Monday, 14 March 2011

The Disaster

I feel that it would be insulting to write about anything else right now.

I'm pretty sure that you don't need me to tell you what happened in Japan on Friday. An earthquake (I've heard estimates from 8.8 to 9.1 being thrown around), triggering a 10m tsunami. Hundreds of aftershocks. Fires. A death toll that could hit 10,000. Half a town missing. Then the nuclear reactors started overheating.

I would like to write a comprehensive report about everything that has been happening, and is continuing to happen, but my brain feels numb. I have stared at the news since it happened. I am scared. It isn't over. They predict that more earthquakes will come, and only an hour or so ago another reactor went. I don't think I need to cover the story, as you can all go to Google news, type "japan" and view the latest stories. Watch it unfold.

In case any of you were wondering about me, I'm in Hamamatsu. The main damage was far up North from me. Perhaps 700km away. I was sitting at the same desk that I am at now, at one of my junior highs, on Friday afternoon when I felt it. It felt as if I was on a boat. At first, I thought I was just really dizzy, but I looked around the room and it was confirmed. Nobody really panicked... it wasn't strong enough to move anything. It just felt like we were on a slow moving boat. It lasted for about 15 minutes. I was terrified.

After that, I messaged Jeff. Some teachers turned the TV on and within minutes, images of the destruction in Tokyo were shown. The earthquake siren sounded and an annoucement said that a tsunami was coming. In Hamamatsu, the predicted height was around 2m. I was on Facebook chat at the time with the Interac 2011 group, and a guy who works for head office in Tokyo said that his computer had fallen off the desk. Somebody else posted that a 5m wave was coming for Hamamatsu. We felt a few aftershocks, too. Soon, images of the tsunami-induced destruction in Fukushima, Iwate, Sendai started rolling in. I couldn't quite believe what I was seeing. The teachers stared at the screen, their nervous laughter from the earthquake starting to fade.

I sent Jeff about 6 messages and started to worry. The phones were all down. I knew that he was safe near Kyoto, but I knew that he would worry once he saw the news. The teachers called an emergency meeting to make sure the children got home safely. Friends in Kakegawa and Arai were evacuated. I stayed at school until I managed to call Jeff. I told him I'd come over as soon as possible. I asked a friend who was online to call my parents and tell them that I was fine.

The trains were delayed, of course. When I first got to the station, hundreds of people were crowded around the gates, annoucements saying that trains would be at least 2 hours late. All shinkansens to Tokyo were suspended... people still sat on them, waiting, hours after they had stopped. The ticket machine said that tickets could not be bought, now, but about a minute after I stood next to it, it came back. I bought a ticket and waited on the platform for an hour before getting on a train to Nagoya. At Nagoya, I waited another hour before being ushered onto a shinkansen by a Japanese man who took pity on me. The Nozomis stopped at every station due to popular demand, so I rode to Maibara on the most packed train ever. From Maibara, the trains were running as usual, so I got to Jeff's at around 9pm and hid there for the weekend. Kyoto is supposed to be one of the safest places to be - it isn't on a faultline, I think, and it's surrounded by mountains. I spent the weekend staring in horror at the unfolding news.

Here in Hamamatsu, you wouldn't know that anything had happened. Everything is business as usual. Nobody looks overly upset or anything, although it's hard to tell. The Japanese bottle things up a lot, which makes the images of crying people up in the devastated areas all the more stirring. Some areas are being scheduled blackouts, so that electricity can be diverted up north, but it won't affect Hamamatsu because we're with a different electricity company or something.

Still, everybody in Japan is shocked right now. The worst thing is, we know it isn't over. The nuclear situation is apparently under control.. but we have no real idea how much it's being downplayed. Bodies keep being discovered. Those who have survived are without food or power. There's a 70% chance of a 7.0 or higher aftershock happening in the next 2 days, which will also mean more tsunamis. The economic repercussions probably won't be felt for a while, but they will be very apparent. A lot of new teachers are meant to be coming up here in the next week, so they have no idea what to do now - a lot were placed in Sendai or Fukushima. I've heard that there are a few ALTs still unaccounted for.

We all want to help in whatever way we can. I urge everybody to donate as much money as possible to the Red Cross or other aid organisations. If it's possible to volunteer up there, I want to go. Over the next few days I will post updates on the situation, including ways that we can help out. Perhaps we, here in Hamamatsu, can organise some kind of money raising drive, collect food together, or even get a team of people together to go up there and help out. I don't know yet. Keep your prayers with those who have lost their lives, their families, their homes, and please donate what you can.

My only hope for this is that people will become more united across nations. China have even offered to help out. Against the devastating power of nature, it is ridiculous that we humans fight amongst each other, hurt and torture each other, fighting for wealth that can be literally swept away in seconds. We should unite, citizens of the world, to help each other, to protect each other from those things that are beyond our control.

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