Adventures in (Post) Gradland

Thoughts on life after the PhD

Earthquake Updates

Hi all–as many of you know I’m currently based in Japan, and Tokyo just got rocked by the mother of all earthquakes (in my seven years in Japan, anyway). Very scary, and the aftershocks are still coming as the news broadcasts footage of tsunamis toppling radio towers and sweeping cars off the road just north of here.  But I’m unhurt and there appears to be no structural damage to my building. Aftershocks are not fun, but at least they’re not nearly as strong as the initial quake (in Tokyo apparently a 7.9 on the richter scale, 6 on the Japanese scale).  Will keep this post updated as much as possible.

UPDATE: March 12, 6:30 pm

Power is still on for the time being, I’m hearing that blackouts may start on Sunday. Bad news keeps coming in regarding the nuclear power plant and a potential meltdown, and I keep reminding myself that I’m 170 miles away, which really doesn’t feel far enough at the moment. Rumors and hearsay are common in times like these, and it’s not always easy to know what to believe, but doing my best to just not panic and stay informed via official channels.

Managed to sleep for a good two hours, though I hear there were a few aftershocks–not sure if it’s a good sign or a bad one that I’m sleeping through them. But if they’re small I guess it’s good.

May venture outside soon to check out the local mall / mega-market–have a feeling its shelves are empty (boyfriend went to convenience store for supplies and said he practically had to fight his way to the register). Still, so far disaster relief machine seems to be running smoothly, so if food does run out no one’s going to go hungry, also have plenty of bottled water.

UPDATE: March 12, 1:45 pm

Thank you to everyone for all the well-wishes, skype chats, and emails–it’s keeping me sane.

Regarding the nuclear power plant–scary situation, but it is located about 170 miles from Tokyo, so while my heart goes out to anyone in its immediate vicinity I am pretty much safe. Blackouts are possible over the next few days, though, so if this blog goes un-updated it just means that my computer is dead.

Not much sleep last night, aftershocks hit every few minutes and apparently a few full-fledged quakes also hit in the southwest. Am hoping that Japan hasn’t just decided to give up the ghost and earthquake itself into a watery grave.

Many have posted on Facebook about donation options, I’m sure northwestern Japan needs all the help it can get.

Am going to cook up some lunch now while I still have electricity, take care of yourselves and remember never to take un-shaky ground for granted!

UPDATE: 10: 15 pm

Likely signing off for a few hours soon as exhaustion is really setting in, though I may not sleep much with all the rocking. Bag is packed in case of emergency, though, and have plenty of food and water. Will update again in nine or ten hours.

UPDATE: 9:30 pm

The Ginza and Oedo subway lines are running between all stations, and the Hanzomon Line has resumed partial service.

Could really use some Dramamine at this point what with all the shaking, but am otherwise fine.

UPDATE: 8:20 pm

The gas is back on, which is a relief–though I’m afraid to take a shower for fear of being naked when a big aftershock hits.

Friends are stranded in various parts of Tokyo because trains aren’t running, but everyone seems to have a place to keep warm. Some say that the line for taxis and buses stretches for blocks, and one person reported a huge line of people trying to buy bicycles to get home.

Apparently Tokyo Tower was bent. Not sure about the status of the still-under-construction Tokyo Sky Tree, which is even taller.

Aaaand there’s another aftershock..slightly bigger, but still small enough that I’m not leaving my chair. Hear that, tectonic plates? You ain’t movin’ me unless you go past four.

I’m grateful to Al Jazeera English for providing some of the most up-to-date English language coverage of the quake, but I want to smack those reporters when they say things like “A huge aftershock of at least 7 should hit any moment” as if they were predicting a light drizzle.

The adrenaline is wearing off and I’m getting tired, but then another aftershock will hit (like now, hey, that’s a slightly bigger one, off to the door), and energy will rise again, only to be replaced by more fatigue. I think in Watership Down Richard Adams called it “going tharn,” that state where rabbits have been startled and driven to flight so many times that they just shut down and stare blankly ahead, even if an enemy’s approaching. I’m not going tharn just yet, but something tells me I’m going to need help getting to sleep for a while.

UPDATE: 7:05 pm

Mostly quiet, a few aftershocks but they’re small. Worried that family in Texas will wake up and turn on the news and have a moment of sheer panic before they check their emails, but hopefully it’ll be brief.

Convenience stores are apparently sold out of food, which is no surprise. Luckily I have enough food to last for at least a week. And I have electricity and running water, which is more than some people can say.

Feeling somewhat comforted by the fact that Tokyo has been preparing for exactly this scenario for more than ten years.  I still remember that hilarious NHK broadcast that showed a disaster relief team practicing what they would do if a lion escaped from the zoo after a quake–practicing by having a man dressed in a Wizard of  Oz-style lion costume run down the street until he was shot with a fake tranquilizer.  Hey, they really are prepared for everything.

Cell phone service and trains are still a no-go, but cars appear to be driving around (I’m guessing the taxis are doing a brisk business).

Still waiting for that big aftershock they’re predicting, but prepared and calm.

UPDATE: 6:15 pm

For those not in Tokyo, some notes from the ground.

