On the great Japanese earthquake 11/03/2011

I was in Tokyo when the great Japanese earthquake happened in 11/03/2011. In this post I write about the event, what happened and about its aftermath as seen through my eyes.

Empty supermarket stalls 2

I have been living in Japan for almost a year and I was unlucky enough to experience the worst earthquake to ever strike Japan and 5th largest to ever occur in the world. I am glad to report that I am safe. On Friday around 14:45 local Japanese time there was a great earthquake of 9.0 magnitude in the Richter scale. Its epicenter was 130 km east of Sendai a beautiful graphical city around 200 km north of Tokyo.

I was studying in my room in the 3rd floor of my dormitory in Tokyo when the earthquake occurred. Japan is a seismically active area so in the first few seconds I did not think much of it but then the trembling and shaking started to be very severe so that everything in the room was shaking. Me and my friends ran out of the building as fast as we could with the ground shaking beneath us. You could not run in a straight line and you were bumping into walls while trying to use the stairs to get down. It was a horrifying experience.

Even after getting down the shaking did not stop. It only got worse. Being on ground level and feeling it shake and tremble and seeing all the buildings around you move was horrifying. I live in Setagaya-ku in the Tokyo area. It’s not close to the sea and for that we were lucky. After the shaking stopped we went in to check the damage done to our rooms. All of my stuff had dropped down, my coffee (from a semi-drunk cup) had spilled all over my desk and things had fallen from the drawers. A neighbor of mine was so terrified that he jumped from his window on the 3rd floor.

The first thing I tried to do was contact my parents through Skype to let them know that we are all okay. Unfortunately while trying to do that there was an equally strong quake that threw everything on the floor for yet one more time and made us ran out of the building yet again. Since then having all our valuables, including passports, with us we did not need to go inside again. We were warned to stay away from the building for a long time and well since we all could feel the aftershocks and the constant strong tremors we did not need to be told twice not to go anywhere.

Fortunately for me that was the worst experience we got through. Unfortunately we all knew that coastal areas would be hit by tsunamis soon. As for the damage done by that I assume most of the readers will have watched the news and know what I am talking about but if you have not, you can see some pictures of the destruction here. We were all glued to the TV screens trying to comprehend the damage that happened and trying to get advice from the officials as to what we should do.

People glued to the screen

An amazing thing is that life tried to continue as usual. Just 30 minutes after the initial tremor, the person who replenishes the stocks of the automatic selling machines in my dormitory came to replenish them as planned. Just to get this into perspective, the moment he came there was a huge aftershock and everyone ran out of the building again and we heard that the first tsunami had hit the northeastern coast. Amazing Japan.

Business as usual

When going for a walk around the area just 2 hours after the quake a sense of fear was in the air. People were panicked since their lives had been abruptly disrupted by something that is beyond our power to control. The trains in all of Tokyo were halted, the phones were down and there were talks of Blackouts. What is amazing is the orderly way in which people panic in Japan. You can just see it from their face. None is actually running, or shouting in despair. In Tokyo most people including many of my friends were stranded away from their homes since they could not use public transportation to return home and well, distances in Tokyo are huge so walking was out of the question for many. For that reason shelters were made in major Tokyo areas so that people could spend the night. In addition all of the supermarkets were closed due to the earthquake for reasons unknown to me. It was the first and probably only time I saw supermarket chains like Seiyuu which are open 24/7 closed for the first time.

Supermarket closes

Today it is Sunday. It has been 2 days since the earthquake struck and people are still shocked by the sheer amount of destruction. But unfortunately that is not the end of it. Japan has many nuclear power plants, some of which where damaged due to the earthquake. Especially the Fukushima nuclear power plant had an explosion, with radioactive material released into the air. A 20 km radius evacuation area was set around the plant’s location with some of the residents exposed to the nuclear cloud. Since then things have been calm and no new news have come. Unfortunately many people are panicking as I write this post due to the unconfirmed reports by irresponsible mass media, and generally major news networks. Specifically there were reports in major news networks such as CNN.com that there was a reactor core meltdown which is a hugely irresponsible thing to report while not having actually confirmed it with any officials. Reports such as this leads to people in Tokyo being afraid to breath the outside air, in an area 240km away from the nuclear plant. Some of the international students from my dormitory have left for their countries with some scheduled to fly, tomorrow on Monday.

Here you can see pictures from supermarkets I visited to buy food, today on Sunday 13/03.

Empty supermarket stalls

It is totally empty. There was nothing. Due to the news and all these unconfirmed reports or nuclear radiation leakage, people are stocking up in any kind of food, so that they don’t need to go out of their house. The plan is to be able to wait it out inside their homes and have sufficient food supplies to last for weeks. This leads to images such as these as people rush to buy anything edible.

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Empty supermarket stalls 2

Since Friday evening this has been a hell of a weekend. I pray for the people up north and for the rescue and military assistance operations (called Tomodachi by the americans which means friend in Japanese) to go smoothly so that we can help the communities there get back to their feet as soon as possible. In addition I hope that the number of dead confirmed will stop rising and that some survivors will actually be found. If there are any new turn of events you can see it by following me on Twitter, or if there is something major I will most likely make a new blog post. Let’s all hope the best for Japan. My thoughts are with the victims and their families.

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