On the Earthquake and Tsunami of March 11, 2011

November Project: Question #17 Today's question actually came from several people, asked in many different ways. I'll try to condense it as best I can:

Were you in the earthquake of 3/11?

On March 11th, I was home writing. We had many pre-shocks leading up to it, and when it happened I thought it was nothing more than another small earthquake. But it kept growing in strength and did not stop.

I walked out to the front door of the apartment and stood looking at the building next to mine (I live on the 4th floor). The shaking was so violent, I was sure the two buildings would collide at any moment. They swayed toward each other with only inches of space between them.

This seemed to go on for some time.

When the shaking stopped, I went back into the apartment to find everything in disarray. Some of our appliances were destroyed, water spilled everywhere, and any items stored up high were on the floor. I checked the other rooms and found similar conditions.

I knew there would be a big aftershock coming, which is usually the case with large earthquakes, so I went out into the streets. And an aftershock did come. It was so strong that I had to brace myself while standing.

Some time passed, I'm not sure how much, and I saw a news report on a large screen television at a cell phone store. It was then I learned of the tsunami, and I watched as it happened (it was a live broadcast).

There was no cell phone service, including text messages. The internet did work, however. (I remember going to an electronics store a few days after, and there must have been close to 1000 people there trying to buy smart phones for that very reason.)

All the trains stopped. Akiko had to walk about 4 hours to get home. She and I could not contact each other at all, but we already had a plan in place in case this sort of thing ever happened and I knew how she would get home.

I didn't know this at the time, but Akiko and her co-workers had no idea of the severity of the tsunami. They knew it had happened, but had no other details until I met them that night. It wasn't a nice task having to tell them.

Has life in Japan returned to normal?

For most of us, yes. Most businesses are still conserving energy however they can. On the train today, for example, all the lights were off until we actually reached the final station (that particular train runs outdoors, so we weren't stumbling about in the dark or anything ;-) ).  And many stores have kept their outside signage turned off since the earthquake. In fact, one convenience store chain has actually replaced all of the flourescent lights in their stores with LEDs to save energy.

The city can look strange at night and somewhat deserted in certain places, what with the outer lights turned off. But I imagine, if everyone suddenly turned all the lights back on, it would shock the senses, haha.

There are still thousands upon thousands of homeless people living in shelters close to the effected areas. And there are so many orphaned children. In many cases, they are the sole remaining members of their families.

But the Japanese have used whatever resources they could find to help life return to some form of normalcy. They have taken dilapidated buildings and used them for schools for the children or as temporary hospitals. And people from all over the country go there regularly to help in whatever way they can. Sometimes musicians go to hold concerts for free. Or others might donate a few karaoke machines for the weekend so the people in the shelters might be able to have some fun.

Many things have been done, and still far more needs to be done. But the people have a good outlook on how things are unfolding, and it seems to be getting better, albeit slowly.

What sort of efforts are being done to help?

There are many things, of course. Some are obvious, and some might never cross your mind.

For example, today I went to Akihabara with Akiko to help clean up photographs found in one of the worst effected areas of the tsunami.

Apparently, during the process of clearing debris after the tsunami, rescue workers kept finding photo albums, small and large. They amassed thousands of photos in the ensuing weeks and months and eventually those photos were sent to be cleaned.

In a very small number of cases, the photos will be sent back to relatives after they have been cleaned and restored. But in most cases, the people in the photos are simply gone and have not been identified. Hopefully someone, somewhere, will be able to put a name to the faces.

It was a strange feeling. The photos I worked on came from a place hit hardest by the tsunami. There were infants, children, parents, vacations, weddings, parties, and so much more. I am fairly certain, all the faces I saw today are no more. Their stories are finished. But I hoped, in my own way, I could preserve a small part of their stories through the photos. It was a great victory when a clear image was saved.

I hope someone will be able to recognize them all, someday.

Thanks for the question, everyone...