Saturday, 12 March 2011

11 March 2011 - The Day the Earth Shook

I woke up this morning, wondering if yesterday was a dream. Just then, the building trembles as if to remind me it wasn't. Okay, point taken!

So there I was, pushing the trolley back to the lab after sending my stuff to the post office. As I walked into the university compound, staff were coming out of the administration building on my left. The terrified looks on their face showed that something was amiss. They turned back to look at the building they'd evacuated. Oh god, the building was swaying. So were the trees that lined the road. They seemed to be shaken by some invisible force.

Then I felt it. The ground was moving.

Everyone appeared disoriented. Someone in the crowd said, "The front of the main building! That's the evacuation point!" So there we headed, all the while keeping a look out for things that might fall off from above. The ground shook violently, threatening to knock us off balance. Buildings around us were making strange rattling noise in a show of protest against the earthquake.

At the evacuation point, more people were coming out of the library. I stood there next to the trolley, dazed. The quake grew stronger then weakens after sometime. But it didn't completely come to stop until at least 3 minutes later. I looked around. Miraculously, the buildings were all standing.

We were still standing.

I sent a quick message to my girlfriend, telling her about the quake and that I was safe. At this time, she was probably still in the middle of the meeting and I didn't wish to scare her. I wasn't quite sure how bad it was myself until I checked the internet before calling home.


The seriousness of the situation didn't register until now. During my five years in Japan, I've never felt such a serious earthquake. So there was nothing to compare it to. Reports of earthquake magnitudes are just bunch of meaningless numbers until you've experienced it yourself. Even the Japanese around me claimed that they'd never experienced anything in the likes of this before. It was only later that I found out that the earthquake is the worst one recorded in Japan, and 8000 times stronger than the one that hit Christchurch a month ago. (The magnitude of the earthquake was later revised from M7.9 to M8.8)

We stayed outside long after the earthquake subsided. No one dared to return to the buildings in case of aftershocks. Our fears were proven true when an aftershock of about M6 came a few minutes later. It wasn't as strong as the main one but buildings could still be seen swaying for some time.

Above us, ominous clouds moved in from the south.

It started to rain. Some people sought refuge in the porch of the main building. I imagined the worst case scenario: Rain worsens, we go back into the buildings, aftershock strikes, building crumbles. There's little chance this might happen though. After our university (originally in Kuramae) was utterly destroyed in the Kanto earthquake, it is said that the dean vowed that "never shall we be destroyed by another earthquake". The campus was relocated to its current location in Ookayama, and the main building is supposedly super quake-resistant.

Nevertheless, after weighing my choices, I opted to stay in the rain. The wind grew colder. According to the weather forecast, it was supposed to be sunny today. I guess when nature strikes, all disasters come out in full force to make sure you're totally screwed. At that time, I hadn't found out about tsunami in the northern parts of Japan. Our predicament was nothing compared to theirs.

Tents were being set up at the evacuation point. I wondered if my room was still standing and if I had to spend my night in the university.

Soon, the wind changed direction, pushing back the clouds. The rain stopped.

I went back to the lab, only to find a toppled CPU. Things were intact. (Though it wasn't so in many other buildings.) Grabbing my bag, I cycled home.

Phew, my room was still standing.

Inside, a few things fell off the shelf but otherwise, it was fine. I'd expected worse.

Till now - 24 hours after the earthquake - weak aftershocks could still be felt every hour. I woke up more than a couple of times in my sleep thanks to the tremors.

126 have been reported killed (mainly due to the tsunami) as of the time of writing and the death toll is rapidly rising. It's depressing to think that during disasters like this, people who're killed they become a part of the statistics.

For the rest of the story about the earthquake,  I'm not going to spend time accounting what I heard from the TV. There's plenty of news out there.

Two more weeks in Japan. I hope I'm going to survive.

News and pictures about the earthquake: Japan's day of destruction (Video) Massive earthquake hits Japan (Pics)
日経新聞:12日付日本経済新聞朝刊 (PDF)
Youtube: NHK News (Video)

2 persons flung their shoes:

Yap! It's 3088.. said...

reports of nuclear meltdown and a port city completed wiped out with 10,000 unaccounted for are making news in the UK now. Glad to hear everything's ok at your end.

Kryptos said...

The damage would have been worse if not for the quake-resistant buildings. But no one could predict tsunamis of such scale. More than one city were destroyed. Electricity is still not fully restored to the areas affected.

The aftermath can be felt in Tokyo too but what is experienced here is nothing compared to the northern region.