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9.0 Earthquake hits Japan

Our hearts and prayers go out to the people of Japan.  May they stay safe in these hours of danger and grief.

IMPORTANT LINKS:

Blog with blackout information in Tokyo as well as up-to-date information on the nuclear power plant:
http://gakuranman.com/great-tohoku-earthquake/

Radiation levels in graph form:
http://fleep.com/earthquake/

Fukushima Location on Google Maps:
Location of plant on google maps

BBC Informs people about the Quake Bag:
Japanese Quake Bag

Up-to-date information on the earthquake and the nuclear powerplant:
http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Fukushima_I_nuclear_accidents

Japanese Quake Map: Shows where all the quakes happened since March 11, 2011:
http://www.japanquakemap.com/

My Experience: March 11, 2011 – 2:46pm:

The room started to shake so I took notice and stopped what I was doing.  I had felt an earthquake 2 days ago, a 5.0, and thought that somehow this one felt different.  The shaking intensified so I stood up.  Everything in the room was shaking, the TV, the monitor, the shelves, the table, I knew that it was going to be a big one so i opened up my sliding door and stepped onto my balcony.

Then the trees in the yard started shaking and I could see the ground swelling and rolling, I jumped off the balcony and ran to a tree and held it.  I then felt it hard to stand up so I crouched down while holding the tree. The ground became even more violent as I watched my house sway from side to side.  I was hoping that it wouldn’t  fall down.  I then noticed the ground I was standing on was moving violently and I was hoping that the earth would go into liquifaction and swallow me up.

The whole experience was surreal and unbelievable, like I was in a haze or a dream like state. Because the earth was moving so violently it was hard to focus and think rationally.  I knew I just had to stay put because even though I didn’t feel safe, i knew nowhere was safe at that moment in time.

Facebook – March 11 at 2:55pm:
“Huge earthquake just hit Tokyo! My whole house just came alive! It was the biggest earthquake i’ve ever felt in Japan!”

The earthquake lasted for about 4 to 5 minutes.  When It finished i entered my house to find everything on the floor.  We then experienced three other large earthquakes that I found out afterwards were in the 7.2 range.  My cellphone was connection was dead, gas didn’t work, and we had aftershocks every 5 to 10 minutes afterwards. Even now, 8 hours after the earthquake we are still experiencing earthquakes.

Facebook – March 11 at 3:33pm:
“Earthquake update: We are still having aftershocks that are knocking stuff of the shelves. The initial quake was 7.9. The ground is still shaking as I type this. It seems to becoming in waves.”

I sat glued to the TV the whole time watching and waiting.  I tried continuously to call my wife but the cell phones were dead.  I heard the sounds of sirens going off all around the neighbourhood and the anouncement that we had a large earthquake came over the loud speakers that are situated in our area.  I considered leaving the house to find my wife but the aftershocks made me think it was safer to stay home.  The aftershocks were coming in waves.

I instantly started to Facebook the experience and to try and find out what was happening with my friends.  I managed to Viber a few friends (an application that allows you to contact people with other iPhones) and found out some of them were OK.  I Still hadn’t heard from my wife and I was beginning to worry.

Facebook – March 11 at 4:20pm:
Earthquake update: 2. We are still having aftershocks but they are dying down. I’m only just realizing the size of this and I think we are all in a state of shock. Cell phones are not working and the gas is out. As far as I know all trains have stopped and the Tsuanami’s are coming.”

Then the Tsunami’s started to come in.  I couldn’t believe my eyes as I watched the waves come crashing into villages and towns.  I couldn’t believe that this was happening just a couple of hundred kilometers from where I live.

Facebook – March 11 at 5:13pm:
“Earthquake update 3: No more big aftershocks. Tsunami’s have hit the north of Japan and are making their way to Tokyo Bay. According to the news we are expecting large tsunami’s to hit. The gas is back on and the cell phones are working. Everyone is worried of aftershocks.”