The quake hit around 2:45 pm. I was sitting at my desk sending some emails and at first thought it was a truck rolling by (my building rattles pretty easily). It became clear that it wasn’t. Still, thought it would be one of those quick ones & didn’t bother to leave my chair. And then it got bigger.

I got under the door frame to wait it out. Just as I was thinking, “Hmm, this one’s bigger than usual” the full thrust of it hit.

The washing machines in the hallway were shaking so bad I was sure they would topple. The noise was deafening–wood creaked, pots clanged, papers fell. My building shook so bad I was sure there was no way it could continue to stand (apparently that’s actually a good thing, because if it didn’t move it would be more likely to fall apart). I held onto the door for dear life but at the same time felt that there was nothing to hold onto, that I was utterly helpless. The urge to run outside was really strong, but I managed to stay rational enough to remember that the danger of falling glass and power lines is much worse than the danger of a collapsing building.

It didn’t stop. It kept going and going to the point where I was actually saying out loud, “please stop, please stop.” I don’t know how long it actually was, but it was a lot longer than any quake I’ve ever experienced.

My stomach lurched so badly that I honestly thought I would vomit, and thought momentarily that in the aftermath of a quake I really didn’t want to have to clean up a mess like that, which might have been what kept me calm. When it finally stopped the first thing I heard was screaming–thankfully just babies next door who were probably scared out of their wits.

Went downstairs and onto the street where things were still shaking. I felt like I was walking on the surface of a ferry rocking in choppy seas. My landlord and some other residents of the apartment next door were on the street laughing, which was a hugely welcome sight.

The aftershocks began almost immediately and have continued for three hours. The ground has never really stopped shaking. It has been the most bizarre experience to walk around, talk to people, send emails, go to the convenience store and get bottles of water just in case–all while the ground is *still moving*.

Watching the news coverage was a different kind of terrifying. I suddenly could imagine what people in any kind of disaster zone must feel, when the horror you’re seeing is right next door instead of halfway across the world. A black river of death, water choked with burning houses and cars and debris slowly consuming coastal farmland like that black ooze in Miyazaki’s Princess Mononoke. And a marching procession of tsunamis moving toward shore, one by one–I finally turned off the TV because I couldn’t bear the feeling of helplessness.

Facebook was Grand Central Station. I learned that I’m very good at multitasking when the need arises, carrying on at least half a dozen conversations at once.  Most people were reporting in to say they were fine.

There is no relaxing, not that I feel like relaxing. The aftershocks hit every ten or fifteen minutes, to the point where I almost don’t stop what I’m doing when they hit. Some are bigger than others, though, and send me back to the doorway. There will probably be no sleeping tonight.

I try to quash the fear that a quake of this strength is almost unprecedented in Japan (they say it’s the strongest in 300 years), and we don’t really know how long the aftershocks will last or if they will get worse. But for now they seem to be diminishing in strength and frequency. It’s almost a dull routine–check facebook, feel shaking, get up and get under the door, have a moment of panic, shaking stops, return to computer, repeat ad nauseum.

In the midst of all this I am grateful to be alive, and when I see my furiends, my boyfriend, and my family again I will hug and kiss them and drink and eat and celebrate like never before.

It’s been quiet for about half an hour now but some news outlets are predicting another quake, maybe a 7. I’ve packed a bag with bottled water, some food, and a towel and blanket. I dread the thought of what another quake will do to already-heavily damaged areas, but hope that whatever hits here won’t be any worse than what hit before.

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6 comments on “Earthquake Updates

  1. Sachika
    March 10, 2011

    Hello, do you know anything about the Ibaraki prefecture, especially near the Joban line? I’m having trouble contacting my relatives right now and would like to know if their area was hit badly. I heard the trains have stopped running! Thanks.

  2. gradland
    March 10, 2011

    Hi Sachika–no details, but given that Ibaraki is far from the coast it should at least be safe from the tsunamis. All phone communication appears to be down. All trains are stopped as well. In greater Tokyo, though, my reports from dozens of friends and colleagues on Facebook say pretty much the same thing–shaken but okay. I would imagine your relatives are fine, just might be dealing with downed power lines or an overload of circuits. Will continue to provide on-the-ground reports–Al Jazeera English (available online) seems to be providing comprehensive coverage, though they’re focusing on the more dramatic (and scary) images. Again, things in Tokyo (and I imagine nearby Ibaraki) are mostly okay.

  3. Jennifer
    March 11, 2011

    Holy shit! I’m glad you’re OK! Please keep the updates coming.

  4. gradland
    March 11, 2011

    Sachika–sorry, obviously Ibaraki is coastal, got confused in all the craziness. Just saw a report that there was a tsunami but it was very small, mostly just a mess of garbage in the streets, doesn’t look like any major injuries or damage.

  5. shao
    March 11, 2011

    don’t forget these things too Lindsay: torchlight, matches/a lighter. And long, deep breaths.

  6. Takumi
    March 12, 2011

    Glad you are ok. This could be a rare experience that most people can’t have. Take care and tell your story to your grandchildren someday.

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This entry was posted on March 10, 2011 by in Japan and tagged , , , .
Anne McKnight

writing•translation•scholarship on Japan (and a few other things)

A Modern Girl / モダンガール

tales of travel, research, and life

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