Thursday, March 17, 2011

Earthquake, etc.

March 11, about 3:30 pm, I was at the hospital for a regular checkup. I'd just paid my bill and received my chit for meds, which I took to the hospital pharmacy. The meds weren't ready. I started to sit down when the building started to shake. That's nothing unusual in Japan. Happens quite often. But the shaking didn't quit. I walked quickly down the hall and outside on the ground floor smoker's deck. The shaking increased. I had to grab an iron post to stay upright. The steel walkway between the emergency ward and the hospital wards twisted and crackled. The van parked in front of the open space where I stood literally danced. The shaking and dancing went on for a good minute. The hospital didn't fall on my head.

Back at the pharmacy, meds were all over the floor. Took the pharmacists another 15 minutes to put mine together. I was last for the afternoon.

Outside, my car was still in one piece. A broken sewer line was spewing water onto the parking lot at the south end. A line from the big diesel fuel tank was broken, too. Maintenance people rushed to attend to the leaking fuel.

I tried to call my wife, but Japan, for some reason, turns all cell phone carriers off when there's a major earthquake. I've never heard a convincing argument on what that happens. Hoping all was well at home, I started the 10-minute drive.

The hospital is located on reclaimed land, which stretches out into Tokyo Bay about five kilometers from the former shoreline. Lots of liquefaction. Some buildings canted. Water seeping out here and there. But the roads were open and the traffic lights worked. I drove over the overpass and up the hill to high ground. On the way, I pulled over once to wait out a strong aftershock. People were already crowding into 7-Eleven to start buying up supplies.

At home, some books were off shelves, one mirror was broken, but nothing major. It felt good to live on high ground.

I didn't sleep that night. Aftershocks were scary. Coverage of the problems at the nuclear plant was on all TV channels. Videos of tsunami washing away entire towns. People crying out, screaming as their houses were swept away with them inside, having thought going to the second story would keep them out of the water. Tsunami carrying ships of thousands of tons inland for two or three kilometers. Cars floating as if they were boats. Water covering the runways at the Sendai Airport, carrying away baggage tractors, trailers, everything.

Nonstop coverage continued the next day. I caught some Zs in the big chair.

Quake epicenters have switched around. The original one that registered 9.0 on the Richter scale was off northeastern Japan seacoast. The next day a 6.8 quake struck in Niigata. Slightly after that, a 6.0 in Nagano, where Japan's last winter Olympics were held. Yesterday, 6.4 on the southern flank of Mt. Fuji. Tonight, 6.4 off the Pacific coast of Chiba, the prefecture in which I live.

I type while watching NTV. They're chronicling the cleanup, the hunt for relatives, the lack of fuel and supplies in the 190 km strip of the Pacific coast that moved 2.4 meters closer to California because of the big quake.

We don't know what will happen with the nukes. We don't know if another monster quake or even a big quake will hit us again before things settle down. We just don't know.


  1. Thanks for the detailed report, my friend. You made the experience real in a way it hasn't been in the media here. We are all definitely concerned as we watch TV and read the news reports online. Hoping the worst is well behind you... Keep us informed.

  2. Thanks for the "you are there" report, Charlie. Having never experienced a major earthquake I can only imagine the sensations you describe, but after seeing footage of the tsunami and reading reports on the nuclear facility, I know these are dire times for Japan, indeed.

    Stay safe, my friend.


  3. Our thoughts are with you, Charlie. Like I said before if there is anything you need please ask.

  4. We are glad to hear you are weathering the storm of quakes and possible radiation. What a mess and we pray for the survivors. Thanks for the firsthand report.