Monday, March 14, 2011

Earthquake and Tsunami

To all my friends and family,

Thank you for all you concern. I am alright. I am safe and far enough from the ocean and rivers that there is no danger from tsunami. Please don’t worry too much.

As you know on Friday, March 11, an 8.9 magnitude quake hit of the coast of northern Japan, a bit south of where I live. I was at school (elementary), in the teachers’ room on the bottom floor when the quake struck. It started slow but built up quickly to some very violent shakes. The teachers I was talking with raced up stairs to be with their students. I stayed in the teachers’ room. We unplugged the heaters and held up the bookcases. One of the teachers turned on the TV and the vice principal gave instructions to the students and teachers over the intercom. The building kept shaking violently. A few minutes in the power went out. Children who had started to go home raced back to the school and a teacher went out to tell them to cover their heads and crouch down. The earth was still shaking hard. I could hear the sirens and alarms going off and the students and teachers yelling and crying. The quake lasted for about eight minutes, and yet the building stood. As the quake slowly died, the power didn’t come on. A teacher went out to his car to check the news. He came running in with the news that there was a tsunami warning. We were lucky to be high enough up not to evacuate. The teachers went through the school to give the news, and some teachers came down to listen and bring news to the other teachers.

After that there was a lot of confusion. The earth would continue to shake violently and calm for brief minutes. Some teachers took their cars through the streets looking for children that hadn’t made it home before the quake hit. They reported the lights were out everywhere. The janitor had a portable TV that he brought to the teachers’ room and I watched live as far too soon after the first violent quake a tsunami of unbelievable height and power hit the coasts of Miyagi and Fukushima Prefectures. There was no time for them to get away. The tsunami was predicted to hit Hachinohe in about an hour. Luckily for us there was enough time to evacuate the coast.

Concerned we all tried to reach family and friends. But we could only send mail messages, and not all of those got through. No calls went through at all. And still the quakes continued to come. Parents started to rush to the school to pick up their children; I’m sure some of them had to evacuate their homes. The time for the tsunami to hit passed. I saw a brief glimpse of it on TV, and when a teacher with a classroom on the 3rd floor came down, she said she had seen the wave hit, and that it had engulfed most of the port. The aftershocks continued. Night fell, and with no electricity or heat, it got very cold.

The remaining students came down to the first floor. Their parents struggled to find ways to get over the two large rivers that run through this town to get home from work to pick their children up. Some of the teachers drove the students’ home or to relatives’ houses. And the aftershocks continued. During every aftershock the students bolted under their desks to take shelter. Some of the shocks were big and some were small. But it seemed as if the earth was constantly moving.

Finally the last parent came to pick up her child. The teachers gathered in the teachers’ room. News that the gas stations were closed worried some of the teachers. One in particular wasn’t sure that he had enough gas to get home. Some of the other teachers had families that had evacuated their homes. It was completely dark. We only had candle light and some flashlights. The principal gave a talk about current knowledge regarding the earthquake and tsunami and sent the female teachers home.

One of the female teachers took me home. The lights were out everywhere. We had to go around the long way to go home. Luckily we found a bridge that was open. I couldn’t see the damage in the pitch black. Finally we got home. I walked into the apartment, and checked for damage. I was shocked that my two big bookshelves were still standing, even though many of the books fell out. Only one tea pot in my kitchen fell and broke. One picture frame broke in my living room. The damage was really small comparatively.

I went to my friends’ houses to check on them. They came over for the night. We had no electricity, but the gas and water. And we had enough food left over to eat for a few days. We tried to get news over our phones and the radio. It was very cold so we dressed in the warmest clothes and blankets we had. Aftershocks were still coming and some of them were pretty violent. Even after we fell asleep we woke up in the middle of the night to more earthquakes.

The next day the electricity was still out. We were still having aftershocks and it was very cold. Around noon we ventured out to visit my friends’ apartments and get them more clothes and blankets. We found a local grocery store and managed to get some fruits and vegetables and other food supplies. There were lines everywhere the stores were open. But the lines were all very orderly and there was no fighting. The lines for gas were the most amazing. Cars were lined up in all directions to get gas which was (and still is) rationed to 20 liters per person. The gas attendants hand cranked the gas. We returned home and spent the rest of the day trying to glean information from our phones and the radio and to contact friends and family in Japan and abroad.

The aftershocks continued constantly. It got to the point when the earth seemed that it was always moving. The second night I woke up twice to two big quakes. Finally about 4:15 in the morning the power came back on. We took showers in the morning and called our families abroad on the landlines. The shakes still continued but the tsunami warning and evacuation order had finally been released. (I had never been evacuated.) We turned on the TV to see the images in large form. It was devastating to see our own port destroyed. To see houses torn off their foundation and float along like boats. To see what had once been a lively town completely flattened. And most especially to see the nuclear reactors in such a dangerous state.

We drove up into the mountains to see how the barn and horses were. I was very glad to see that all the horses and people were well. Then we drove down to the port to see the damage. I don’t have words. It was like a war zone. It’s amazing to know with all the damage I saw, we were on the light end of the tsunami. And it is a testament to the Japanese building codes and preparedness that only 3 people died in the whole prefecture. The entire coastline has been devastated. It was only buildings and houses and ships, and can be rebuilt, but it was also people’s entire livelihoods that were destroyed.

Today we went back to work. Schools will be closed until Wednesday at least, and even after that it will be while until the students will go to school for the full day. Graduation was supposed to be this Friday; I don’t know what will happen. Another tsunami warning hit this morning, and we were evacuated. Luckily the tsunami didn’t come and the evacuation was released about an hour later. We are all still scared and in shock. Now we worry mainly about the nuclear reactors. Is it safe? No one seems to know.

But for now I am safe and healthy. It seems that the only things I can do now is watch and pray for those hardest hit in the three prefectures south of us. And I desperately hope that the nuclear plants can somehow be made safe in time.

Love, Alyssa

An approximate map of my location and the damage of the tsunami.

A road in the harbor.

The nearby ocean. The tsunami left debris on the top of the tree.

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