Today, on 11 March 2011 (Japan):
I remember it clearly. I had just returned back from two weeks of vacation where I had taken my (now ex-) fiancé to meet my family, relatives and friends, as well as sight-seeing. I returned back to Japan on March 9th, and returned to work. A very uneventful Thursday, as I was catching up on emails and work items and continued into Friday… and then around 2:46pm, a 9.0 magnitude earthquake rocked the Japanese Northeast — and was felt all the way down in Fussa, Japan where I was. This was the most powerful earthquake in Japan, and the fifth most powerful in the world (per record keeping from the early 1900s). It triggered tsunamis, causing more damage, as well as the Fukushima Nuclear Reactor incident that caused the meltdown and other problems that continue to this day.
I was in the second floor of a concrete building, and still felt the shake. My phone rang immediately and my ex-fiancé called and texted saying she was scared (I lived in a two-story wooden house that would shake during a small earthquake). The aftershocks were to continue for months… sometimes a couple of times a day.
Luckily, upon returning home, only a stone lantern in my yard had been destroyed; but the rest of Japan including some of my friends and my favorite city of Sendai, were not as lucky. When I lived in Misawa (Aomori-prefecture), for work and for play, I would travel down to Sendai at least once a month. One of my dear friends was shopping in a clothing store when the water rushed in. I lost contact with her for a month–though luckily she had found an Emergency Shelter and told me how she and her husband had been without hot water and electricity for a month.
During this time, I had tried to volunteer to help in Sendai; but instead was requested by United States Forces, Japan (USFJ) Command’s Crisis Action Team to translate documents they had received from the Ministry of Foreign Affairs and from the National Police Agency, which detailed the extent of the damages to Japan’s highway system and the procedures required to bring aid within the Sendai city limits. I still wish I could have done more, but USFJ ensured me my translations had helped save lives.
I visited Sendai around October or November of 2011 and could still see the devastation within the city and the surrounding area. I don’t have any pictures — as I just couldn’t find it within myself to document the devastation that I saw. Even if I were to go back in time… I would make the same choice.
Even in Tokyo, I remember the roaming blackouts… these were scheduled, but still created a frightening mood. I found myself arming up more (wearing my gun), as memories of Katrina flashed back where there were mobs running in the streets, vandalizing and robbing stores (not just for food); however, Japan was the complete opposite. People waited patiently in incredibly long lines at the train station, just trying to get to work. Even in the small suburb that I lived, there were 300+ people waiting in lines to head toward Tokyo. I can only imagine the wait in a bigger station like Shinjuku. The streets were calm at night and the people came together.
While this tragedy occurred three years ago, there are some people that have still not recovered. If you feel the need to donate money to a charity this year, might I still suggest the Japanese Red Cross Society. More than 20,000 people were either killed, injured or reporting missing since this event, with massive damage throughout the Touhoku area.
If you wish to know more, please read here: http://bit.ly/1kcWP1g