Saturday, 12 March 2011

The earthquake

This is an article I wrote that was published in the Guardian today.

Tokyo's sober calm

As we watch television coverage of the earthquake and tsunami inundating Japan's coastal towns, there is an eeriness in the air,

The aftershocks in Tokyo and eastern Japan continue into the night.
The quake struck at 2.46pm and seven hours later, there have been more than 70 aftershocks. In Tokyo it started off as barely perceptible movement, escalating to intense shaking that had me trying to push back plates that were falling out of the cupboard in the dining room. At the same time as I was grabbing plates, I watched the sugar bowl in the kitchen crash down from a shelf knocking cups on the bench to the floor. Without doubt it was the most serious shaking in the nine years I have been here.
Emergency mode. Most importantly gas off. In both the Great Kanto earthquake of 1923 and the 1995 Kobe earthquake, fires claimed many more lives than falling buildings. Next, turn on the television and internet to see where the earthquake's epicentre is. Japanese television begins to broadcast earthquake information within seconds. If the shaking is strong but the epicentre near, it may not be a serious earthquake.
But when the shaking is strong and the epicentre far you know the shaking is much worse in other places. This time, the epicentre was off the Sanriku coast in Iwate and Miyagi prefectures, 300km from Tokyo. At Richter 8.8 it's reported to be the largest magnitude earthquake in Japan's history. The settled areas of the picturesque Sanriku coast have low-lying fishing villages with an acute awareness of tsunami. The tsunami flood gates and inundation zone warning signs along the coast are a stark reminder of the 1896 Sanriku tsunami in which more than 20,000 people died.
Television news showed the tsunami inundating the coastal towns. As the cars bobbed around like flotsam, it wasn't clear how many of them contained people or whether the high ground was high enough, or near enough.

The trains are still out of action in Tokyo, but there is a sober calm. Many Tokyoites have opted to spend the night at their workplace. Tonight my husband, along with many of his colleagues, are staying put in their central Tokyo office until tomorrow, by which stage the trains will probably be running again. Some of his co-workers chose to walk home: part of Japan's earthquake damage-minimisation strategy is ensuring people know how to walk home from work in the event of a mass transport failure. Public buildings have been opened in central Tokyo tonight to accommodate people stranded in the city.

There is an eeriness in the air, but a spirit of camaraderie as well. Three of my neighbours have dropped by to check things are OK, whether my husband was able to come home and whether I knew how to reactivate the emergency switch that cuts off the gas supply in a major earthquake. I appreciate it. In Tokyo most people are going to bed shaken and on edge but thankful. But living here there is always a lingering sense that one day, we are going to have a big one too.

Warning signs for the inundation area
Fishing nets along the coastline
Tsunami gates

The earthquake as recorded by the Japan Meteorological Agency.


Nakamuras on Saipan said...

Oh my god I am glad to hear you are ok!!!!! Our coast was evacuated! Minor damage only. We also have not slept all night. Tv on. We do not have Internet now so communication is hard. Typing on my iPod which is hard for me. Just checking in to say I am praying for you. Big hugs and lots of love. I am leaving for Nihon next Sunday .


My husband and I in Southern California are praying for all of you in Japan, for calm hearts and clear minds, for rapid and effective relief efforts and recovery of the infrastructure, for traumatized survivors to get the material help they need as well as reassurance about the safety and location of their loved ones, comfort in loss, hope for the future and a sense of God's love in the middle of the chaos. (I grew up in Japan so my heart is there!)

Bryn said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Bryn said...

Glad you're okay, hope Hiro made it home safely today! That was a good article, nice job! ((((Hugs))))

Cecilia said...

Thanks very much to all of you.

Hiro made it home last night - our trainline started running a bit after 1am and he was home before 2.30 - they were running the subway at very slow speeds. He said it was very crowded & that there was no food left in the convenience stores (no capacity to restock). The roads out of Tokyo were apparently faster travelled on foot rather than by car.
Hiro spoke to one of his aunts in Aomori tonight & her son in Hachinohe is still unaccounted for - there haven't been many deaths reported there despite the inundation and they are hopeful he is fine.
The sanriku kaigan is so beautiful - it's shocking to see the devastation.

Anonymous said...

Good acticle Bous.


TO HELP: Christian Relief, Assistance, Support and Hope (CRASH) is already on the ground in Sendai helping with relief efforts. CRASH equips and prepares churches and missions to be there to help their communities when disasters strike and coordinates Christian volunteers to work with local ministries in the event of a disaster. What they need immediately is money for satellite phones and $3,500 for each of the three or four survey teams that have just left for the area. Satellite phones will be used to keep in touch with teams being sent out and with the base camps being setting up. Site for donations:

Terry Titmus said...

What can I say, so dreadful, so sad, a complete feeling of desolation engulfs me. But this is nothing, less than nothing, compared to the absolute devastation being felt by the people of this proud land. May all who can help rise to assist - my clumsy words fall in the shadow of Jessica's thoughts.

Cecilia said...

Thanks Terry. Thanks Jessica.