Anyway, as you all know, on March 11, 2011, Japan was hit by a huge earthquake, a magnitude of 9.0 on the Richter Scale. I was sitting in the staff room at Tsuragaoka Elementary School when the earthquake occurred. It was about 2:45 pm, I had finished classes for the day and the students were packing up their things and preparing to leave in their groups to go back home.
Then the world started swinging and swaying and my coffee cup (full of tea) started to dance across my desk. Those of us in the staff room, including the Principal and Vice Principal of the school, stood there -- mentally assessing the situation. Is it just a regular earthquake? No, this one is rocking us hard. Hard enough for me to decide to tweet:
EARTHQUAKE!!! 地震！！！ #fb
via web Favorite
Hard enough for the Principal to call for an immediate emergency evacuation of all 700+ students and 50+ teachers. And those kids evacuated in record time -- faster than any of the fire drills we'd had before. They ran out with their 防災頭巾 (their emergency evacuation hoods) and nothing else.
Japanese Evacuation Hood
After about 30 minutes of being outside in the cold, with seemingly no aftershocks, those in charge decided to have 4th graders and 6th graders (whose classrooms are situated on the ground level) enter the building to retrieve their coats and house keys. However, as they entered the building, a strong aftershock occurred and the students re-evacuated in a panic.
I spent most of the time in our evacuated state, talking with the 2nd graders. I had taught their classes that day -- a mix of vehicles and The Beatles song Hello, Goodbye. I was proud of them. Most of them stayed calm and I enjoyed their take on the situation: ねぇ、先生？これは先のオーノーのことだよね！Or: Hey teacher? This is that "Oh no!" situation you told us about earlier, isn't it? In The Beatles song we'd learned that day, there is a line that says "Oh no!," which when sung with appropriate hand movements and facial expressions, quickly becomes the best part of the song to children. I guess it's nice to know they learned something?
After a few hours and a number of false starts, children were eventually made to return home in large groups or with their parents. Students whose parents would not be home were not allowed to leave -- or were made to leave with neighborhood adults. And still, most of them had no winter coats or jackets.
I stayed to help clean up the office a bit and then headed home, to find an empty apartment, seemingly still intact. I hadn't heard from my boyfriend, @fobkoa, or from my friends in the area. Cell phone lines were busy or shut down, except for emergency calls. Messages by phone could be sent, but not received. Thankfully, electricity and Internet in my area were unaffected. I flipped on the television to watch, in horror, as footage of a tsunami that resulted from the huge earthquake, engulfed towns and distinguished lives. I had no idea that any of this was happening -- I had been on the field with the children up until this point, with no access to news. I logged on to Skype and to gMail/Google Talk and called my Mommy and good friend, @titusofalltime, in Hawaii and waited for contact from @fobkoa. Poor @fobkoa's mother and sister were visiting us, at the time, and I later found out that they were stuck in Akihabara. Trains weren't running, so there was no way home, and they spent the night huddled together for warmth on the floor of some building with a nice bathroom. They arrived safely in our area the next afternoon.
At some point, @mekorin, a friend who lives in the area, and his mother, showed up at my doorstep. They had walked from the city of Kawagoe. The earthquake had interrupted his graduation ceremony -- he was graduating from Honda Technical College -- and on top of that, had forgotten his house key, so could not return home. He and his mother ended up spending the night. His girlfriend, @momochidango, was MIA for hours -- we didn't hear from her until the wee hours of the morning. We found out that she had been trapped in an elevator at Lakeland College and that the elevator had fallen 1.5 floors when the emergency stop didn't work. She walked from the school to Ikebukuro, after receiving medical attention, and made it home on the first train back to our area. She was apparently unscathed and not shaken by the event -- she still rides elevators, so I guess it wasn't that traumatic for her?
Thankfully, those close to me escaped with no real injuries, although I heard from a friend who lives closer to the epicenter, that he got hit in the head with a coffee mug. Obviously, the effects of the earthquake are still being felt and as things got sorted out, new emergencies surfaced: namely the TEPCO Nuclear Power Plant Crisis in Fukushima.
I will continue this blog later... with more about my experiences since March 11, 2011, but this covers the first 24 hours from the moment the earthquake hit.
Just wanted to catalog it.