Wednesday, March 16, 2011

Sendai Earthquake, Part II

Read Part I here.

We drove to Michiko's sister's house to check on her family that night. The roads were a nightmare. None of the signals were working, there were no street lights and everyone was in a panic. No one was respecting the one car at a time rule at intersections.

What amazed me, after learning the magnitude of the quake, was that all of the buildings and houses were intact. Even the very old ones. The worst damage I saw was to large glass windows and to the traditional tile roofs on some houses. Otherwise everything was impressively intact.

Shattered windows at a fishing supply store in Sendai.
Incredibly, tile roofs were the only real structural damage to houses in Sendai.

Michiko's sister works for a supermarket, and because the power was out she brought home mountains of food that would go bad soon. Many stores were giving away things or selling them for 100 yen ($1).

At her house we were able to watch the news for about 10 minutes on Michiko's nephew's car TV. Incredibly, there were reports of quakes everywhere in Japan and tsunami warnings across the entire country. Even Kyuushuu and Hokkaido were effected. Tokyo and Chiba also had big quakes and the trains and subways were shut down, leaving many people stranded on Friday night.

The bullet train stopped just outside Sendai. So weird to see it parked...

 The same thing happened in Sendai, so many schools and public centers were turned into emergency shelters. My friend Dave is a JET teacher at a middle school in my town and he helped out after his school was turned into a shelter. He said they had large numbers of people coming, most of them elderly.  With no utilities and so much damage in upper stories, a lot of people stayed in shelters that night.

We were very lucky to still have running water and heat at the classroom. I camped out there with Michiko for a few days for convenience and also because being on the 3rd floor made me a little nervous.

The main reason for my unease is the aftershocks.It feels like the ground hasn't stopped shaking since Friday. There are constant tremors, which build up into little quakes probably every half hour or so. Some of them are actually quite big (I'm guessing we've had a few size 5 or 6). During the day I've learned to ignore it, but the first few nights after the quake it was hard to banish those collapsed building images. The quakes still tend to wake me up a few times every night.

Things are slowly getting back to normal now. I finally got electricity back last night after 5 days without it, and today my phone and internet service started working again. However, power is being rationed so we have to be careful to conserve energy. We still don't have gas, which means that most people in Sendai can't use gas stoves or take showers at home. Today I boiled water in an electric kettle, filled a bucket and used that for a shower. I really can't complain, it's wonderful to have 90% of my utilities back and a clean, broken glass-free apartment to live in.

Long lines outside a local drug store.

 The main problems for those of us in and around Sendai right now are limited supplies of gas and food. All of the stores here are still closed, and people are forced to wait for hours in lines just to buy a few rationed groceries. I have plenty of food for myself now, but Yumiko has 10 people living in her apartment right now- 2 families whose homes were destroyed by the tsunamis. We've been trying to get extra supplies for them and other people who need it.

Waiting about an hour to buy groceries at Coop.

In the end, I could only get 1 cup ramen and 1 pack of rice crackers. They also gave us candy and 2 candles.

 The other big concern on everyone's mind now is the nuclear plant explosion that occurred in Fukushima. The location is over an hour's drive south from where I live, but we've been warned here not to expose ourselves to the rain or snow. Many of my foreign friends in Sendai have returned to their home countries recently, mainly due to their concern about the nuclear explosion. I personally have mixed feelings about it; I do feel that it's dangerous, but I think the media may be exaggerating the actual danger. For the time being I have no plans to leave Sendai; if the situation does become significantly more dangerous, I may consider going to a different part of Japan for a short while.

Anyone in the Sendai area in need of food or help, please don't hesitate to contact me. To everyone else, if you are able and interested in helping out, there are a number of charities you can give to right now in order to support the tsunami and earthquake victims. Please consider donating if you can. Many of these people are currently living in shelters with very limited food and warmth and can certainly use all the help they can get.

I will update again as soon as I can, provided my internet connection remains available.


  1. Is still worried for you though. Shall I send you more food?

  2. Don't worry! I'm in Osaka now, surrounded by lots of good food. But there are still lots of people around Sendai who need help, so if you haven't already donated to a tsunami relief charity, please do!

  3. Holy cow...that's so unbelievable. I'm glad you're alright and that the people immediately surrounding you managing the quake are alright too. Just reading about all of the tsunami news continually is still very worrisome, though I know you said you're doing alright and giving to those around you as best you can. You're awesome.

    I'd donate to a relief charity if I could, but job situations have been in a curious flux. Oy. :( But my thoughts and prayers are with you, love. Take care.

  4. Thanks so much Teresa! We've all been surviving; it definitely hasn't been as bad for those of us in Sendai as the news is making out. No worries about charity, we all do what we can! The good thoughts and prayers are important too.