SOLSC #11 The Great Tohoku Earthquake

Slice of Life

I wrote about this event last year – over two days if I remember correctly – but it’s impossible not to remember on this date.  I haven’t read last year’s slices since last year so sometime it will be interesting to read them together and combine them into a complete account.

It’s  March 11, a day that will always be in my heart and my mind.  It was four years ago today that the Great Tohoku Earthquake and tsunami hit.   It was a day that I was in the office sitting at my desk around 2:45.  My boss came out of his office and was talking to one of my colleagues about the building shaking.  I really didn’t notice until I heard them talking about it.  At that time I had very limited earthquake experience** so I didn’t really look out for that sort of thing.

I realized that the building was, in fact, moving.  The guys were calm and laughing so I didn’t think much of it.  But it continued for about 30 seconds more, quite long for an earthquake, and so the boss suggested that we leave our building.  The quake continued as we walked outside.  We could see the cars moving in their parking spots and the poles and posts shaking.  Up to this point I was pretty calm, but it was quite a lot to take in so I decided to sit on the curb.  It was the first time in my life that I was afraid of the ground.  The “solid” earth did not feel solid.  It felt like waves of liquid moving beneath my bottom.  It shattered any sense of security that I thought I had.  At that moment, it seemed possible that, somehow, this island that I was standing on, that I lived on, was going to be destroyed.  And that I was going to be destroyed with it.  It was a very long earthquake.   Not just seconds or even a minute, and a minute-long earthquake is pretty long.   I didn’t think it was going to stop.  Of course, it did stop.  We looked around.  Everything seemed ok.  So, we marched ourselves back into the building and went back to work.

It was difficult to get back to work though.  We were all distracted and a little nervous.  We weren’t back at our desks for long before we got an aftershock.  It was over 7.0.  It was also long.  We left the building again.

When the ground rested, and we re-entered the building, we went right to the television.  We could only get the Japanese news and we didn’t understand Japanese, but we didn’t need to.  We started to get the first views of the Tsunami.  There were 2 very small clips, but we could see that a wave had come up somewhere along the coast.

Still, it seemed that the earth had settled and things were ok.  It was 4 pm on Friday afternoon and time to go home for the weekend.  I got in my car and headed to the other side of base.  I live on an Air Force base and the flight line runs down the center of the base.  I have to cross the flight line to get from my office to my apartment.  Well, on this Friday as I approached the flight line, the red light came on indicating we couldn’t cross.  This happens frequently.  We get stopped for a couple of minutes while a plane lands or takes off.  It’s part of living on base.  I could see that a plane wasn’t taking off so I waited to see the incoming plane.  And I waited.  And I waited.  And when it finally touched down, it was not a military plane, but a United plane.   We sat there for the next hour and watched 11 commercial airplanes land on base.  I later found out that Narita had been closed and these planes were going to run out of fuel, but as soon as I saw the second plane land, I knew something was really wrong.

By the time I got home the real picture was starting to develop.  I met my friends at the club and we watched the scenes on tv.  The unbelievable, horrifying scenes.  The 9.0 earthquake itself was not as devastating as you might think.  The tsunami, however, caused destruction that I thought and hoped could only happen in movies.  If you haven’t watched a video (there are tons of them on Youtube), here’s the one I watched today: I hadn’t seen this one before. It’s a longer clip so you really get to see the before and after picture.

Anyway, after the 11th there was still the little nuclear incident and the missing people and the empty store shelves and the closed gas stations. Except for the nuclear incident, none of those really affected those of us who live on base. But it affected our friends and colleagues. And it allowed us to see the true nature and spirit of Japanese people who continued to be kind, patient, and giving without looting, stealing, or gouging.

If you like jewelry and would like to support a cause connected to that day, check out the Nozomi Project They use pottery broken in the earthquake and tsunami to create beautiful jewelry.

I haven’t written about that day since the SOLSC last year.  This is a writing piece that I should work on so that I could adequately describe the physical feelings and the emotions, but it’s so emotional that it’s draining and I can’t commit to that mid work week.

**(Btw, my prior limited earthquake experience happened on August 17, 1999.  I had just moved to Turkey to teach and was in the middle of a week of orientation in Istanbul when a 7.6 earthquake hit, killing 17,000 people.  I guess that would be a good August slice.)


3 thoughts on “SOLSC #11 The Great Tohoku Earthquake

  1. titang0415

    Reading your post reminded me of how horrific that whole series of events was, and how impressed I was with the response of the Japanese people.
    Your post certainly helped put into perspective the mess I have to clean up this morning because of chimney repairs. It really is a good thing to be humbled sometimes, and have things brought back into focus. Thanks for that, and for your story of that day.

  2. shaggerspicchu

    Oh my goodness, thank you for sharing your experience with us. What a difficult thing to write about. Watching the videos when it was happening was scary enough, living through it, terrifying.


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