Yesterday morning, I had a conversation with Chris, fellow teacher, about earthquake emergency kits and what you need. And the day before, I went through and updated our own emergency kit which is stored in a backpack on a shelf above the door of our apartment. I even finally finished stocking the bare bones kit I keep under my desk at work.
All kind of horribly ironic. Maybe it's my Boy Scout "always prepared" thing or my time in the fire department and ambulance service where we trained for the worst case scenario. I think a lot about earthquakes here. I think about where I'm going to take cover when I'm inside. I try to identify the safest place from falling glass and buildings when outside.
After lunch, I rode my bike to check out the stock at a used bicycle auction down in Eifukucho, about 10 kilometers away. They had some really nice bikes that will be available, first come - first serve, that will be for sale on Monday.
After checking out the bikes, I started riding home along the Kandagawa canal toward Kichijoji and home. I was really excited and was debating with myself about all the different types. I pulled up to a cross intersection where I had to pause to check for traffic when I heard really loud splashing in the canal next to me.
"What the hell? Is it those really big koi (carp) thrashing down there?" I thought. I leaned over the railing and saw water sloshing back and forth. Still confused, I looked up to see the trees start to sway back and forth.
Oh. An earthquake... Oh. A big earthquake... Oh. A really big earthquake and it's not stopping.
I quickly staggered to the center of the bridge to get away from the buildings on either side and laid my bike down on its side. The shaking got worse and worse. The ground heaved underneath me. It swayed back and forth, lurching me forward and backwards. I went to one knee and put a steadying hand on the ground.
A mother with a young toddler was crouched down near me but up against a building. I called her to her and motioned for her to come out in the open, pointing at the building and pantomiming it falling down. With a look of startled understanding, she scrambled over to me, pulling her child along. We crouched there, telling each other how much we don't like earthquakes and how much we wanted it to stop.
Eventually it did. The whole city seemed to hold its breath and stand up at the same time, looking around. People started pouring out of their houses, clutching pets and cell phones. And, of course, the cell phone system immediately jammed up.
People seemed to shake themselves back to reality and got back to what they were doing. The nearby construction workers went back to constructing. The shopkeeper resumed sweeping in front of her store. It suddenly seemed like it had never happened.
I picked up my bike and said to my new friend, "Kiyo tsukete" (take care) and took off fast. I knew that Joan would be freaked out and wondering if I was OK. I came around a corner at the foot of a hill, stood up on the pedals, and pushed down. CRACK! The pedal crank arm stopped moving.
I looked down and saw that I had bent and broken the large sprocket. I was done riding. Crap. I was still five kilometers from home.
It was a long, strange walk home. The trains were shut down, and as I pushed my bike along the Inokashira line, I could see trains stopped on tracks, still full of passengers. Outside the stations, there were large crowds of people milling around. I don't think people knew yet about how big the earthquake had been at it's epicenter or where it was.
There was a 7.1 aftershock while walking home. Normally, it would be considered a big one, but people hardly seemed to notice. I stopped and found a safe place just in case.
I finally made it home to find Joan standing with her crutches outside the building with some teacher friends, all suited up with the emergency kit backpack on. There was some hugging, and there was some crying.
We spend the rest of the day answering emails and facebook posts about our status, as well as glued to media sources to see what had happened up north. At this point, you probably know as well as us the details and extent of it. One of the worst things to watch is the repeated video footage of the tiny cars trying to escape the fast moving wall of dirty, flotsam covered tsunami water and to see them inevitably overtaken and disappear. We're pretty sure this is going to be as bad as it looks.
There were aftershocks all evening and night, which kept waking us up. There's is always that hesitation and uncertainty - "Should we slide out of bed and under the desk?" One of the aftershocks was large enough for us to do that, but it was over before Joan was able to join me. We climbed back under the blankets and went back to fitful sleep. The shaking would wake us again, and we'd lie there thinking, "Is this it? Is this the big one?" Then it would fade away.
Sunlight and coffee this morning were never so good...
I feel guilty when I think about all those poor people up north in the cold, wet ruins of their lives. I'm just glad it wasn't us. In a city the size of Tokyo, it would be inconceivable... If that that an 8.9 from 230 miles away, imagine what it must be like at the epicenter.