Wednesday, March 16, 2011

Sendai Earthquake, Part I

Unless you live beneath a rock, I'm sure that you've heard about the recent earthquake in Sendai. News programs in countries all over the world have been playing a non-stop stream of disaster footage which has understandably caused a lot of fear and worry for those of us living in Sendai. However, the damage outside of the tsunami areas was pretty minimal. I think a lot of people are interested in what's been happening here recently, so here's my story of the earthquake and the past 6 days.

A coastal town near Sendai, hit by a tsunami

 The earthquake hit at about 2:45 pm on Friday. I was at my school with the owner, Michiko, and manager, Yumiko, but none of our students had arrived yet. A few days before, there had been a fairly large earthquake in the middle of the night, and I had heard that a bigger one would be coming, so I wasn't too surprised when things started shaking on Friday. However, the shaking became really violent and things began falling. Yumiko and I ran outside, but I realized that Michiko wasn't with us. So I went back in and found her hiding under a table. It would've been safe there, but at the time all I could think of were the buildings that collapsed in the quake in New Zealand. So I made her leave and we all stood outside in the street.

All our neighbors and people down the street were outside too, watching the houses and buildings sway back and forth. It felt like the earthquake went on forever. Each time we thought it was finished and tried to go back in, everything would start shaking again. Once things were more settled down, I ran upstairs to turn off the gas in my apartment (located on the 3rd floor over the school).

 The damage was shocking. Literally all of the furniture had moved-- there was a shelf blocking the door when I tried to go in, everything was all over the floor and there was broken glass everywhere. Luckily none of it was from the windows and aside from cracks in the walls there doesn't seem to be any structural damage.

A lot of my stuff was broken though. The microwave and toaster oven were clearly thrown across the room and were lying in pieces. The TV was on the floor covered in glass from a bottle of lotion it landed on. All the glasses and mugs saved by former teachers were shattered on the floor. Fortunately the hutch full of dishes didn't fall, but some of the dishes had broken. In my bedroom, two bookcases with glass sliding doors fell and broke, so there was glass all over my bed.

It was so shocking because it was so much worse than the classroom; being on the third floor, it was shaken much harder. Thank God I was downstairs at the time! In the classroom, the only serious damage was to the A/C in the ceiling. It has a big heavy cover which was hanging by a single screw after the quake. We were concerned it would fall and injure someone, so we tried to fix it- at which point it came crashing down, just barely missing me.

Michiko had lived in Sendai 30 years ago during the last big quake, and remembered that batteries and such were the first things to sell out. So we headed down to the DIY store and picked up supplies. We were some of the first to arrive, but already many people were starting to arrive. 

The store was a mess inside and of course there was no power, so the employees were equipped with hard hats and flashlights in order to run in and grab what people needed. We got a lot of batteries, flashlights, water, propane gas and candles. We later gave a lot of it to our neighbors and other people who needed it. Then we set up camp downstairs in the classroom. We had a little gas stove and an ancient non-electric kerosene heater.

Cooking dinner over the heater- just like camping!

It was around then that I received a few text messages from friends and my sister Rose. I sent out quick replies saying that I was ok, which was lucky because that's the only time since the quake that I could use my phone (until today). Other people had off and on service, but mine (which is Softbank) was stuck on emergency calls only.

I was pretty surprised that Rose had heard the news already. In Sendai, the quake was definitely scary but the damage wasn't so bad. At the time, I hadn't thought it international news-worthy. But we found a radio later and heard that it was an 8.8 magnitude quake (later it was changed to 9.0) making it the biggest in Japan's recent history.

We also heard about the tsunami's along the coast, which was where the real disaster occurred. At Sendai Port, just a 30 minute drive from where I live, there was a 10 meter high wave. Hearing about it, I knew it had to be bad, but it wasn't until Yumiko brought us a newspaper the next day that I realized just how terrible the damage had been.

Sendai newspaper headlines, the day after the quake.

Nearby towns, places like Sendai Port, Kessenuma, Soma in Fukushima and Sanriku in Iwate were destroyed. Reports of missing and dead people were already coming in by Friday night.

I'm posting in two parts because of the length- the story continues in Part II.


  1. I have been anxious about your safety.
    But I am relieved to know that you escaped unhurt.
    My brother living in Tome-City, Miyagi prefecture was safe too.

  2. Thank you! I'm glad that your brother is safe. I was worried about the problem in Fukushima, so I'm staying in Osaka now. I hope that I can go back to Sendai very soon!