And it coincides with my last day teaching in Japan. … Well, it will definitely be a day I will never forget.
Thankfully, I live at least 150 miles south of the epicenter and there were no worries about the tsunami reaching this far inland.
We didn’t escape completely unscathed, however.
After a really hard final day at Oya Higashi Elementary I was not looking forward to this final Friday at Samukawa. (I hate goodbyes!) I went to bed the night before feeling very…. depressed. The next day started off fairly well though.
I had woken up to the feeling of my bed gently shaking. This was practically the third day in a row that I had felt the tremors. I saw that my mother was online on Skype so I called home for a bit of a pick-me-up. After talking with her I felt much better about things. (I needed a reminder of why I was leaving!) I headed to school with the intention to make my last day the best one ever. ああ、それでもちょっと寂しかった。。。Thankfully it wasn’t as hard as the previous day. This was a school I only visited once a week as opposed to the other four days at Oya Higashi. Still, I was sad to say goodbye. I had 2 years of memories stored there. I was not looking forward to the final goodbye…
Little did I expect that during 5th period with one of my favorite classes that I would experience the strongest earthquake to hit the area in recorded history! The earthquake started out as a tremor. At first the main teacher and I just looked at each other and he asked me, “Is that an earthquake?” I looked at the students. They may have been excited for their game of “Old Maid/Old Man”… but I didn’t think they could cause that kind of shaking! So I said “I think so.” It started to get a little stronger so I kind of crouched down. By then the students were finally noticing. Four of the 6th graders from the neighboring classroom ran into our room and were yelling excitedly… something I didn’t catch the meaning of. The earth started to move in earnest then. Again the teacher looked to me and asked “Should we evacuate?” … puzzled as to why he was asking me I nodded my head and said, “Yeah, let’s go!” The students didn’t need any further prompting. We ran down the stairs from the third floor and flew out the emergency exit. In fact, just as we were exiting the vice principal announced over the P.A. system that everyone should remain in their classrooms and get under their desks since it was getting too strong to try running anymore.
I didn’t really notice the movement of the ground since my feet were barely touching the ground as I bounded with the others for the safety of the open school yard. Once we made it, though, we decided it would be wiser to sit. It felt like trying to stand on speeding train. Doable, but difficult. The kids were a bit worried but otherwise they were very excited. We could see the swaying of the topmost parts of the building and the flag pole. Behind us the swimming pool was sloshing over. Several kids became worried about their houses, families and pets. I did my best to assure them that everything would be okay. Where we were it felt like a magnitude 5 or 6 earthquake. (Which I confirmed later on once I was able to connect to the internet.) After the initial shocks wore off, a few minutes later. the younger kids who had still been in the building joined us on the field. Then things got really noisy!
It took a bit, but we got the the excited chatter of the younger kids under control. The school principal told us that there were very likely to be aftershocks… and the old school building was still moving… so we would be waiting outside until we heard further news. Several minutes passed and we could still fell small tremors. The head honchos decided to wait a little bit longer, which turned out to be the right choice because just as the principal was announcing this another earthquake hit. This time the epicenter was much closer, due east of us off the coast of Ibaraki Prefecture (…only slightly weaker for us than the first.)
We all huddled together in the brisk late-winter wind. The 1st, 2nd and 3rd graders all took turns stealing me away to be their own personal heater. Thankfully I am naturally very warm-blooded! The teachers decided to brave the building to bring coats out to the children. The sky looked like it was going to rain. Of course, me being the brilliant person I am, I didn’t bring a coat to work! The kids then decided to shield me from the wind. Kyaaa! So sweet!
After waiting for what seemed like at least half an hour, it was decided that school would be cancelled for the day. And everyone was to leave with just what they had on them. They would have to return on Monday to retrieve their bags. Oh darn! No homework! The children were crushed! LOL! … and then it was time for me to say goodbye. And I saw them off gladly. It will seriously be a day I will never forget!
While we still had power out in the Samukawa area, the main part of the city was dark. Driving home on Route 50 was a pill. A drive that normally takes me 15 minutes took me at least 50 minutes. There were no functioning stoplights the entire way. Once I made it into my apartment it was pitch dark. That is when the real magnitude of what had happened hit me. My things were strewn everywhere. My iMac took a hit. Thankfully it is just superficial. Apparently it fell off the desk backwards and my iPod speaker dock clipped the upper right hand corner and cracked the glass panel as it fell. But the damage was not so great as to interfere with the main screen. There is also a dent at the bottom. Seems to be working fine though, thankfully!
I found my emergency candles since the only “flashlight” I own is a book light… (-_-;) After I got my bed situated I began to try contacting people. Obviously, the communications systems were either down or congested. It wasn’t until much later that I was able to send a text message to my facebook account to let everyone know that I was safe and sound. …a bit freaked by the continuous aftershocks!.. but otherwise good.
Since there was no power I decided to hook my phone up to my laptop and leech off of it’s battery to watch TV. (My cell also has a TV capabilities. Yay for technology!) And that is when I saw the damage in Sendai. And I thanked my lucky stars that I lived so far inland in a relatively safe area. Still, I got very little sleep that night. Every time I fell asleep another aftershock would jolt me awake. The aftershocks continue even now, over 24 hours later. I have kind of gotten used to the sense of nausea. Maybe I have finally gained my “sea legs!” At around 2am we got our power back and I started posting my status on Facebook. Then my dad called and I assured him I was okay…and then my sister called. They passed the word along to the rest of the family. I finally went to bed at around 4am and got a few hours of sleep despite the shaking.
Thankfully, in the morning they also got the gas and water going again. Communication was still a little sketchy via cellphone but somehow people were able to get in touch with me and through me with others so that worked out well… they also got the nearby grocery store up and running. Me and my neighbor were able to go stock up on bottled water and non-perishables, just in case they have to shut off the power again. (The electricity company has asked for us to use as little as possible tonight… I don’t think my computer will be too much of a burden!)