2011 Tōhoku earthquake and tsunami

Having lived in Japan for almost a year, I had already become accustomed to earthquakes. Yokohama, the city where I work, has been relatively lucky in that earthquake epicenters have been quite far away. Usually by the time the tremors reach my area, only a small wobble can be felt. However on Friday 11th of March, as I was standing in the street (I was sick that day and had just come out of the pharmacy) I knew what I felt was different.

It started out as a small shake, similar to the earthquakes I have grown accustomed to. I decided just to wait till it finishes before I rode my bike back home. But the shaking continued and all of a sudden I felt this violent jolt. That was when everybody around me knew this was no regular earthquake. People scrambled to evacuate from indoors areas out to the streets. I remember a man yelling something in Japanese, and waving his hand signalling people to come out to the streets. I saw so many worried eyes and recall the crying sounds of children. The violent shaking only continued and my eyes were fixated on the 4 storey that to me looked like it was going to collapse. By then the only question on my mind was, what should I do if the building fell over? Thankfully it did not and soon after the shaking stopped. I don’t remember how long the shaking actually lasted for because it sure seemed like an eternity.

I decided to go to work, even though I was sick that day, to get more information (since I don’t know Japanese). I found out later that the earthquake epicenter was just off the coast of the Tohoku area (northern Japan) and it would be the biggest recorded earthquake in the history of Japan. There were tsunami warnings for almost all the coastal areas of Japan (Yokohama included), the phone lines were all busy and electricity was cut off. Everyone was so worried, especially those with friends and family up north, whom they couldn’t contact. We were told to stay indoors and on high grounds. The trains had stopped and people took refuge at the nearest indoor building. For us, we stayed at work. It was not until nightfall when electricity had returned. As we looked on the internet, we discovered the devastation that had just occurred. The video that stuck a poignant image in my head was one that showed an entire city being engulfed by the tsunami. I was really hoping that all those houses were empty. It was not until dawn that we found out that there might be problems at the Fukushima nuclear power plant.

I’m sure everyone is familiar with the Fukushima nuclear power plant by now. There has been a lot of panic outside of Japan on the matter. I’ve been keeping up with the news and have been assured that the radiation levels are at a level that is not dangerous to human health. As a matter of fact, the radiation levels are almost negligible outside of the 20-30 km radius of the Fukushima power plant. A lot of the foreigners at work did leave the country briefly, but it was always due to family pressures. As of today almost everyone is back at work. However as the nuclear power plant has been shut down, there is now not enough electricity being produced and provided to the greater Tokyo area. This has been the major disruption to work, as we are now required to use 30% less electricity. But everyone is doing their part.

Quoting from Japan’s Prime Minister Naoto Kan: “In the 65 years after the end of World War II, this is the toughest and the most difficult crisis for Japan”. So many people have been left homeless, without food and electricity. The temperatures have been almost sub-zero up north. Aftershocks are still going on. It will take an immense effort to rebuild from the world’s most expensive natural disaster. Please make a donation if you can.

–Dave

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