Sunday, March 11, 2012

3/11: One Year Later

For entries from this time a year ago, see:

A year ago today at 2:45, I was sitting on my sofa in the living room fooling around on Facebook on my laptop. At 2:46, the ground began to shake. Thirty seconds later, the shaking got bad enough that I got up to go stand in a doorway. At 2:48, my heart started pounding. At 2:50, I was clenching the doorway with white knuckles watching the contents of the bookshelf fall and the TV sway precariously while doors banged open and shut and dishes in the kitchen rattled. At 2:52 I was STILL staring at the clock in disbelief wondering when in the world it would end.

A couple of minutes later, it did (briefly). Knowing this was huge and was going to make news back home, I quickly posted to my open Facebook page that I was ok (or maybe I did this during the earthquake? I can't remember.). I tried calling Corey. No service. The shaking started again. The power went out. I went back to my doorway. Tried calling Corey again. And again. And again. No service.

(Around ~1:40 is where things get crazy. I don't exaggerate when I say the ground shook almost constantly for weeks.)

Then the sirens went off- big, loud, end-of-the-world type sirens- and I started to get really scared. I couldn't understand anything that was being announced over the loudspeaker... except one word: tsunami. I knew our house was ~2.5 miles from the coast, and not knowing anything about tsunamis, I had no clue if I was in danger. I decided I'd try to go to base (which is further inland, and has a big hill)... only the garage door wouldn't open and I couldn't get my car out. The aftershocks were coming almost constantly. No people were around. Every now and then a car would pass along our street zooming away. After ten or fifteen minutes of back-and-forth between inside/outside/look-for-neighbors/try-calling-Corey/work/friends/thestates-again rising panic, I decided to just hunker down in my doorway. And I did. For the next 2 hours, I sat there, floor shaking, heart racing, waiting for Corey.

He eventually made it home, and we began our 2 days of cluelessness. We had no power. Very little news. The first night, three young dudes Corey works with came over for some food and talked about being disappointed that they hadn't driven down to the beach "to see the tsunami." They had no clue. None of us had any clue.

When the power came back on, the news started to flood in. I'm sure you know it all, you've seen the videos, so I'll not rehash it. Needless to say, it was horrific. I sat glued to the computer for days, trying to comprehend it. It was truly heartbreaking, in a way nothing else has ever been.We got unfathomably lucky. Lucky isn't even the right word... but I don't know what is. Misawa ended up with only 2 deaths, a destroyed port, some decimated livestock farms, and a few damaged beach parks.

Japan's Children of the Tsunami- a long documentary by BBC, but worth watching.

There had been at least one nuclear explosion down in Fukushima by the time we were plugged back into the country, and suddenly EVERYONE was afraid. For good reason- I was too. I sat watching NHK by the minute, waiting to see if the worst was going to happen (not even knowing what that "worst" would be). American families stationed here wanted to leave. Power was intermittent, we had no heat for weeks even though it was still snowing, there was a gas shortage, and our base was suddenly solely being used as a hub for foreign aid in Operation Tomodachi. The base issued a voluntary evacuation for family members who wanted to leave, and many (most?) did. It was a quiet month of trying to help where we could, not get in the way, and putting up with earthquake after earthquake.

Things slowly got back to normal (for us). My heart still stops whenever there's an earthquake, I do feel physically sick watching the earthquake visual posted above, and it will always be difficult to think about last March, but otherwise everything really is back to normal. Things will never again be "back to normal" for hundreds of thousands of people who lost their loved ones or their livelihoods last year. But hopefully there can be a new normal. Today (and everyday) I have them in my thoughts, and am thankful for the spirit of recovery and renewal the Tohoku region has been able to embrace.

(Foreign involvement is obviously a sliver of the story of this disaster, but this is a nice video, particularly the last half,  in relation to that aspect.)