot Park is an area where out children play during outside playtime during school hours and is frequented by local children daily. As I see parents begin to move more quickly and the jog turns into a run. I realize it is my turn to run. Not out but next door to the room where 10 children are practicing their weekly gymnastics. I rush to the room and see them sitting by the windows getting their shoes. I express deeply and calmly how important it is to listen to my voice at this time and follow me now. “Boys and girls leave your things and come with me now. Stay away from the windows.” By this time we are in a full on earthquake. Nothing like this has ever happened to me. I am having a hard time standing straight. I briefly hesitate and think about leaving the building but realize it is not stopping. It is rolling on and on. It is no at least a 40 seconds into the earthquake and it is not getting weaker. We can’t leave we need to stay inside and take cover.

The safety doors that block the stairwells slam shut with another big jolt. The shutters fall and cracked down tight. The children look to me and see that this is not a game. There is no fear in their eyes, just surprise. I remain calm and I immediately get them into my room and get them under the table with the assistance of the gymnastic team and Judy, the Director or the ELC. It is now past a minute of adrenaline. We get under the table and it is still rolling on and on. A minute has passed and it is getting stronger. Judy and I made contact with a look that said, “what is happening?” The walls were swaying creaking, the ceiling tiles were cracking, the blocks were falling from the shelves and my heart was racing like never before. But, staying calm and making sure the kids were safe was my main concern. As I look back I realize I had not climbed under the table at all. One there was no room and two I was too busy watching the children and keeping them safe. When the time came to leave we filed down the stairs to the playground. The young men who were in charge of the gymnastics went back to gather the coats, shoes and bags for the children. We reassembled and left the area to wait for parents. As we left I could hear phones ringing as parents were calling to find out about their children.

We waited for parents with the children in front of the building. As parents walked up we could see the fear in their eyes and the struggle to remain calm. The kids were not fazed by the incident. One child even said, “That was fun, let’s do it again.” When you are four your really can not grasp the idea of an earthquake. But they were such good listeners. While waiting for parents I could not holding the kids close to me. I felt I needed to have the close at all times. It was very hard for me to show the strength I displayed to in front of the kids. It was terrifying. But, it wasn’t over.

We began to walk to the evacuation meeting ground with only two children left. As were walked up the stair I began to have that feeling in my stomach again. We were moving. I looked up to see the three buildings of Mori Complex begin to move from side to side; the two residential buildings are 30+ floors and Mori Tower, which are 57 floors. What will happen if they fall? Where will I take these boys? What do I do? These are the thoughts that flipped through my head. What I did was just stop and cover their heads. As I looked up I just watched these massive towers move like they were reeds blowing in the wind. Never have I seen anything like that before. When it finally stopped we moved on and the boys were reunited with their parents.

My job was done. Now what? Can I get my coat? Can we go back in? Do we stay here? Why are we under power lines? Do I need water? Where was the epicenter? How big was that? Is there any damage? Are you ok? Am I ok? Are the trains running? How will I get home? Do you want a drink? Is AJ ok? How about Robert, Miya and Lilu? Why are the phones not working? What do we do now? I wonder if Skype works? Should I wake up my family?

My mind was everywhere. I was on alert mode looking around and preparing for anything. I knew I had to get back inside to get my things and prepare for the next step. Call friends in Tokyo using Skype and call my Mom, Dad and brothers to let them know I was fine before I began my 10km walk home.

The walk home

I had walked home from Roppongi, which is where my school is located. It is not far from, just 10km. It is an easy walk and I have done it a 1000 times on my bike and on foot. I knew my way home but as I was walking I could see there were hundreds and thousands of people who had no idea where there were going. I saw rows and rows of black suits walking towards me with solemn faces some stopping to look around and others trying to use their mobile phones with no luck of connection. I am sure they were all thinking the same thoughts I had. What’s next? The weather predicted for the day was to be warmer so I didn’t bring gloves or a scarf. Yet, that was not the case. It was cold and I needed gloves. I stopped in to get some at a Family Mart, which is a convenience store that sells everything, and there was no food left or water. I found gloves but no food. The people here were not panicking at all but just being prepared. All the people on the street most likely were going to have to walk for hours to get home. I talked with some friends later and they said it took them 9 hours to walk home.

As I was walking I could see that many were lost. I offered my assistance to a couple of German girls who were trying to head North to Toda-Koen. They were heading the wrong way and would for sure been lost but I got them on track. Also, I noticed that many people were carrying yellow bags with them. I am guessing they were earthquake safety bag issued from companies. I saw one man sitting with the item out on the ground. Inside the bag were bottles of water, some snack, towels, gloves, a helmet and a book that looked like a map of Tokyo. As I walked closer I could see the he was trying to find his way through the streets of Japan on the map.

The Japanese are so prepared for this emergency. I really am impressed. On Friday, the mobile phone system was down so the Japanese Telephone Company made all the public phones free of charge. The cues were so long and people were patiently waiting and limiting their calls to only a couple minutes. I found out later that many of the beverage companies made the vending machines free as well for people to get water and other drinks. I, of course, found this out later and did not benefit from the free drinks but I was fine and had plenty of water. But, it just proves to me how well prepared the country is. People located in many places to keep the flow of pedestrians moving. Police regulating the traffic and keep order. Yet, still no panic. Unbelievable!!!

I think about the US and other countries and I wonder if anything like that is set in place. Do they?

I made it home and all was fine at my place little damage to tile work I the kitchen but nothing really. As the night approached my good friend AJ visited me. He came by to check on me and ultimately ended up staying in the extra room because the trains were still down and he could not get home. We talked about the news on television and he filled me in on some information that I just could not understand in Japanese. 4 million homes in Machida city, Tokyo were reported to be out of electricity. One thing he really helped me with was getting the gas turned back on. I went to heat up water for some tea but no gas. The building was completely shut off. When he arrived he said, “Oh, let me show you. You see there is a mercury switch that automatically shuts off the gas to your home to prevent fires. Press he for 3 seconds and it is back on.” WOW! Now that is efficiency. I had never thought of that, mercury to shut off the gas. Brilliant!

Many aftershocks rolled through the night. It seemed like there was one every 10 or 15 minutes and they kept me up until 2am. Then another one woke me up at 4am. It was a 6.6 hit Nagano. It was a bad one. Everyone was in bed. The city is leveled in some places. It is so sad. Below is a video of how it looked before and after.
The aftershocks just wouldn’t stop. They kept coming and come. They are not bad at all just make you stop and think “here comes another one”.
I got about 4 hrs of sleep and calls kept coming in. I am glad many of you called. It helped to calm me down and feel better. Thanks

6:00pm Saturday, March 13, 2011
The phone just rang and I had to stop writing. It was my good friend AJ telling me that he had to bike home to Yokohama. Then he proceeded to tell me that the nuclear plant just exploded and the walls are gone at 4pm. A 20 Km evacuation zone has been set up. Man, I was just getting comfortable again and calming down. I am scared once again. There is so much uncertainty right now. I cant understand the television announcers because my Japanese terrible. But, AJ told me that they are planning to start shutting down the electricity to Tokyo to try and reserve power. The nuclear plant that exploded was the major supplier to this area. He said to take a shower now if you want to be clean. I just did. As well as put on layers to prepare for the cold tonight and get batteries for the phone charger and flashlights. I have battery-powered lights around the house to use because candles CAN'T be used in a time like this. SO we will see what is next. Right now all is well and I am safe. No radiation here and no damage in Tokyo. They talk more of blackouts but so far not yet. I will keep you informed.

All my best,

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