Tuesday, March 22, 2011

Part 1. The quake and the reunion

I am about to share what we have been experiencing here with the earthquake and hoping that you can get something out of it and learn what to prepare for you and your loved ones as well. 
This will be a long post from me and I decided to write it in several chapters.
My apologies to those of you who are expecting food and cooking-related posts from me (believe me, I crazily missed them too!), but at the moment our life here is all about the disaster survival and I hope you can understand.
So, here our story begins.

Part 1. The quake and the reunion
It was Friday afternoon, 14:46 to be exact, when the deadly earthquake with magnitude 9.0 from the Pacific ocean hit the offshore of Northeast Japan (Tohoku area). That included where we live, Sendai, the capital city of Miyagi prefecture. Other  than Miyagi, prefectures in Tohoku area that are severely affected are: Aomori, Iwate, and Fukushima, where the devastating tsunami coming 30 minutes later destroyed the coastal areas in these  4 prefectures.  Sendai, however, locates a bit away from the sea out of the tsunami struck.
That time I was doing my part-time job in a laboratory in our campus. My husband was at his campus waiting for his turn to do his final presentation for his graduation. I was working with the computer when I felt the room slowly started shaking. My boss was in the room too and I warned him that an earthquake was coming. We immediately crouched under our tables and the quake grew stronger and stronger. My hands tightly clenched the table legs as it felt like the shaking ground could just throw me out  in any seconds while the windows were rattling hard and things falling over everywhere. The shaking was pretty frightening, but the rattling sounds from everywhere made it worse.
The biggest quake itself in fact went only like 1 minute (still no idea for how long exactly), but it surely felt like endless. Living here for 6 years, I`ve experienced so many quakes but I knew this time was the biggest one.  Everyone thought so too.
While the ground under me wildly shaking, the fear and my husband`s face were naturally what firstly rushed into my head. But I repeatedly told myself to stay calm and think what I should do while fervently hoping the building wouldn`t collapse and the door`s locks wouldn`t get stuck. Still shaking and clenching the table legs, I tried to remember what things I should get when I could get out from the room. My jacket and bag with my wallet and passport inside were still in my laboratory in different building. Then I remembered my emergency bag in our apartment. Then, again my husband`s face flashed back and I told myself he should have been fine at his own campus with other people there. I also remembered that we made a promise way before that day: 
If something happens when we are at different places, we will meet at an evacuation site near our house. 

So these things were somehow orderly planned in my head during the quake:
1. Get out of here when the quake stopped
2. Get all my important things (if it`s possible to enter the building)
3. Get my emergency bag in our apartment (if it`s still there)
4. Wait for him at the evacuation site

Then, finally the quake stopped. My boss and I waited for several seconds, got out from the tables before finally made our exit from the building. The doors were fortunately fine.  We ran to a wide open space inside the campus where many people already gathered there. The buildings were still standing and looking fine. No major damages were seen that day. I continuously tried to call my husband and sent messages, although I was perfectly aware that phone connections are always crazily busy every time a quake happens. It was clear that I couldn`t reach him and I was sure neither could him. And the quakes kept coming, although not as big as the first one. We stood there still feeling shocked and cold without jacket, coat, or anything for an hour or so. Then finally the university instructed us to enter the building and to clean up the broken glasses in our laboratories. It was almost dark inside the building because the electricity was cut off right after the quake. Broken glasswares were scattered everywhere. The shelves with chemical bottles and books fell over the floor. We quickly cleaned up things and collected our things. Then the snow started falling. Very hard. It was around 16:30 when I and one of my labmate whose house is near mine decided to go home. We were just steps away from our building until I saw my miracle. It was snowing hard but I could see clearly my husband wearing his bright yellow jacket with a safety helmet walked toward me with his right hand holding another helmet. Then we rushed toward each other and shyly hugged because my labmate was with us. He said, after the university instructed everyone to leave the campus, he rushed with his motorcycle back home and to the evacuation site to see if I was already there. Since he didn`t find me there, he decided to pick me up at my lab.

That`s how we reunited about 2 hours after the quake. Two hours are indeed nothing compared with those who still couldn`t find their loved ones until now, but that two hours are enough for me to realize more and more how he has always been my other half and to treasure every seconds in our life together. 

My message to you:
1. When quake happens, stay under a table that seems strong enough. But any table will just do when you don`t have anything else better to protect you. Stay there until the quake stopped. 
2. Try your best to stay calm (this is very difficult, but please try and try) and make sure you can get out of the table when you need to escape later. Things may fall over near where you are and block your way out. Make sure this doesn`t happen but  be careful not to injure yourself.
3. Especially if you live with family, make an evacuation plan and make sure the whole family members know where to meet. Phone connection will be difficult so don`t rely on that. 
4. Prepare emergency bag for each of family member. 
(I will discuss about this emergency bag more detail in the coming post)


  1. thanks for sharing the story. that was the first thing that came up to my mind: you two must have been in different places and i imagined the chaos that might have prevented you from seeing him right away...

  2. Yes we can understand that now it is a disaster recovery period. Thank you for sharing your experience with us. I, myself and I know a lot of people out there also feel very sad to hear the earthquake. I've a friend working in Chiba and he had posted a photo of how the office looks like after the earthquake. I truly feel the trauma that he and you experienced. Glad to hear you and your hubby are both fine. God bless! Please take care

  3. Iis: we were very lucky that we were at least in the same city (he was at katahira, thus faster to go to my lab/our house).
    Fennie: thanks for the prayers. I saw on the TV how Chiba too suffered from the tsunami. but I hope Chiba can recover faster and people in the evacuation sites there could get enough warmth and food because it locates near Tokyo.

  4. Arudhi
    I am so glad that you and your husband are safe. It must have been so hard for you to see all the distruction around you. Thanks for the tips on evacuation plan. I personally never experienced earthquake or tsunami but it is worth to be prepared for any types of natural disaster. Any thing can happen these days. Hope you can soon come back to your cooking world.

  5. Thanks for sharing the story! I was wondering where have you been and I realized that you're in Japan! (please excuse my forgetfulness) Glad to know that you guys are safe. Stay safe and God bless!

  6. All these days since the earthquake hit Japan, we are watching the tragedy of the people there. I live in Greece which is located in a very sismogenic area. I can totally understand you as I have lived several earthquakes not of this magnitude but strong ones nontheless. All this that happened where you live made me realize once again how fragile we are and all our creations. We think that we have control over nature, but we are so, so wrong. I feel terribly sorry about the people who lost their families and for those who were left without anything. I also feel sorry for the workers in the nuclear industries who definitely will suffer the consequences of this in the later years and finally for all of us who instead of trying to live close to nature we try to subdue her with a very heavy cost. Take care may God be with you and your loved ones!

  7. You are such a good writer, thanks so much for sharing your experiences with us. I can't imagine what you are going through. I am so impressed that you are so well prepared. Here in Florida we are the last place when it comes to states that have earthquakes. So I don't know what it is like to go through a earthquake, just hurricanes. I work at a school near our house that is used for an evacuation site. At least with hurricanes we get some advance notice of their arrival. Each year we have a hurricane kit that we have ready, like canned foods, water, flashlights, batteries, genterators and such.

    Good to hear that you found each other and and are safe. My prayers are with everyone who has not. Wishing you the strenght to get through this. Prayer for all of Japan.