Slowly the pictures of the Tsunami were coming in. The first images were scary and tragic but not that bad compared to the images that were to come. My first impression was that the Tsunami’s were small, like they usually are, no one could imagine what was to come next.

Facebook – March 11 at 5:13pm:
“Thanks everyone for your concern. Tomoko and I are well although Tomoko had a close call at work because she was on the 4th floor and mirrors and shelves went flying… I spoke to soon, we are now experiencing a large aftershock.”

My wife came home and we spent the evening watching TV with concern. We felt helpless knowing that we couldn’t do anything at that time but just sit back and watch.

Facebook – March 11 at 5:44pm:
“And another aftershock just hit. It’s a strange feeling because you can’t go anywhere to escape this. We are just sitting in our living room riding the shocks.”

Word had come out that the trains had stopped and people were trapped and had no way of getting home. Taxi’s were full, Busses were full, traffic was jammed up – people were forced to walk home. I heard later that one friend had to walk from Akihabara to his home – the walk took 5 hours while aftershocks were still coming every 30 minutes.

Facebook – March 11 at 6:38pm:
“The neighbor hood is still alive with the sounds of sirens. If anyone is stuck near Chofu or Mitaka you can crash at my place, we got the gas working!”

My wife and I just sat on the couch for the remainder of the night, watching the TV, surfing the net, phoning friends and family, trying to decipher the enigma of news flowing in, riding the aftershocks and wondering when it all was going to stop.

March 12, 2011

Facebook – March 12 at 1:01am:
Hamir: “Hey Lance, glad to hear that you are safe. I’m also at home trying to be safe.”

Lance: “Glad to hear your safe, too! Keep an eye on the news about the nuclear power plants and stay safe!”

Floods of replies came in from Facebook from concerned family and friends, some comical and some with real concern. The comments from friends really helped me feel better and perked up my spirit to endure what was coming next.

Facebook – March 12 at 1:11am:
“Thank you all for your thoughts and prayers. We are still experiencing aftershocks and my cellphone cuts in and out. The sirens have died down around my neighborhood but i’m sure they are busy in other areas. My nerves are a bit shot and I’m a little exhausted from the stress of the constant aftershocks. Going to try and sleep now, good night.”

Facebook – March 12 at 10:14am via iPhone:
“Earthquake update 4: We had about 3 aftershocks after I went to bed. Each one woke me up so I didn’t get much sleep. Work called me at 7:30 am and needed me to come in to cover staff that couldn’t come in because the Chuo Line, a major JR train line, is not running. The trains are crammed pack and running erratically. We just had another aftershock as I’m writing this.”

I arrive at the chapel, I’m a celebrant, to find that everyone is in a panic. We share stories of our experiences and constantly check our cellphones. 3 out of the 7 weddings for that day have been cancelled. I read about a nuclear power plant that has a reactor in trouble. I’m concerned but don’t have time to think about it. I have to concentrate on work. Another celebrant comes to work and tells me 5 reactors are in trouble. I research it on my phone and find out that the plant will more than likely explode in a few hours if they don’t get the cooling system up and running. I phone my brother in Canada and ask him to keep me posted because I don’t trust the Japanese media.

As the day goes on I feel panic in my stomach, part of me is telling me to get out of Tokyo. We were still experiencing aftershocks and on the last wedding we actually had a large aftershock during the ceremony, a first for me.

After the wedding I quickly leave and ride back to my wife and family. Nothing could brace me for what I learned next: reactor number 1 just had a hydrogen explosion.

Facebook – March 12 at 5:44pm
“Earthquake Update: Fukushima radiation is high, whatever that means. A fire has broken out at the Fukushima nuclear plant. Details will come out in 4 mintues from NHK. More aftershocks. I’m currently getting ready to leave Tokyo if the nuclear power plant melts down.”

