As you might already heard by now or seen in television, a massive earthquake measuring at an intensity of 8.9 on the Richter scale hit the northeastern part of Japan (red circle on the map below) triggering a 10 meter high tsunami that literally swept the coastal towns.
It was unbelievable to see the devastation on TV. It felt like watching an ‘end of the world’ themed movie. I wish it was fiction but it was real and it was raw. I could not imagine the effect of the quake and the waves to the people living in the affected town. It is hard to imagine. I immediately thought of family and friends back home and called them.
All the phone lines are dead.
M’s family, my in-laws are living on the other side of the country, in Niigata Prefecture (in pink arrow) so they are safe. My brother, however, was on the Pacific side (in blue arrow) – he was in his office in Yokohama when the quake struck at 2:46 pm Friday, March 11, 2011. I learned later once I got in contact with him was that although he was about 300 kilometers away, south of the epicenter, the buildings shook and panic enveloped the city. All train operations stopped so everyone was forced to take shelter and wait out. He couldn’t call his wife or check on his baby at home. All the phones were dead.
People started going out on foot, hoping to get home but most of the city workers live in the suburbs and a 4 hour walk wouldn’t be enough! My brother finally got on the train at dawn when the public transport system resumed.
I’ve lived in Japan for more than 10 years and pretty used to quakes occurring every now and then. I remember the first earthquake I felt in 1996, just weeks after I got there. It was 4 am and the dormitory shook. It was as if I was sleeping in a hammock and being rocked to sleep – only, it wasn’t a hammock but a sturdy bed, shaking. I ran outside only to find out I was ALONE. No one bothered to go out as the quake stopped in only after a few seconds. I asked around when morning came and everybody just shrugged their shoulders.
Everyone is so used to quakes that they sleep through it!
Since then, I’ve become used to it that mild quakes don’t scare me anymore. And they do come very frequently in seismically active Japan.
But this recent earthquake is different. The magnitude is so great that it’s impossible to ignore it. And I am glad people chose to act – evacuate and seek shelter or the death toll could’ve been worse.
Lastly, there’s no country in the world like Japan that could be more prepared in natural calamities like this. I know they will be bouncing back like how the city of Kobe did. But the emotional scars of people who lost their loved ones and friends will take a longer time to heal.