Saturday, March 12, 2011

thus spoke the earth

It started out as a fairly usual day, as the majority of days do. I woke up, showered, grabbed a bite to eat and rushed out the door to work. At work I exchanged the same typical banter with my coworkers and went to class. In my class there was a grumpy student, and I remember thinking about how I could try to change that. When suddenly the earth started to roll, like the deck of a boat. I have been in a lot of earthquakes in Japan, but this one felt different. I stood up, and said maybe we should do something. Some of the students looked scared. A very pessimistic coworker across the way laughed and said "It's only an earthquake." But the rolling continued, the walls began to undulate, and the pessimistic coworker kind of nodded and said maybe "Yeah, maybe we should get out." So we stood the students up and with the help of the staff up at the front desk, we evacuated with the neighborhood to a small park near the buildings.

There we were huddled in the park, shaking, most of us without coats. The fitness gym people only in towels, a small group of nurses behind them, and a group of apparent hostesses from a club behind them, a quite random group of strangers standing around in the park nervous. We didn't know if we could go back into the building, and there were already several strong aftershocks. Some of my students from the class I had been teaching had their books with them, so I sat on the steps of the park and taught half of the lesson in the open air. We decided to go back to the school, and tried to teach more but the aftershocks scared everyone. And the news of the tsunami wave warnings and what not began to filter in. The students found ways to get home to check on loved ones but the teachers and staff hung around the branch not sure if they could go. Some of the teachers decided to just go, since there was no point in staying in an empty school. But at that point we found out that the trains had been stopped all over Japan. One of my coworkers had TV in her electronic dictionary (what an age we live in!), and we started to see the destruction. A walk home would have taken me 6 hours or so, it wasn't an option. We got word that the company would pay for a taxi ride if we took one, so I went out and tried to find a taxi. The line for a taxi was hideously long, wrapped fully around the building and only slowly moving. The night was bitter cold. I decided to make my way back to my school where it was warm at least. I stretched out some chairs and tried to sleep. A few other coworkers did the same. In the morning, I got up early and tried to take the first moving train. I waited on the platform with a clog of other people, the golden rays of the sun seeming to offer symbolic hope.

The group of people (in the above picture the sun highlights the man's newspaper, and a headline that reads "What will happen to the water and electricity?") waited silently for quite awhile until a local train inched slowly into the station and dragged us in our direction at a snail's pace. I thought the platform at my first station was crowded, but when I got into downtown Tokyo it was mayhem. There was wall to wall people trying to get on trains. It was like a fireworks festival or new years in times square, but without the laughter, smiles and happiness. I got home finally, at about 10:30AM... a few hours short of 24 hours after the earthquake.

As I am sure you know from the news, this was an insane 8.9 magnitude earthquake that resulted in tsunamis and sadly loss of life. I suppose it should be said here that many of the buildings in Japan are designed so well to withstand earthquakes that this greatly helped to reduce casualties. The biggest destruction seemed to be from the aftermath; tsunami and fire. It is quite surreal watching such wild destruction live in places only hours from you, and I suppose my little experience of it was nothing compared to what others felt firsthand. (The above collection of pictures are from net streamed TV coverage I was watching live.) There have been many aftershocks, just had two while writing this. I am nervous but still very much alive. Life is a fragile thing.
All original content CC 2002-2012 BY NC SA - first design from dilarangmelarang altered by neonvirus and thunderbunny.