This news washed over me and drained my blood from my body. It was the worst thing I’ve ever heard and it was happening right then. I look at my wife and tell her we should leave Tokyo. She refused saying that the news was stating the radiation levels were high but not a threat to the public. We bantered for a while but she dug her heals in, we have a home, a family, careers, friends and we are having our wedding ceremony on April 2cnd, 2011. We couldn’t just pick up everything and leave, i was acting crazy and being over dramatic. Was I? Am I over reacting to this news? Maybe we should wait… I call up friends who say they aren’t worried. I sit down and watch the news some more waiting for confirmation that all will be well.

Facebook – March 12 at 6:04pm
“Fukushima radiation levels will be released at 6:00 pm. Apparently the Fukushima radiation plant (about 220 KM north east of Tokyo) hasn’t melted down yet. Wind is blowing north, away from Tokyo at the moment.”

I posted the details on my Facebook encase my friends didn’t have TV or couldn’t understand the Japanese. I sat anxiously waiting for better news. As we all know, the news wasn’t conclusive or better. I want to leave Tokyo I kept chanting to myself like a mantra but the wife was not into this. I call another friend that I hadn’t been able to get through. “I’m panicking”, he said. “And I’m getting out of Tokyo tonight on the bullet train. They have already expanded the exclusion zone from 5 km to 10 km, it’s getting wider”. I thanked him and said I would be in touch. Finally, someone who felt the same way I do. I put my foot down. “Get up, get dressed, pack up, we’re leaving tonight! Bring your passport and remember that we may not be able to return to Tokyo for a long while”.

Seeing the seriousness in my face, my wife reluctantly got up and started packing. I put on our wedding music that I had compiled and turned up the volume. It was a frantic couple of hours while we cleaned the house and packed up. I knew that if the wind had changed the radiation could be in Tokyo in a couple of hours. This plagues my thoughts as I packed up.

When we had finished we sat down realizing it was just too crazy. I planned to take on bike, the Aprilia Moto 650 to Osaka. We thought maybe we should take the bullet train but we were too late for that. We called around for a rental car but they had all closed down. We only had one way to get out of Tokyo that night, the bikes.

Facebook – March 12 at 9:21pm:
“Update: We are leaving Tokyo right now. We are heading south. We have loaded up the bike. We plan to try and put about 300 km between us and Tokyo. I will be offline for a while. Thank you all for your well wishes.”

We load up the luggage compartments on the side of the bike. Tomoko puts Boss, our 2 year old cat that’s in a soft travel bag, around her neck but with all the weight it’s just too much for the back shock. We have to take two bikes. Tomoko gets off and gets on her bike. I bungee cord Boss on the back seat and we set off to put as much distance between us and Fukushima as posible.

After an hour we arrive at a rest station to get our bearings. We meet a nice man who informs us about road conditions, times, and which roads to take. We set off and drive for about 2 1/2 more hours before finding a hotel.

Facebook – March 13 at 3:49am via iPhone
“Tomoko, Boss and I have managed to put an extra 100 km away from Tokyo. We are up in the mountains south of Tokyo. We are very tired as we had to detour due to quake damage only to find out afterwards the road was open. Gnight.”

The only hotel we could find that night was a love hotel. It was a beautiful room with a jet stream bathtub. We were very lucky because we were able to sneak in Boss into the hotel.

We woke up to a nice sunny day in the mountains. I called a couple of friends around Japan to let them know where we were just in case something happened on the way south. I also needed updates on the situation in Tokyo because we were sleeping for most of the morning and we had been out of the loop for about 6 hours. After finding out the situation hadn’t gotten worse or better we carried on south.

March 13, 2011

Facebook – March 13 at 11:39am via iPhone:
“Back on the road. We plan to stay in Nagoya tonight. Feeling better already. :)”

Facebook – March 13 at 1:55pm via iPhone
“At another pit stop some south of Shizuoka. It’s a beautiful day to be on the bike.”

