Dealing Hope, Reflections

February 15, 2021

Aftershocks – Japan Earthquake & Tsunami 2011

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My blog started as a way to document my journey to wellness, but turned into a place to be inspired by others through our collective messy & authentic stories. Now it's my favourite place to be.

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The following is a blog I originally posted on March 12, 2011.  It was the day after the mega earthquake in Japan that resulted in a deadly tsunami and a leaking nuclear plant.  We were stationed and living on Naval Air Station Atsugi in Japan, about an hour from Tokyo.  Stacey reminded me of this post and suggested I share it again.  It has almost been ten years!  Right next to 9/11 (I was in Florida so not in immediate danger), this was the scariest time of my life.   

But not only was it scary, and stressful, it was also a time I hold dear to my heart.  I was at my best, helping to keep families informed on the voluntary evacuations that were being planned.  We also gathered and sorted donations of food and clothing to be sent to those who survived the tsunami.  I was also at my worst- losing my shit at little things- like my neighbor stealing my trash can and people spreading rumors by posting fake notices around base.  I evacuated with my kids (hubby stayed behind and we did not get to see him before we left). We didn’t know if we were going to be allowed to return.  The Fukushima nuclear plant was leaking, and it was unsure what the outcome would be. We didn’t know if we would see our things again, if we would see our friends again, if the people of Japan were going to suffer even more.  We did return after 6 weeks.  Not all my friends came back for one reason or another.  But those of us who did were delighted to see each other once again. We were all remarkably close from that time on.  Learning the value of friendship and knowing my own strength were the gifts the tragedy gave me.

Next month is the 10 year anniversary.  It seems like another lifetime now.  Japan holds a special place in my heart.  Even though I experienced one of the scariest and most stressful times of my life there, I still count my time there as one of the best times of my life.

Imagine it is a Friday afternoon, the sun is out, and the kids just got home from school.  You’re getting stuff together for the sleepover your daughter is going to, doing some housework and thinking about the Pampered Chef party you are going to and how the food will be delish.  You have that care free feeling that Friday gives you because you have a lovely weekend planned out.  You sit down on the couch to fold some laundry and you feel the couch shake.  Whoa!  You stand up and call to your son, “do you feel that?”  He was walking down the hall and stops, “yeah, I do!”  This is about the time the shaking usually stops and everyone carries on with their previous activities.  After all, this is Japan, and you feel earthquakes all the time.  Except today, the shaking doesn’t stop, but intensifies.

That was how it all started for us at 2:46 pm, Tokyo time.  When I realized that the shaking was getting worse I called to my daughter to come downstairs and we headed under our large kitchen table.  My son called to our dog Brownie and all four of us huddled underneath the table and waited for it to stop.  The shaking would ease up, we would think it was over, and then the shaking intensified once again.  I realized I had left my iPhone on top of the table so I was reaching with one hand to try and grab it.  I couldn’t find it so I let it be.

It lasted for several minutes.  That doesn’t seem like a long time, but when it feels like Godzilla has picked up your house and is shaking it like a magic 8-ball, a few minutes feels like an eternity and then some.  All I could think about was the recent New Zealand quake and how this might be the “Big One” they have been talking about in Japan.  My daughter started to panic and cry.  She wanted desperately to go outside, but we held on to her tight.  (On a side note this has been a topic of discussion here, which is better, outside or in?)  I grew up in California, we were taught to “duck and cover”, so that is what my family and I did.  And no, Hubby was not home- he was in a different country altogether.  

When it finally stopped I felt like throwing up.  It was an 8.9 magnitude (this number varies according to the source).  The epicenter was in Sendai, which is about 300 miles away I believe?  In other words, what we felt was much watered down compared to those in the Sendai area.  And check this out- there is a Wikipedia page already- I didn’t realize they get set up so quickly!  

