The Great 2011 Tōhoku Quake

I was well aware of the Great Kantō Quake of 1923, which killed 140,000 people in and around Tokyo. I was also well aware that there is a roughly 80-year cycle, and that there was an extremely good chance that it would happen while I was here. But it still felt completely out of the blue today. I don’t want to make a habit of “personal blogging,” but I consider this news worthy.

At 2:46 (Japan time), the most massive earthquake in Japan’s history (at least in the 140 years they recorded) occurred. The earth shook intensely for almost an hour. The aftershocks are still being felt, even as I type this post up. But don’t think that this was a single quake. There have been over 50 earthquakes so far.

I’m based in Tokyo, but I traveled to the capital of Gunma Prefecture, Maebashi, for a business trip. The quake started when we were in the middle of a break for a two-hour meeting. We watched from the 2nd storey of the 36-storey prefectural government building, as people filed out. Though it was quite jarring, we decided that it was okay to precede with the meeting. It’s so hard to explain what an earthquake like this feels like, all I can really say is that you had to be there.

Being right in the middle of Japan, Gunma Prefecture is fairly protected from earthquakes on either side, so after a minute or two, we assumed it would gradually stop, as it always does. Apparently Gunma has small quakes often, so everyone assumed it was just a small local quake. Then… it kept shaking. And shaking. After a few minutes, it was shaking weakly, so we couldn’t tell if it was just our heads reeling, or if it was really still happening. Our answer came in the form of more intense shaking – we weren’t just imagining it. Suffice to say it was hard to concentrate on the rest of the meeting. Things got real when we learned that all the trains had stopped – no going home today. What did that mean? It meant that this was not a local earthquake, and it sure wasn’t small.

I’m now a “refugee” along with a few other people from the meeting, at a mutual friend’s apartment. I’m with a number of people whose spouses are back at their respective homes, and who have reported a lot of damage in their apartments. I am, frankly, terrified to go back home. I don’t want to think about the amount of damage I will inevitably face, but I have much more to worry about than that. I pretty much have close friends in every major point of danger. [Update: Everyone's safe]

There has already been a reported death in Gunma (so I’m not far enough to be garaunteed safety, fantastic) but since the biggest quake was off the coast of Sendai, most of the damage is in the Northern and Eastern parts of Japan.

A massive tsunami (at least 10 meters high) swept cars, houses, and probably people, around the Eastern side of the Tohoku region. People in Hawaii are now getting ready to evacuate, as a big wave is expected to wreak havoc there soon. An oil refinery in Chiba was lit up, and a part of the tsunami around the East cost was blazing with flames. Hokkaido was also apparently flooded, and the West side of Japan has some low warnings.

The parking lot in Disneyland (Chiba) was apparently totally flooded, and back in Tokyo, a hotel collapsed over a number of people who are now feared to be burried. Heartbrakingly, in Tokyo, the building where a graduation ceremony was happening collapsed. The death toll in Japan was around 100 when I last checked, but these are confirmed deaths. Within a few days, it will certainly climb sharply. I don’t want to think about it.

What I’m most frustrated about is that the only people who I’ve gotten responses from are the ones in areas that I was pretty sure they would be safe in anyways.

By the way, since I started writing around two hours ago, more than six quakes (including another recent big one) occurred.

…there goes another big one.

Anyways, the cellphone coverage in the Kanto region of Japan is very screwy right now. Calling is totally jammed. Payphones have massive line-ups in stations, and there are thousands of people stranded much worse off than me. Emailing is the most reliable way to communicate, but there is usually a few hour delay. Convenience stores are basically all out of fresh food.

I can’t foresee a lot of sleep tonight, but I have to stop typing. The only news to come will be bad news. I just hope the earthquakes stop soon. This is getting ridiculous.

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One Response to The Great 2011 Tōhoku Quake

  1. AMac says:

    Good to hear your safe Ryo!!!! Keep blogging!

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