Saturday, March 12, 2011

Super Quake Hits Japan

"M7 here... I'm safe"
a text message 
I received from Kai Cung


Sent: 11 March 2011 at 14:52:46, few minutes after the quake.

By this time, I am sure most of us have heard about the devastating news of the catastrophic earthquake that hit Japan yesterday afternoon. It triggered huge waves of tsunami not only along Japan's Pacific coast, but also at least 20 other countries. According to my aunt who majors in earthquake during her university days, it was fortunate that the quake happened in the sea bed, not on land.

That's because if a have a quake of this magnitude happens on the land, the amount of energy produced would cause much worse destruction. On the other hand, as this quake happened in the sea, the sea water has provided some resistance as the energy travels through the water (energy travels better on solid compared to liquid) and hence, some of its energy has been reduced until it reaches the land.

APTOPIX Japan Earthquake

Houses swallowed by tsunami waves burn in Natori, Miyagi Prefecture (state) after Japan was struck by a strong earthquake off its northeastern coast Friday, March 11. (Kyodo News/Associated Press)

I am not planning to give the details about this 9.0 MW megathrust earthquake, because you can always read them from the news. Instead, I will share my personal experience the moment the disaster struck. I call it a blessing in disguise.


Because I was not in Japan when the earthquake hit Japan on Friday afternoon. I am currently back to Malaysia for my spring back, and has been home for the last three weeks. I boarded a bus at Bukit Jalil and was heading back to my hometown yesterday afternoon. I dozed off almost immediately after the bus took off, as I hadn't had enough sleep the previous night.

CORRECTION Japan Earthquake

A tsumani triggered by a powerful earthquake makes its way to sweep part of Sendai airport in northern Japan on Friday March 11, 2011. The magnitude 8.9 earthquake slammed Japan's eastern coast Friday, unleashing a 13-foot (4-meter) tsunami that swept boats, cars, buildings and tons of debris miles inland. 
(Kyodo News/Associated Press)

Just about a quarter to two, the bus made a brief stop at Jalan Duta bus terminal to pick up a few more passengers and I was slightly awaken. I checked my phone and saw a short text message from someone. I supposed it was from my housemate in Japan, Kai Cung, based on the phone number on display. It read, "M7 here... I'm safe".

I didn't really understand the message, as I couldn't really make out what he meant by M7. So, I just brushed off the message and went to sleep again as the bus continued its journey back to Taiping. The weather was bad along the journey with heavy thunderstorms and slow traffic along the highway. More than halfway the journey, the bus made a brief stop. I went down for my toilet break and returned to the bus.


Houses swept by a tsunami smoulder near Sendai Airport. (Reuters)

As soon as I sat down, I did the normal stuff - checking my phone for any miss-calls or messages. It was then that I saw an unread message from another friend, Jeansway, who asked my whereabouts, whether I am in Japan or Malaysia at the moment because he said there has been a huge earthquake in Japan. The moment I saw the word "earthquake", I somehow recalled and related it to the earlier text message I got.



Japan Earthquake

Workers inspect a caved-in section of a prefectural road in Satte, Saitama Prefecture, after one of the largest earthquakes ever recorded in Japan slammed its eastern coast March 11. (Saitama Shimbun/Associated Press/Kyodo News)

The moment I finally managed to figured out Kai Cung's message, I got another couple of text messages about the quake, and I was very convinced that a major disaster has struck Japan. However, I felt very helpless as I practically not able to do anything until I reach home. I was still in the bus and there is no way for me to check how bad the situation was. The only thing I wished was to arrive as soon as possible and check out the latest developments in Japan. The bad weather continued and the traffic in highway remained to be slow. Why whenever I really wanna rush, the rain has to slow me down? Bad, bad timing!

I immediately replied Kai Cung and reminded him of some basic safety measures to take - to stock up food and water supplies and keep himself warm at all times. It was just an instant instinct as I recalled my own personal experience from the horrifying earthquake that hit Christchurch last September. I tried contacting him through Skype and Facebook, but got no response as well. However, I got no reply from him until later that night and the only thing I could do is to hope that he is doing fine.

Japan Earthquake

Houses, cars and other debris are washed away by tsunami tidal waves in Kesennuma in Miyagi Prefecture, northern Japan, after strong earthquakes hit the area Friday, March 11. (Keichi Nakane/Associated Press/The Yomiuri Shimbun)

After waiting to hear at least something from him, I finally managed to catch him on Skype and I was relieved that he had arrived home safely. He told me how the day went for him. We were actually chatting and joking happily on the phone earlier that morning, just before he went to work. And I never thought a disaster would strike few hours later. He was at his optical shop when the quake hit, and all the specs fell down and the glass shelves broke into pieces onto the floor. The situation was totally chaos and panic. 

