At a little before 3:00 on March 11th, 2011, our house started shaking. It started small, with the windows rattling. You can sometimes feel the house shift in the strong winds the prefecture is famous for, so I didn’t think anything of this until about 20 seconds after the rattling started, when I felt the house start to shift. Unsure, I left the computer to head to the closet room to open the window and look out. Kenji came up from the second floor, and we agreed it was an earthquake, then watched phone lines and power lines rattle and shake for a good 30 more seconds before the first crashes were heard.
The house at that point started shaking more violently, and we could hear crashes coming from different rooms in the house as things started to fall, and at that point we both quickly ran down two flights of stairs and out of the house onto the street. I didn’t even bother putting shoes on, just ran out in socks. Neighbors all around were coming out of their houses too. The shaking continued for a good minute after that, as we all gathered in the middle of the street, away from the houses. We stayed outside for another minute or two after the shaking had stopped, just confirming that neighbors were alright and accounted for. All agreed: it was the biggest earthquake they had ever been through. This would be confirmed correct just hours later.
We made our way back inside to asses the damage. Dishes had fallen over and off racks, knick knacks were strewn about, and furniture was moved away from walls. We had to go around and close several doors and windows, as the shaking had caused them to open. My room was the messiest, with nothing broken luckily. My CD shelf and book shelf, normally pressed against the wall, had a good 7 inch opening. The quake had pushed them away from the walls. We cleaned up a bit and separated to call our families over skype, then headed down to watch the news.
Over the several hours, we evacuated the house twice more due to large aftershocks/earthquakes, and sat through at least 30-40 more between them. Meanwhile, we watched the news with growing horror, as we saw buildings crack and collapse in Tokyo, an oil refinery in Chiba burst into flames, and by far the worst tsunami to ever hit Japan devastate Sendai 6 miles inland. We were on the internet almost from the beginning, checking in with friends and connecting with people. The phones were useless, the lines clogged as people desperately tried to contact loved ones all around the country. Trains and subways were shutdown, airports closed, and people trapped in Tokyo. Some people walked 7 or 8 hours home, others didn’t even bother and just holed up in shelters. In Gunma, one confirmed death due to falling, and power outages. In the north, over 700 people are confirmed dead, with several hundred more still missing.
03/11 was the largest earthquake to ever hit Japan in recorded history, a full 7 on the JMA scale, and an 8.9 on the Richter. It is one of the 7 most powerful earthquakes ever recorded in the world, and certainly the worst near a popular area. Japan is an earthquake-prepared country, but no one could have prepared for this.
Here is a video posted on CNN.com from a teacher in my prefecture. This is about the same as what I felt in our house. It turned out we were about a 5 or 6 on scale. The picture on top is what the earthquake looked like in terms of the JMA scale for the various prefectures. The full page site is here. If you press “Next Information” quickly, you can see the sheer number of quakes that followed “the big one”. Hitting “Latest Information” will show you the most recent ones, and believe me, they are still coming!
Here are my few pictures of yesterday. I will grab a few more from Kenji’s camera, although we both didn’t get many:
The mess in my room after the first one hit… luckily nothing broken!
The aftershocks continued well into the night. At around 4am, we were woken up by another large earthquake, this time on the fault line in Niigata, followed closely by another in Nagano 30 minutes later. It was a rather sleepless night.
The morning brought news, the biggest the possible impending meltdowns of two nuclear plants in Fukushima. In the afternoon, we finally heard from a friend of ours. He and his family, plus visiting parents, had gone to Yokohama for the weekend, and were stuck. They had managed to get a train out to Ota, Gunma and needed help getting home, so Kenji and I, plus Brandt and Mizuki, became the “Rescue Squad” and drove out to pick them up, about an hour or so each direction.
We went to dinner at my favorite Indian food restaurant and enjoyed ourselves. As soon as we got home, we felt the shocks again! Well, I guess the lull was too good to last. Some pictures from that:
We all had fun making ridiculous faces
Altogether, although Scott and his family’s massive waiting time and problems getting home is bad, I think Mizuki’s story is scariest of us all… she works on the 9th floor of a building, and as she was evacuating cracks started to form in the stairwell. She says she doesn’t want to go to work on Monday, and I don’t blame her!
One thing, there are enormous lines at all the gas stations, and they are rationing gas in event of a shortage. Hopefully that particular threat doesn’t materialize!
I will keep updating if significant things happen, but I also want to link to some of the relief efforts being organized. If you are able to donate to any of them, even a small amount, it is very necessary and be very much appreciated! This is a good article to read, which links to the Red Cross and Salvation Army’s sites, and also warns against phishing and scams.
Or if you want something to take home, you can buy a Pray for Japan wristband thingy from Lady Gaga’s site, proceeds of which go to Japan. And you can donate more money with purchase of the bracelet even! I actually kinda want one!
Anyway, again, any bit of help, be it monetary or good wishes and prayers, will help. Thank you everyone who has helped so far, and again, I will keep updating about the situation!
(BTW if you are wondering where exactly I am, here is the wiki article on my prefecture. It is the one shaped like a bird in flight. Look at the shape, then you can find it on the map and see which of the quakes and shocks affect the area. We are landlocked and surrounded by mountains, so are generally safe! Granted one of the mountains is an active volcano, but it hasn’t shown anything much in about 2 years, so no worries for that lol)
Love to all!