Wednesday, March 16, 2011

Japan Quake Day One

Just a normal Friday afternoon. I was in my school getting ready for the first student at 3:00 when a deep bass rumble started. I could feel it as much as I could hear it. Usually Takahagi has pretty small earthquakes. Not too much to worry about. But for some reason, this one felt different. I headed for my backdoor. A few seconds later the shaking started. It threw me against the door as a roaring sound began. I sprinted down the steps to the street, just wanting to get into the open. The traffic signal in front of my school was swinging like a pendulum as I raced across the street to the bank parking lot. Then the shaking stopped. All the people around asked each other if they were OK. Then the next phase happened. More, and much larger shaking began and continued for what felt like minutes. The facade on the building next to me crumbled to the street. A large limestone block garden wall crashed onto the sidewalk. Roofing tiles cascaded off of the houses all around. The concrete sheathing on an antique warehouse shattered, releasing a huge cloud of dust. Windows up and down the street cracked, or some even exploded in showers of glass. The traffic lights went out. And then it was quiet. Sirens. People crying. Voices raised in wonder that they were still safe. Then leaders arose from the crowd, marshalling people away from broken glass, and out of buildings. Thousands of cell phones came out of pockets as people tried to contact loved ones. But the miracle was, look as I might, there were no injured people in sight! Thank you God!

As I went back into my school to assess the damage, I got off so lucky. Shelves had toppled, plants were strewn on the floor, a window had opened itself- but no breakage! Not as single coffee cup or plate glass window. A strong afershock convinced me that being in the building was not a good option, so I locked the doors, got in my K-truck and headed for home. The route home was littered by fallen bricks and roof tiles. A power line was draped over the road with just enough clearance for my truck. But a hundred meters or so further on, a meter high fault ran across the road. I turned back and chose a different route. This time I made it to the road coming off of our mountain, and saw my wife's car approaching the intersection. I flashed my lights to signal her, and we had an emotional reunion by the side of  the road. We calmed down a bit, and headed back up the mountain toward our house. Boulders, some up to a meter across had fallen here and there across the road. Luckily, most of them had enough momentum to carry them across the road and rest against the guardrail, leaving the road passable. We reached our house and stopped in a field. I ran up to the house to check on some damage, and to remove the woodfire from the house. I stepped inside and flipped the light switch. Of course, nothing happened. I made my way to the living room. Again, all the items from shelves had fallen to the floor. The bricks from behind the woodstove had fallen, and the woodstove, still burning merrily had rotated in place about 30 degrees! I picked out the burning wood with the fire tongs and put them into the metal ash bucket, sealed it, and took it outside. All the while aftershocks continued at a rate of about one every 3-4 minutes. After that, we continued to my daughter's school to see if she was OK. Cell phones were still unusable, but we could listen to the radio broadcast of the disaster and finally got an idea of the scale of  it. We made it to the school- all the children and staff were fine. Then we headed back home carefully.

At home, since it was still light out, I was able to dig the camping goods out of the shed, along with a large box of candles leftover from my wife's business. So we had light. A dinner of ham and cheese sandwiches was eaten by candlelight and aftershocks which continued. The kids, still in shock, decided to sleep on the living room floor in sleeping bags, and I on the sofa. The baby and wife went to the bedroom. It was hard to sleep with quakes continuing all night long, but we finally got some shuteye.

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