Right after the first tremor, his colleagues and him took cover under the table. That was when he messaged me. All train services were suspended immediately and he was lucky to get a ride back from his friend from his work place when situation was slightly stable. He then took a bus from Chiba back to Inage, which took him three hours, where normal days it takes only about fifteen minutes. When I finally managed to contact him though Skype, I reminded him all the safety measures to be take.


A scene of the explosion of the oil refineries in Ichihara, taken by Kai Cung during his ride back home.

Even though I am practically not affected by this quake, I know very well how it feels to be in such situation. It can make even the toughest guy to break into tears in this testing and hard time, especially if you are staying alone.

The continuous aftershocks to me, is the most traumatic thing to experience right after a big earthquake. Every time you thought that things are getting better, you get a jolt again. Every time  you feel like falling asleep at night, another tremor will make you panic again. It is predicted that the aftershocks of around magnitude-6 will continue for the next one month or so. I really hope their prediction is wrong.


Giant fireballs rise from a burning oil refinery in Ichihara, Chiba Prefecture (state) after Japan was struck by a strong earthquake off its northeastern coast. 
(Kyodo News/Associated Press)

My worry is not only the aftershock because there has also been explosions to some nuclear plants in Fukushima and oil refineries in Ichihara, Chiba, which will lead to power outbreak and water contamination, and also the rain will contain chemical which is hazardous to us.

I am scheduled to return to Japan in less than two weeks' time on March 24th, but looking at the current situation, I am not very sure if it will be safe to fly back by then. I guess I will just have to keep myself updated with all the latest developments in Japan.

Japan Earthquake

Stranded commuters watch a TV news on a powerful earthquake at Tokyo railway station as train services are suspended in Tokyo. (Hiro Komae/Associated Press)

It is during hard times like this that you see the best of mankind. Everyone seems to get closer to each other when a disaster struck. Human learn to forget about complaining for petty things and instead, they learn appreciate other people around them. When I see Japanese orderliness and civility during such situation, I cannot help but to express my admiration and feel so impressed.

People still line up and don't cut queue when they board the bus or shopping for supply at supermarkets. There isn't any looting cases reported. People are just helping each other, though they are totally strangers to each other.


The bus station at Shibuya Station dealt with extraordinary numbers as the train lines closed (top); Queues form around the stations (below). (Time Out Tokyo)

I was reading a thread about tweets from Japan after the earthquake occured and after reading the touching and heart-warming stories, it just made me feel emotional. Though there might be some negative stuff about Japan, when it comes to being conscience to others in hard times like this, I guess not many people from other countries are as calm, polite and caring as the Japanese. This is one of the Japanese culture that I wish to inherit and treasure.

"In the middle of the night, I was walking home from college. A lady at a bakery was giving out bread. She kept her bakery open till late hours and was doing what she could do to help others. I was so touched. Tokyo is still not a bad place to live! Such a heart-warming scene." (source)


Students hold candles as they pray for Japan's earthquake victims inside their school in the western Indian city of Ahmedabad March 11. (Amit Dave/Reuters)

For now, what we all can do from afar is to keep praying for those still in Japan. It doesn't matter what your religion is or what you belief. Some people might not take this seriously and thinks praying alone isn't enough. But at least I believe that it somehow works, in some ways.

Ganbatte, Nippon!


DT said...

hmmm..good to know u & ur fren is safe. i'm kinda intrigue with the pic u put up of the prefectural road in Satte, Saitama. i cannot imagine how come the earthquake caved in section actually look more like being teared right in the middle of the road on the orange line. Like someone took up the road and tear it apart/cut at its weakest seam. And furthermore it was a clean cut. No pieces of broken soils. Hmmm... japanese engineering.. really baffling. Looks pretty much still usable road although going over it would be like a ride in roller coaster.

A. Lu said...

Glad to hear you're safe in Malaysia. My prayer with those in Japan. Thanks for your inspiring story.

lvynana said...

ya..they still line up, and I dont see much crying/screaming scene. Really respect them for that.

calvin said...

@ dt:
yup, it is so different with the tear on roads at other places that were hit with an earthquake. i am not very sure about the process of the road construction in japan, but i guess it shows the different level of engineering in a developed country, compared to a developing and third-world country.

the damages, especially in the northern region were mostly caused by the tsunami and i guess they will need millions, if not billions of dollars to rebuild the towns. it can take up to months and years to do that, but like what we have seen at hiroshima and nagasaki, the japanese are strong enough to rise again from this misfortune.

lets pray and hope things will improve as soon as possible!

calvin said...

@ a. lu:
yup, thanks for your concern : )
lets hope those in japan now will be strong to go through this hard time.

calvin said...

@ lvynana:
if there is one thing we can learn from the japanese, this is the best example.

sometimes i feel sad when i see drivers in malaysia who honk cars in front immediately the traffic light turns green. i don't understand why waiting for another second or two is so hard for them.

on the other hand, although the traffic lights were not functioning anymore after the earthquake in japan, the drivers still remained calm and used their common sense and civility when they drive back home. they do not honk each other just for the sake of doing it.