After the shaking abated, we got out from under the table and dusted ourselves off.  In no time we were shaking again, back under the table we went.  My daughter was in full panic mode by then.  By now I had my iPhone in hand and I was trying to get some info on what, when and where.  The next aftershock caught me on the toilet trying to pee.  There is nothing like a rockin’ toilet!  I finished as fast as I could and ran for cover while still zipping up my pants.

Like I mentioned earlier, I grew up in California, but I have never experienced something like this before.  We continued to have one aftershock after another.  And I don’t mean some little tiny tremors, but movement that would cause the door to our kitchen to swing back and forth.

We turned on Japanese TV and of course they are flashing a big tsunami warning on TV.  They are showing the shaking reported all over Tokyo and Chiba.  People are running from falling debris outside, those inside are taking cover under their desks.  

Taken from the Japan Meteorological Agency’s website

If you look at the above picture you can see the widespread effect and how darn strong and powerful this sucker was!

So if you look at the quake that happened at 7:49 am, you can see the difference!  This one was a 4.8 magnitude and its epicenter was out in the ocean.

Going by this website, here is the info I have gathered:
1st quake: 14:46 7.9 magnitude, depth of 10km (they have this one listed twice- not sure why)
15:06- 7.0 magnitude, depth of 10 km
15:15- 7.4 magnitude, depth of 80 km
15:26- 7.2 magnitude, depth of 10 km
15:41- 5.7 magnitude, depth of 50 km (this they listed three times)
15:49- 5.8 magnitude, depth of 10 km
15:57- 6.1magnitude, depth of 20 km
16:04- 5.8 magnitude, depth of 20 km
16:15- 6.8 magnitude, depth of 10 km
16:29- 6.6 magnitude, listed as “very shallow”
16:38- 5.9 magnitude, depth of 30 km
16:54- 5.5 magnitude, depth of 30 km

I could spend a couple of more hours and write down the rest (there are 100s more since yesterday)- but I think you get the idea!  I was seriously feeling sea sick.  After the third aftershock my daughter set up permanent camp under the table.  She and her brother dragged all the pillows off the couch, grabbed blankets, snacks, drinks, and the portable DVD player with some extra books and movies.  My son declared during the second one that he would “like to get off this ride now”.

Two summers ago, we got to ride on the earthquake simulator at one of the bases’ safety fairs.  Let me tell you- that is EXACTLY what the real thing felt like, no joke.  Except the real thing is not as fun. *frown*

One hour later we are feeling sea sick.  My cell phone isn’t working, but the internet is up still!  I never thought I would be so grateful for Facebook.  My friends and I were all able to check in with Facebook.  We chatted with family back home and we passed on info- the freeways were shut down, the trains weren’t running.  Some people got stuck and used Facebook to contact friends to pick up their kids from day care.  The street directly out of our front gate became a parking lot.  Everyone was going nowhere in a hurry.

And while we worried about those trying to get back home, the images on TV were becoming more and more disturbing by the second.  We watched in horror as people tried to outrun the tsunami in their cars, and on foot.  It was all fire and flooding and sheer terror.  I am sure the whole world have seen the images, utter horror.  Mother nature is not a force to be reckoned with, and she knows how to humble us to our very core.

Suddenly it was a totally different day with the same date.  My daughter, after I coaxed out from under the table (we were still getting aftershocks, just not as bad as before), decided she still wanted to go to the slumber party.  I let her go, she would be a few blocks away, the worst had passed us (we were never in tsunami danger), and it was a good distraction.

The rest of the evening was complete nuts.  I never made it to the party, I just couldn’t leave the house, and leave my son at home.  I would have been only across the street, but you know how it is!  I was constantly chatting with people, skyping with Hubby, it was non-stop.  My good friends from Misawa texted me asking me to call their family stateside, which I did.  They had no phone or power, but somehow they could text.  At least it was something.  We finally went to bed, and I intended on watching something distracting- like Army Wives.  But I couldn’t tear away from the news stations.  Luckily my son fell asleep pretty quickly (with a pillow over his face just in case), and I eventually did too.
4 AM this morning: my phone rings.  I was so drowsy I couldn’t make out what the noise was.  I picked it up too late so I missed the call.  I had a feeling I knew who it was (no number on caller ID).  While waiting for a call back, I checked email and scanned Facebook.  I wondered if we were still having aftershocks when the bed started shaking. Yep, it is still going on!  The phone rang again, it was my daughter.  10 minutes later she was back home and cuddled up next to her brother in my bed.  After calling my mom to let her know I was ok (I did send an email earlier just in case), I went back to sleep.

