Sunday, March 13, 2011

Whole lotta shakin' going on

At shortly before 3 pm last Friday, yes - March 11th, my birthday, a fault line off the coast of Northern Japan shifted causing an 9.0 magnitude earthquake (jishin). Shortly afterward, as the epicenter was in the Pacific, a tidal wave (tsunami) hit the coast. Three hundred miles away, the quake was felt by Allan and me. He was in his office and I was at the base library on the first floor of a 4 story building.

Quakes are common enough in Japan that I went about my business for a while. Once it reached the 30 second mark, I thought I might go outside and wait it out. I was joined by a crowd of others. During the 7-8 minutes that the tremor lasted, most of us agreed this was the largest tremor we had experienced. Some of those people have been in Japan for more than 20 years.

Back in the library, about 25 minutes after the first tremor, we felt what I hoped was an aftershock (yoshin), and not a separate quake. Outside again, one of the men from the building told us there had been a tsunami, but we did not anticipate the depth of destruction that was taking place while we stood on the sidewalk. The wave was over 20 feet high in some areas and came ashore for 2-3 kilometers.

There was a short third tremor shortly after the second subsided. About 40-60 minutes had passed. By 4 pm, things were being shut down around the base, especially along the perimeter by Tokyo Bay. Allan and I had plans for a birthday dinner, but we could easily postpone that. Since the trains and buses had been shut down for the night, we offered to take a friend home. He lives in Yokohama and depends on the train, as do thousands of others

Since a local elevated highway was closed as well, there was gridlock on local roads and hundreds of people filling the sidewalks. Three hours later, we arrived home, our friend decided to walk rather than have us continue to Yokohama, as it would take around the same time either way.

Luckily, we had electricity when we arrived home and there was no damage.
We have been watching CNNj (j for Japan). But there is no local tv news in English, so we were unable to find out how Yokosuka would be affected. The following day, we cancelled plans to go to Kamakura, which is a cute town close by with shops, restaurants and beautiful cherry blossom trees. Winter is ending, and we were anxious to get out, but that can wait. We didn't know what was happening with the trains.

Knowing that family and friends would be waking up soon, we tried to send an email that night, but were unable to phone or get a message out. I woke up early on Saturday and put together a short message.

Train service has not been fully restored, and shops and restaurants are limiting hours or staying closed. Several of my students cancelled classes, since there is a shortage of gas, and very long lines at the stations. Today, a schedule of blackouts was made public. We are scheduled to be without power twice today for a total of about 5 hours. It is necessary, since five nuclear reactors have been shut down.

A plant in Fukushima had a partial meltdown Saturday and a 2nd today, but emergency measures have been taken since the beginning. One hundred, seventy thousand people were evacuated within a 15 mile radius of the plant. If I were in the area where something like this is happening, I would want the Japanese handling it. They are by nature very cautious, not likely to cut corners where safety is concerned.

Allan and I are well and safe. The Navy has deployed (moved) several of the ships located at Yokosuka to the affected area. Japan will recover. Volunteers from 45 countries are helping with the effort.

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