Monday, March 14, 2011

Do what you can

After a long week of purging our apartment, I was so greatly looking to a weekend filled with vegging out on the couch and watching movies with my husband.  And then the quake hit mainland Japan and threatened us with a tsunami on Friday afternoon.  The epicenter of the quake activity is about 1,000 miles from our little island, so we were largely unaffected.  We didn't feel the seismic activity and the tsunami waves we received were less than two meters high, causing no destruction to Okinawa.  In fact, I was napping when things were going on up north.  A woke me up asking if she could watch a movie and I sat up groggily and flipped on the Apple TV.  Then I opened my MacBook and was startled by a flood of Facebook messages and wall posts.  Tons of people, mostly back in California, checking in on us to make sure we were alright.  What is going on??  I changed the TV to the AFN news channel and watched the loops of mainland Japan quake and tsunami footage and the local ticker running across the bottom of the screen bracing us for a possible tsunami for nearly an hour, unable to look away.  Even now looking back at Friday it all seems surreal.

I called M at work but he wasn't there.  So I switched to his cell phone, but the lines of course were down (our service provider is obviously based on mainland and things were jammed, to say the least).  Unable to reach him, I sat back down and kept watching the TV until he finally burst through the front door and threw down his things.  He thought he had news for me, but I knew more than he did.  Loudspeakers were booming through the open sliding glass door, reciting news and warnings and updates in both English and Japanese.  Sirens wailed.  M said, "I'm on call all weekend and may need to go to mainland if they need help."

We remained under a tsunami warning until late Friday night when the warning was downgraded to a tsunami advisory.  By the time we got up in the morning, we were back under a tsunami warning and stayed there again for several hours due to the strong aftershocks still rocking Japan.

Sounds chaotic right?  Only this is quite literally nothing compared to the absolute devastation up on the mainland.  We were extremely fortunate.  I still can't stop watching the footage whenever it comes up on my television.  Despite my Facebook posts promising we were fine, messages, phone calls, and wall posts continued to roll in all the way through yesterday from my stateside friends and family concerned over our well-being.

A fellow Okinawa-resident posted this map on her Facebook to ease her family's worry about us.  The blue arrow indicates our location.

On Saturday afternoon, phone calls started rolling in on our local phones.  M jumped at the opportunity to fly out and help right away.  Humanitarian efforts had been the main thought on his mind since he caught wind of the news Friday afternoon.  He started packing his things.  Yesterday morning the girls and I dropped him off and by last night he was settled on an Air Base in Tokyo.  He'll be there for the next few weeks aiding in any way possible.

I feel so numb from the whole situation.  It seems like time is passing in slow motion.  I didn't go to bed till after 1 this morning and then I was up several times - weird dreams.  And then the relentless feelings leaving me wondering: was that an earthquake?  What would I do if we ever got hit in even a fraction of the way that the mainland has?  People crack jokes because I am from California that I must be used to earthquakes but the truth is that I am really not.  The quakes I experienced in California were nothing.  Most times they happened overnight and I slept through them.  On the rare occasion that I actually noticed something was going on, it was one brief moment of tremor and then nothing else.  I'd confirm it was an earthquake several seconds afterwards when I'd notice the calendar hanging off of a push-pin on my cubicle wall swinging as I sat in my desk chair at work.

Just over a year ago, I was woken from a total sleep to the bed shaking and the sound of the accordion-style closet doors rattling.  I was not completely coherent and my first thought was that something must be the matter with M, sleeping beside me.  I reached out to him and found that his body was not the source of the movement.  I said, "What is going on??"  And then I snapped out of my groggy daze and propped myself up on an elbow.  I said, "Is this an earthquake??"  M spoke some sort of confirmation and I scooted closer to him - closer to the center of the mattress - surprised at the intensity of the shaking.  When it ended, at least a full minute had passed and we could feel our tower very gently swaying for another minute or so.  And then we both laid there with our eyes wide open for several more minutes.  The kids had slept through the whole thing and I wondered to myself if that was like the quakes I'd slept through as a child.  No, it couldn't have been.  Realizing sleep wasn't going to happen, we finally grabbed our MacBooks and side-by-side in bed began searching for a report on what we'd just felt .  Eventually we found that it was reported at 7.0 but that no major damage had occurred.

I've still never felt anything else quite like that, but I'll admit that it made me uneasy.  I can't imagine what it must have felt like to experience the 9.0 - several minutes in duration, followed by over 100 aftershocks in the next days and destructive - and then of course the massive, unfathomable (at least to me) tsunami.

I've been following blogs and Twitters and news articles like crazy.  Jo at A Bit Of This and A Bit Of That has been posting frequently, and Maki of Just Bento has been translating and Tweeting almost nonstop for English-speakers.

The before and after aerial photos found here completely took my breath away.  I feel such devastation and helplessness for all that is happening.  My love and thoughts are with the good people in Japan.  I urge anybody reading to do what you can - donate money, canned goods, clothing, time...  Anything you can spare.

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