A few of you (online) may know that I lived in Japan!
A few of you may also know that I was in Japan during the historic 2011 Tohoku earthquake, March 11th -- 8 years ago.
When the earthquake struck, my friend and I were in a different town than where I lived. It was still one of the strongest earthquakes I have felt, despite it being hours away from the epicenter.
Having lived in the NW, earthquakes and drills are commonplace. The types of earthquakes I had been in prior were NOTHING like the sensation of the Tohoku quake. It felt like being on the sea during bad swells, like my legs couldn't balance or trust the earth we were standing on.
In moments of disaster, I go into to troubleshoot, and resolve mode. "Do as the Japanese!" We were in a tourist town, but still there wasn't a lot of English spoken, so we followed suit, exited the store we were in (scouring for Japanese Kit Kats), and stood in the promenade in the center of the street. We watched light posts sway, and the architecture thrash.
We returned to the train station afterwards only to find out all transportation is halted, as well as cell phone service. The few English phrases I heard was "bad accident", "National Emergency", and overheard "Tokyo Disney is underwater!"
She and I wandered and found a fellow stranded passenger from the Naval Base. I asked this woman if she'd like to join us since we were all in limbo. A small restaurant, not normally one to welcome Western faces, took us in for a couple hours while we tried to wait for more information. So many aftershocks that felt like sea sickness. To this day, if the building I am in, rattles, I immediately sense whether or not I need to duck and cover.
Once we realized there was no transportation at all for the night, we strategized how we were going to make it back to where I lived.
There was a huge line at the taxi stand. The Japanese, so respectful to social courtesy, patiently waited as the next taxi would come back for the next person in line. Orderly.
Well that wasn't going to work because we were all without a clue wtf was going on. I finally got a hold of my bf on a payphone, at the time, and he explained that it was really bad and that the Naval station was making big plans to move. We knew we had to get back.
We walked a mile or so outside the town center. When we finally flagged a taxi driver willing to stop for us, my Brooklynite friend immediately climbed in the back of the cab and refused to budge until he agreed to drive us. We pooled $100 cash, and he very, very reluctantly agreed. Our driver had a mini-cry of consciousness on whether picking us up was "right" because there were people waiting in line.
I'm very grateful for his decision to drive us back, and acknowledge my responsibility in talking him into it.
When we returned to Yokosuka, I had so many messages from friends and family. Worried. Uncertain.
When I finally saw the damage from the tsunamis I understood the severity. Where we were the earthquake was still around a 7 on the richter scale. Aftershocks happened multiple times a day, and even one struck as my plane was taking off about a week later.
8 years later we know just how bad the damage is. Fukushima, the nuclear power plant, had irreversible damage and poisoned our ocean. I learned how differently the US processes disaster on a Federal level because of how kind the Japanese were to their people. Simply, honorable.
Older employees at the power plant, literally risked their lives to fix the reactor and address the radioactive water. They volunteered first.
One of the largest vending machine companies, on national television, told people how to override the machines and manually open them, should people need food and drink. Other parts of the country respected this information and didn't use it as an opportunity to loot. This is still something I can't see any US brands offering up, and our culture respecting.
My friend was able to get on a flight within a day or so, and I had to move my return date up a month and start packing up my apartment. While Japanese media still wasn't revealing *just* how bad the radiation leak was, the US naval equipment was already reading it. That return week was a blur, I contracted the flu, and the next month was exhausting for me to return to the states. I wasn't sleeping well, still felt the immediacy of perceived aftershocks, and my bf wouldn't return until nearly May.
I wanted to share this today as an opportunity to encourage you to check your own emergency preparedness kit. This is a non-negotiable in my home, and helped Karl and I prepare early for another historical disaster, Hurricane Harvey.
Regardless if you are in a earthquake zone, you may be in a tornado alley, severe wildfire risk, hurricanes -- different elements, similar effect.
Here are some of my musts:
Know your emergency plan: who is your area and out of area contact?
Where will you and your loved ones meet if your home is compromised?
Escape plan for safety.
The minimums: food, water, radio (hand cranked or plenty of batteries), flashlights, back up phone chargers charged...
Access to important documents: insurance info.
Check out RedCross.org for disaster-specific guides.
What I've learned is that this is NOT a morbid process, this is survival, and therefore literally all of us can be prepared. Everything can be replaced except life, so it's worth the "off season" day or couple hours to check in with your own reserves and review with your family an emergency drill: do the climbing out of the window and pop quiz who are you going to call.
Finally, the most important lesson I learned from the Japanese during this earthquake:
The power of kindness and community.
Extend additional compassion and service as fully as you are capable when a disaster strikes. Love kindles people's reserves and fortifies their "can make it" attitude.
Kindness makes us feel more human, more welcomed, and capable.