Let me start by saying that I'm fine.
I was at work when the quake hit. It started out as just a quiet Friday afternoon like any other. I was sipping coffee and working on a presentation. We had been listening to a City Hall meeting being broadcast live. The weather was pleasant, and I was thinking about how to spend the weekend. Then the quake hit. At first, I thought it was just your average tremor and that it would be over in another moment, but the crescendo was just beginning to build.
It had been a dull, sometimes comic debate, but suddenly the cadence changed. One voice became a roomful, a perturbed chorus heard through crackling static. People began yelling. We could hear them evacuating (fleeing) the chamber. It was like watching a forest fire on TV while your house is burning around you.
I work on the second floor of the Board of Education, which is housed in an old school building. People started screaming, I sort of stood there still believing that it would be over in another moment. When the manliest guy in Narashino, a hulking 6 ft + ex-judo star turned junior high basketball coach disappeared beneath his desk, I knew then that I had better do the same.
I cram as much of myself as I can in the small space beneath my desk. There's this shelf under there digging into my knee. I always thought it convenient, but now I'm cursing it. As I'm crouched there with my rear exposed, I realize that my computer is still on my desk, so I grab it. The shaking gets wilder. Cabinets are toppling, I can hear the metallic squeal of lights swinging madly, and I'm thinking, "I should've bought one of those white helmets."
I start wondering what if the building collapses? How will I get back to check on my fiancee? I can hear the voice of the sweet old woman whose desk is next to mind, repeating the same word again and again in the saddest voice, "kowai, kowai, kowai ("I'm so scared...scared...so scared...")." That's about the time the first quake started to subside. I jump out from under my desk and I see one of the other BoE members trying to move this massive filing cabinet that's fallen against the rear of a desk. I head over there and push the cabinet back into balance. Suddenly a teacher emerges from beneath the desk behind me. She had been trapped under her desk because of the cabinet.
We head out of the building before the first aftershock hits. We stumble outside as the first aftershock hits. It felt like I had too much to drink, I'm sick to my stomach and having trouble keeping my balance. There are sirens blaring, the phones aren't working. We're all dazed and trying to get our bearings. The trains are stopped. The wail of the sirens is growing louder. I notice that there's a tremor in my hand. Everyone in Japan is trying to call someone.
I'm starting to panic about my loved ones. I can't get through on my phone and all I can hear are sirens. So I start running down the street towards home with my suit jacket flapping. I'm running down the street and I see that cars are stopped to let police and fire trucks pass. I turn the corner and I start having trouble breathing. There's an acrid smell in the air and a huge black cloud is billowing down the street. I get closer and see a scene out of a movie. Some crazed guy on a moped is jostling with a car to try to flee before whatever is burning takes the road with it. I make my way down the street to where the smoke is thickest and there are four or five firefighters already hard at work. An electric pole is leaning against an apartment building. The people who were standing spellbound a moment ago suddenly cower as a crash reverberates along the awnings that line the shopfronts on either side of the street. Something behind the building collapses and enormous orange flames burst out. The firefighter starts screaming into a bullhorn for people to get back into their homes. I slip through a narrow alley into a temple graveyard and make my way back home.
This disaster movie continues. The air here smells like rain and ozone. I'm flat out running and I throw open the door like a movie. We pick up the things that had fallen over. No noticeable damage. The power is on and the water is still running. Unbelievably the $20 bookcase we bought from Ikea endured the quake without even wobbling.
When I finally calm down enough to notice the TV, I'm seeing things out of some kind of big-budget Hollywood disaster movie. Hundreds of cars are being swept along writhing waves, an airport is covered in something like a mudslide. Some massive supply of oil held in the JFE industrial site next to Tokyo Disney has exploded and the flames are filling the sky like a warzone. How surreal it must be for someone to have walked out of Space Mountain and see that eruption.
I'm trying to change clothes, but there are more quakes and neither of use is sure how strong they're going to become. After I change we pack up some things, double check the gas valve, turn off the power, and head out to check on the neighbors. I return to the office and help them straighten up. "I've never experienced a quake like this," people keep telling me. One of the guys hands me a helmet and tells me half-jokingly that we should take turns wearing it.
Today, things have relaxed a bit. The tremors continue, but some of the trains are moving again. People who were stranded Tokyo all night are finally able to begin the long trip home. My neighbors and friends are thankfully fine, but the rest of Japan isn't. Fires are still burning and the quakes are still coming. Some news reports are saying that the aftershocks in the coming week could reach a magnitude of 7. I've read that there have already been over 100 small quakes since yesterday's monster.
The news we're seeing is surreal. Electricity is out in many places. The pipes are a mess, so many people are without running water. There are some serious fear about a possible meltdown at a nuclear power plant in the neighboring prefecture of Fukushima and what the effects might be for the rest of the country. They're trying to calculate the potential fallout based on various wind speeds.
Whenever it rains next, it will shower most of those unfortunate to be outside with a bunch of awful things being swept and swirled around in the air. I'm hearing about these bizarre quake precursors, like a bunch of whales washing up on the shore, strange bird flight, etc. Everyone is desperately trying to make sense of this disaster.
This was a Godzilla Quake, but Japan is handling it as well as can be expected. The current DPJ government will be made or broken by their response to this disaster and their plan for recovery.