Now at Narita just north of Tokyo. Focused on getting out of Japan as soon as possible. The first group of Canadians from Sendai will be arriving on Wednesday March 16th at 5:30pm on Air Canada flight AC002 at Pearson International Airport. I can be reached at 647 701 7196 once I pick up my bag. I will have access to email at scot dot thom at gmail dot com.
When my feet hit the sidewalk, I had no idea what to do. I was supposed to head to Jusco (the local grocery / department store) to get supplies for making blueberry and strawberry pancakes and for food for the rest of the week. Then I looked in the opposite direction towards the Tohoku International School and thought of all of the students and teachers there. I realized that Jusco would have no power and most of the stock would be on the ground in a huge mess.
As I walked towards the Tohoku International School, I could hear the fire alarm going off on the first floor of our apartment building and saw many shocked neighbours whom I knew I would not be able to hold a conversation with my limited Japanese language skills and suddenly feeling very tired. I took a picture of the first item damaged from the earthquake.
I didn’t see too much damage as I completed the 20 minute walk to TIS. I did notice that from time to time I was having problems walking in a straight line and I chalked it up to being in shock. It turns out that it was one of the many aftershocks that rolled through Sendai. At the school, everyone had evacuated outside and the majority of the students were on school buses that could not leave until the aftershocks stopped for an extended period of time. Needless to say, my girlfriend was relieved to see me.
At the school, things were a little more organized. The teachers had the students on buses ready to get going once the shaking stopped and they knew that the roads were clear to get down to downtown Sendai Train Station. Of course, the shaking didn’t stop – over the two hours that the bus sat in the parking lot there were a series of aftershocks ranging from 4.0 to 6.5 on the Richter scale. Eventually the decision was made to have the buses leave for downtown and we left. In the next hour and a half that I was on the bus we travelled up the hill back towards JUSCO in Nakayama and then down the hill on the other side of the golf course. It was decided that myself and another teacher would leave the bus to see about getting more food for the students on the bus. By the time that we had made it back up the hill towards JUSCO, the traffic had cleared up enough that the bus had put enough distance between us that there was no point in heading back down that way. The two of us decided that we wouldn’t get in the long line-up snaking in front of JUSCO and make our way over the 7-11. It was closed but staff could be seen putting stock back on the shelves. Our next decision was to make it back to our apartment building to setup an area where all of the teachers in our building could crash for the night.
When we arrived at the YSK building the fire alarm was off along with the power. All of the doors had been propped open on all stairways so there a crisp breeze blowing through the hall. In case you aren’t familiar with Japanese architecture in pre-fab buildings, the hallways are not heated. There is no traditional western HVAC system that heats the whole building or even each individual unit. Most apartment buildings have a kerosene heater that has to be filled up periodically.
We opened the door to my friend’s apartment and was greeted by a powerful pungent smell. It had been six hours since the megaquake had struck, so it was not enough time to have things go bad. We surveyed the destruction in his apartment then headed up to the fifth floor to raid my girlfriends apartment for a broom and dustpan. Then we spent the next hour cleaning up the main room in his apartment and the kitchen.
It turns out that in an earthquake, most of the stuff that had been in cupboards above the sink and around the sink, now found it’s way into the sink – it was packed full of dishes, appliances and broken glass and ceramics. We finally got the apartment looking like it was liveable, then decided to head back to JUSCO.
At JUSCO, we waited in line for twenty minutes where I stocked up on what I thought was water (Aquarius sports drink actually), cup of soup and noodles, three loaves of bread, and fuel for the burner that we had forgotten about until I saw the fuel canisters. The weird thing was that there was NO water available – most of the stuff available was junk food.
We made it back to the apartment and the other teachers had made it back from their bus ride. The bus took two hours to get to Kita-Sendai station and a decision was made to turn around. It took another two hours for the bus to make it back to the school and for them to get a ride back to the apartment building. By this time, we had everything cleaned up, piled up all of our food from four different apartments and cooked up a storm. All of us slept in that one apartment (seven in total) and any time there was an earthquake people started to say “happy birthday”, more of a way to confirm that all of us were feeling the same earthquake and it was not just in our heads.
(I’ll write more in a new post later on tonight about the next few days – I am back in Toronto with Heather and Mylene).