8 AM I woke up again to more bad news, now they were worried (and still are) about the nuclear power plants.  A friend was asking for donations to be brought to the commissary.  I scanned our pantry (which held not a lot of non-perishables I realized), and I headed to the commissary with my daughter.

What started out as a small group of wives asking for donations turned out to be a huge base effort.  Operation Tomodachi was in full effect.  Tomodachi means friend- referring to our host nation Japan.  After buying groceries for my house and also some more things to donate, we hung out to help for a while.  I had to go home and put away my food.  I wanted to donate some blankets and what not, thinking I could fill a trash bag to take back over.  I ended up with four.  All those sweaters I have been hanging on to but never wore?  And those extra jackets we don’t need?  How about those old towels?  It never felt so good to purge before. Knowing that these items were going to be loaded onto a helicopter and taken directly to the victims really motivated to give all we could.

The rest of the day we spent helping with the donations.  I have to say I am really proud to be a part of this community here at NAF Atsugi.  Everyone was so willing to help.  I think we all feel so grateful that we were spared, and so sad to see our Japanese “tomodachi” in pain.  We started off in front of the commissary with a small box and some grocery carts. We ended up with tri-walls on pallets.  I believe we filled 7 pallets with food, huge bags of rice, baby stuff, personal hygiene items, clothes, jackets, blankets, the list could go on and on.  People would ask what was needed and we kept thinking of new things.  Honestly, when your home is destroyed, don’t you need just about everything?  

Another volunteer picture- including our base CMC and some of the kids that helped out today.

The kids were awesome today.  I think they must feel helpless during times like these, so being able to really help must give them a sense of control over their world.  The boys were lifting boxes out of people’s cars as they pulled up to donate.  I think were all in awe at how much people were donating.  The collection box in front of the Nex was full of brand new blankets, towels, pillows and all sorts of other things.  A few times today I had to stop and just breathe.  I didn’t know if I was going to cry or if my heart was just going to stop beating.

Looking at how big the damage is and how many people are left homeless, I wonder how much we can really do.  But even if we are only able to help a few people, at least we have taught our children what it means to be a part of a community and what charity is.  I am going to take that as my silver lining from this horrible dark cloud.

We continue to shake, even as I type.  I feel like we are living in a paint mixer.  I finally got my daughter to go to sleep.  I have a feeling she is going to be sleeping my bed for a while.  My son was scared too, but my daughter is the panicky one in the family.  I think she is a worrier like her great grandma was.  I told them they can no longer watch the news, it has been too overwhelming for them.  They totally get it, they know this is bad.  My son even told me last night that this is history in the making. Indeed it is, I just wish it was a happier kind.

I have some videos to share, but I really must get some sleep, it has taken me a while to type this all out.  I wanted to do this while it was all still fresh.  Now I have a terrible kink in my neck and an early wake up call looming over my head.

Like I have told my family and friends back home- please don’t worry about us, we are fine.  Please keep the quake and tsunami victims in your thoughts and prayers.  If you want to donate please contact your local Red Cross.

I am going to bed now, it is starting to shake again.  I hope I can sleep through it!

March 12, 2011

Fancy Y.

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Hi, I'm Stacey.
Welcome to the
Willowjak Blog 

My blog started as a way to document my journey to wellness, but turned into a place to be inspired by others through our collective messy & authentic stories. We chat about themes that are often ignored and voices that aren't often given a chance at the mic. Now it's my favourite place to be. 

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