That describes my legs, mostly. I was at home when Japan experienced an
8.8 9.0 magnitude earthquake. It hit off the Northeast coast, caused a massive tsunami and aftershocks which continued into the night. We felt it in Tokyo, where my solid apartment building shook for what seemed like forever.
I had time to register that the floor was throbbing, notice my laundry swaying on the drying rack. I had time to tell myself to calm down, look out the window, and realize I shouldn’t be by the window. I told myself to wait it out. I had time to walk to the hallway, realize the tremor was getting stronger, find my keys and phone, slip on shoes and dart outside. I didn’t lock the door. Thankfully for my legs, which were barely holding me up at this point, it is a short half-flight of stairs before I’m out the back door, where I stood in the street with neighbors as we looked at our respective buildings in shock and amazement. A taxi drove by and at first I thought he was laughing at my over-reaction, then realized it was a nervous giggle.
The Japan Times reports this earthquake was one of the strongest to have ever hit Japan, bigger even than the 1923 Great Kanto earthquake, which registers every time I read about a “historic” temple or shrine that was rebuilt after it crumbled the city.
I took a walk around the block to calm down and met many of my neighbors. Usually we pass with barely a glimpse, but today everyone was meeting my eye, and more nervous giggles. Maybe they were amused by my scene — speed walking, without a coat but wearing the new hat my Dad sent me. Announcements came from loud speakers I didn’t even know were there, presumably telling me to speed-walk myself home.
After awhile, it became hard to tell if the Earth was moving or if it was just my heart pounding. I spent the afternoon with one eye on my laundry, my personal barometer of earth-sway.
I wasn’t prepared at all, which I am a bit ashamed to admit. But also, I didn’t feel panic or even much worry about not being prepared. When living in the US, I knew exactly what to do in the case of tornadoes (Minnesota) and hurricanes (Washington, DC). Radio, flashlights and candles, cribbage board, snacks, beer, toilet paper. Then wait it out. I had no idea what to expect in the case of an earthquake, and I couldn’t understand what the radio was saying had I procured one.
My new emergency lifeline of choice? Twitter. I was alone in my apartment, but I wasn’t really alone. Phones were down, I couldn’t call Dan. My email was working, but the connection was too slow for my liking. Twitter kept me afloat. I got news in real-time. I had people sending me notes, checking on me, asking if I was OK. I asked them what to do, they told me. Another aftershock, blerg! We commiserated. It was a huge network of people, hanging in there together.
So what did they recommend I do? Fill the bathtub with water, in case of a water main break. I also learned that if you forget you are filling the tub, it will stop automatically and it will play a cheery little song to tell you it’s done. I pulled out warm clothes, filled water bottles, and put cookies into a bag. I watched the news. But what else? The worst was over for me, but I felt like I was missing something. Watching flood waters overtake Sendai was devastating. What else could I do?
I took a walk, which was the best thing I did all day. After my initial lap (or, 3) around the block, I’d only been to the window to watch the nearby workmen watch their new building. So I went to the grocery store and picked up some things for dinner and the next few days. And I saw everyone else going on with their business — the grocery store was busy, but not harried. Some people carried hardhats with them, many were waiting for buses (trains were shut down). The neighborhood was bustling but calm, which was reassuring. I knew I was doing the right thing. I tried to pick up some candles, but they didn’t seem to carry them. Batteries and cellphone chargers, on the other hand, were sold out. So I bought beer and went home.