After driving around 500 kilometers we ended up going to Iga instead of Nagoya, 80 km north of Osaka. A friend of my wife works at an agricultural high school where we would be able to set up a bed in one of the large rooms on the second floor of a building. This was our first taste of being a refugee. When we arrived we met Tomoe Sawa, a famous singer song writer who was living in Chiba. She also escaped from the nuclear power plant and was planning to return until we found out that night that reactor 3 was on the verge of blowing up.

Facebook – March 13 at 11:02pm via iPhone:
“We have reached full refugee status – after 8 hours of riding we are sleeping at a high school tonight in Iga, 80 km north of Osaka. Thank you for all your messages. Gnight.”

When we awoke we noticed how beautiful the surroundings were, but that was all crushed when we learned that the third reactor had blown up and was possibly in melt down. My mind was full with emotion and concern. Our family and friends are still in Tokyo. Some have left, some are listening to the rhetoric on the news and risking their lives on a hope that everything will work out for the best. Tomoko has asked her family to leave the capital but her father refuses. They will stick it out, he says. He has to go to work.

This seems to be the mentality of almost everyone in Tokyo. Work is important, more important that leaving on the slim chance that things could get worse.

After looking around the farm at the high school we pack up, pay the owner 4000 yen for the night, and move on south.

March 14, 2011

Facebook – March 14 at 11:28 am via iPhone:
“Heading to Osaka.”

After a quick tour of the farm we make our way towards Osaka where we are planning to stay with a friend. He has told me the landlord won’t allow the cat and that we can’t park in his apartment. We arrive dressed like something out of mad max, leather jackets, biker boots, and biker pants. After finding parking we enter his apartment where we sit down and watch the news and try and soak in past events.

The next day I check the news to find out that reactor 2 had just blown up leaking more radiation into the atmosphere.

Facebook – March 15 at 7:03am via iPhone
“Update: We’ve bought a plane ticket to Canada. We fly from Osaka to Vancouver tomorrow. It’s been a very busy day, banking, buying train tickets, dealing with customs. We’re exhausted and it’s still not finished.”

“We are leaving Japan today!” I tell Tomoko. I phone up the travel agent and ask for the first flight out of Osaka. As it turns out, the first flight would be on the 16th of March, the following day. I book two tickets and then go through the daunting task to liquidating assets and dealing with banks. We first locate where we can liquidate our investments. Of course, time is not on our side. We have less than one hour to go across town, find the bank, and then do the transactions. After driving there, we now have 20 minutes to find another bank to cash in our checks for our assets. We then go to our other banks and liquidate funds. We now have to transfer cash to Canada. We do more banking. By the time it’s all done we are exhausted. We now have to deal with where we are going to leave our motorbikes. We phone around and find a friend willing to take the bikes in Kobe. We head back to the apartment where my friend is, pack up, and head out to Kobe on the bikes leaving the cat in his shower.

As we ride it starts to rain and the first thing I think of is radioactive rain. I tell me wife not to open her mouth and let the rain water in as a precaution. We arrive with minutes to spare to catch the last train from Kobe to Osaka. My brother calls from Canada to inform me that we need a rabies certificate for Boss and a letter saying that he is healthy. We call our vet in Chofu and ask him if he could prepare the documents in PDF format and send them to us tonight. He agrees.

We arrive at my friends apartment to find out that the cat has pooped in the shower and that my friend is not happy. I smooth things over the best I can but relations are damaged. The life of a refugee, a burden on everyone sinks into my mind. We spend the rest of the evening checking email, printing out documents, and watching the news.

Facebook – March 15 at 4:46pm via iPhone
“On the Rapid to Osaka airport. We fly out at 1:30 pm. We are exhausted and are on little sleep but our spirits are good. We wish all our family and friends in Tokyo could be with us right now.”

TO BE CONTINUTED…

VIDEO

Here are all the videos I have taken off of the TV over the past 8 hours.  There are some sublime footage of the disaster. I will do my best to try and update these videos to keep people informed of Japan’s worst earthquake in recorded history:

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