Saturday, March 12, 2011

Tohoku Earthquake

Wow. What else can you say?

I've been in Japan for 21 years now, and sat my way through a fair number of earthquakes. The Kobe/Hanshin quake threw me around the floor on my futon, I walked the streets of Kobe just after, looking at the burned out sections, the office buildings which had pancaked to the point where you couldn't tell how many floors there originally were, stood and looked in awe at the bank building which leaned out at a drunken 40 degrees over a 6-lane road. Walked into my friend's apartment block, which had sheared in half along an expansion joint, forcing you to jump over an 18-inch crack, 11 stories up.

And that was nothing, absolutely nothing compared to this one. I live 900km away, and my house moved; my dining room light swayed in 2-ft arcs while my inner ears protested that, yes, something really was moving.

This country is the most disaster-prepared place you can think of. New buildings are engineered, some even mounted on great rubber gaskets to damper and control the motion transferred from the jittering ground. Nearly every Japanese family has disaster kits, with flares, space-blankets, water purification kits. But how do you prepare for a 32-ft wall of water?

I think what rattles me the most is not the ruins lying around, it's the areas that have been just wiped clean, squeegeed right off the map by the scouring action of meters of water dragging everything; picking up houses like styrofoam toys, tossing cars like empty boxes. It's the video of the fields behind the Sendai airport, with planes and cars buried in piles of debris, looking like they were part of the environment, ancient dinosaurs uncovered after aeons underground. It's the nuclear-power plant with a giant brown smoke cloud billowing away.

It's the four missing trains. The 3 large freighters in one piece of film, sliding on their sides toward the homes and apartment buildings on the other side of flooded fields. The 10,000 people currently reported unaccounted for in the town of MinamiSanriku. 10,000? From ONE TOWN? A town of 17,000?

Do something for me, will you?
Hug your family. Rejoice in the fact that you are hale and hearty, and not picking through rubble for loved ones, not eating dry ramen as is because there is no safe water. Teach your loved ones about disaster preparedness (because there is no such animal as 'disaster proof').

And donate food stuffs and money to your local Red Cross to help out in the recovery efforts.

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