One year ago today Japan was rocked by a magnitude 9.0 earthquake at 2:46PM followed by a devastating tsunami that sparked a nuclear crisis.
I was in Tokyo in my office on the 26th floor of a Shinjuku skyscraper on a conference call. I started feeling a bit dizzy as though I wasn’t feeling well. After about 30 or 40 seconds I said to the people I was speaking to ‘sorry I need to go’. As soon as I hung up the phone everything began to move.
Living in Tokyo I have been through many earthquakes but this one was different. This one was more of a ‘roll’ than a ‘shake’. It was powerful, much more than anything I have seen before and it seemed to last forever.
The rest of the day just seemed surreal…as did the days that followed.
Someone had posted a video on You Tube of my office building swaying. Our building was moving for more than 13 minutes. When you watch it swaying remember it’s a 35 story office building that is moving.
Our building was built to sustain this type of impact from an earthquake and sustained very little damage. A few broken windows, some wall cracks and peeling paint.
All of the trains were stopped so people were left with the option of sleeping in the office or taking to the streets of Tokyo for a long walk home. Into the evening I still had not been able to reach my wife and son so I opted for the long walk home…
A lot of office buildings turned their TVs on and faced them toward the street so people can follow what was going on across Japan…and the terrible situation unfolding up north.
Many people in Tokyo do not know how to walk home as everyone takes the train. Police Stations gave people directions on which way to go. Being a runner I know my way across most of Tokyo on foot and was able to find my way home and helped lead a small group that was heading my way. After about 3 hours of walking I was able to hear from my wife via a message she posted on Facebook.
I woke up very early the next morning to make sure we were stocked up on supplies as I expected things to run out quickly… Gas was already being rationed allowing about a quarter of a tank to be purchased.
Bread was all but gone…
…and apparently a mad rush on Minestrone Soup.
As Sunday came things began to return to normal….
The spirt of the Japanese is amazing as many people returned to work on Monday…while others were understandably hesitant. Many of the trains were running at 20-30% causing massive crowds.
As I returned to my office all of the windows had signs that said ‘Do Not Touch’… not very comforting 300 feet up.
The first thing I did after returning to my desk was to restock my earthquake kit. At 10.02am another earthquake struck in Ibaraki which was around magnitude 6.2. No damage but it was unnerving after only being in the office for an hour. A few companies closed as the staff was visibly shaken. I decided it was time to head home for the day…
Tuesday brought a somber feeling across Tokyo as people tried to understand all of the conflicting media reports…
Despite continued fear in the media Wednesday just seemed to be a brighter day…
I passed this beautiful young girl in the train station on my way to work. I stopped and asked her where she was going and she said “her graduation and nothing was stopping her”… I loved her spirt.
Thursday seemed normal as repairs and safety checks continued across Tokyo…
As evening approached the Tokyo Government announced that everyone should immediately begin to commute home as Tokyo was on the verge of a blackout… Madness ensued as people raced home.
I made it about half way home but my connecting line was already shut down when I got to Shibuya Station so I got to commute home again on foot.
Those of us in Tokyo who experienced the earthquake did so with only minor inconveniences and a few scares. 20,000 lost their lives and the 100,000s lost their homes and everything they had. Friday I decided to focus my energies more productively and headed down to Second Harvest Japan. I volunteered my photography skills to help document the amazing work they are doing bringing supplies to shelters up north. 100s of companies donated their products, services or money to help support Second Harvest’s efforts. They continue today running trucks of supplies up north. I have donated to them several times through last year. If you want to help Japan, please consider making a donation to Second Harvest.
I was really impressed with how the foreign community rallied behind their adopted land. My friend Pieter built a geiger counter call iGeigie that works with his iPhone as supplies around the world rapidly vanished. You can see a close of up Pieter’s iGeigie on Flickr.
As the days went on reporting from international media was sensationalism, especially about what was going on in Tokyo. I send a fairly nasty email to the editor of CNN after they reported that Tokyo had become a ‘Ghost Town’ that somehow became an iReport and got published on CNN. Thankfully the stories didn’t continue for long after that.
The Boston Globe’s Big Picture has an amazing set of tsunami before and after photos today. It is hard to comprehend the destruction and devastation that took place as well as the recovery.
A lot has happened in Japan over the past year but a lot of recovery is left to do. Hopefully you will consider making a donation via one of the links above. If you have a story to share from 3.11…please do.
Thanks for stopping by today.