Friday, March 11, 2011

That was genuinely scary

I never want to have to live through something like that again.  Here in Yokohama, we are very far from the worst hit areas up in Miyagi prefecture and Sendai and in no danger from tsunamis, but it was bad enough.

We were outside at the time, at a fruit and veggie shop, when the lights went out.  At first nobody could figure out what was happening.  The fruit seemed to be trembling.  Then somebody said 'jishin'.  Then came the shaking, which just went on and on, getting worse and worse.  Outside, telephone lines were snaking and waving above the street like an octopus's tentacles.  It was hard to stay on two feet, and we leaned against walls and a fence.  Bottles fell from shelves and produce from baskets.  I thought we could just wait it out, but it went on and on.  I was genuinely scared.  I huddled with my wife and child.  People around us were looking at each other, faces white and shocked.

Finally it stopped.  We were not far from home, so we checked to see if our apartment was still there.  My wife didn't feel safe inside, so we wandered up to the main street.  Others were doing the same.  Everybody was trying to use their mobile, but there was no reception.  Some people were running, I guess to get back home to loved ones.  I could understand how they felt, was very glad I was with my family.  In the main street some shops had broken windows.  In one, a water pipe had burst, flooding the street outside. 

At the train station people stood aimlessly, unable to get home.  They milled slowly outside the ticket gate in semi-darkness, silent and grave.  The convenience store was still open, with huge lines.  I felt for these people.  If the trains didn't come back on line, they faced a night in the cold and the uncertainty.  Outside the train station there were huge queues for the buses.  News updates poured out from a radio in a van at the kerb.  Led by their teacher, a line of schoolchildren snaked by with foam helmets on their heads.

We walked some more.  There was a terrible aftershock and we sat down on the ground, watching a wooden house across the street waver and shake, wondering if it would go down.  Further on, on a train line, I saw train staff helping to evacuate people from a train left stranded between two stations.  It had grown colder and it was even snowing slightly.  I walked past the shopping centre and saw the cracks in the foundations and pavement.  Outside the centre for aged health near our home, patients had been evacuated into the street and sat there or lay there on their beds.

Overall I feel better about Japan tonight.  The coldness between people has softened a bit.  And I don't doubt that tens of thousands of people are working right now to the best of their ability to rescue people, get things working again, fix the power and the gas and the trains, organize shelter for those stranded, and keep the public informed by megaphone, television, radio, and the internet.

There are still aftershocks now but it has got to the point where they are hard to recognize, because my stomach and body feels like they are moving all the time.  I feel slightly nauseous to think of it.

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