Two Weeks

It has been two weeks since I felt the earthquake (at 5.0 magnitude where I live in west Tokyo—approximately 250 miles from the epicenter).

Five days later, I finally broke down and cried.

Seventeen years ago, I was 10 when my mother woke me up during the middle of the night, and I found our room shaking. Luckily for us, only a few things fell down. My most vivid memory of that incident was laying in bed with my mom as she prayed the rosary during the aftershocks that seemed stronger than the initial quake. Her calmness about the situation made me feel that everything was okay, and so I fell back asleep. It wasn't until I watched the news that morning that I realized how much damage resulted from the 6.7 Northridge Earthquake.

It was déjà vu on March 11, 2011. After a fun-filled week touring Tokyo, Hiroshima and Miyajima with friends visiting from the States, the kids and I said many goodbyes on Friday. In the middle of the night, I dropped off my husband at Yokota AB so that he could leave for a mission at an undisclosed location. Later that afternoon, the kids and I watched our friends board onto a shuttle bound for Narita International Airport. Exhausted, the kids and I went home and took a nap. At 2:46pm, I woke up from my nap to find our house shaking. I had been through many earthquakes before, but this felt like it was never going to end. Again, we were lucky with nothing falling off our shelves and walls.

Surprisingly, my kids slept through the earthquake—they finally woke up during one of the aftershocks; and my two-year-old said, "It's shaking, Mom. It's shaking!" Even though nothing fell down, I kept feeling like if these aftershocks kept continuing, our house was going to eventually fall off its foundation.

Once the aftershocks stopped, I decided to visit the BX and Commissary since we were low on some household items. We walked into the stores, and there were half-full carts stranded all over the stores as well as team members restocking fallen items onto the shelves. I saw a few people watching the news, but I thought they were just talking about the recent earthquake. It wasn't until we returned home, and I turned on the TV that I saw the devastating events that happened north of us.

At that moment, I felt that I needed to keep it together for the kids. I remembered my mom during the Northridge Earthquake, and I remained calm. Except with each aftershock that I felt for the next few days until I left for my trip to Singapore, I felt like I was losing my grip. It was different being the parent this time around as my decisions don't just affect me but also two little children. Every time I watched the news, read the news, read concerning emails, I felt like everything was not going to be okay. I felt like my days were consumed with learning about the earthquake, tsunami, victims, and radiation and how they affected us.

Four nights later, I actually started writing a post on here about my experience, but then I felt another earthquake. I found out that it was at a 6.2 magnitude in Fujinomiya—about 54 miles southwest from where we live. I stopped writing, and I just kept researching. Learning that it happened near Mt. Fuji terrified me. I started imagining more aftershocks happening around the area causing a volcanic eruption.

The next night, I was watching World News with Diane Sawyer where Hiroshima survivors shared their stories. Having visited the A-Bomb Dome, Children's Peace Monument, Peace Memorial Park, and Peace Memorial Museum the previous week, I started crying. I remembered Sadako Sasaki, a little girl who died of leukemia 10 years after the atomic bombing; and I began to fear for my two kids, 2 and 13 months at the time of the nuclear reactor explosions in Fukushima.

My strength was continually tested. As I was crying, the house went completely black. I hoped that we would be immune to the rolling blackouts to generate power in northern Japan because we live near Yokota AB. Obviously, this wasn't the case. My kids were eating dinner, and they just looked at me when it happened. That's when I decided it was time to be strong again. I told the kids that everything was going to be alright. I turned on some light; after the kids finished their dinner, we started playing in the dark. They were completely fine and were having fun in the new scenery. I, on the other hand, wasn't sure anymore. As our house quickly grew colder and I realized that we had an electric water heater, I couldn't stop thinking about the earthquake and tsunami victims. We only had to go through two hours of no heat and hot water, but they were going through their fifth day of trying to survive and look for lost loved ones.

Then I started feeling guilty instead of blessed. I felt guilty that nothing terrible happened to my family during the Northridge and Tohoku Earthquakes. That feeling was then quickly overcome with worrisome that something worst could happen if we stayed—a stronger earthquake, a tsunami, more nuclear plant explosions, or a volcanic eruption.

There were two things that kept me optimistic at the time: 1) My husband was returning from his mission to help with the relief efforts; and 2) The kids and I were leaving the next day for our planned trip to Singapore. Although we weren't going to see him for another week because we were on a plane as he was on a shuttle back to base, the trip to Singapore was perfect timing. I needed a break from feeling aftershocks and being within proximity to the everyday events.

When we arrived in Singapore, I learned about the voluntary evacuation for US citizens. As I heard about friends fleeing the country and asked by family & friends when we were going to the States, my friend (along with her two boys that accompanied us on the trip) and I contemplated about it everyday.

We returned to Japan this past Thursday, and a voluntary authorized departure (VAD) flight from Yokota AB left the next evening. We decided to not board it. As the days went by, I learned that there is no radiation in the air where we live and the tap water comes from wells and streams of the mountains not Tokyo. (They're constantly checking on both levels everyday.) I haven't felt an earthquake/aftershock since returning home; and, best of all, we're reunited as a family. (Side Note: My husband was part of the first C-130H aircrew to land at Sendai Airport since the earthquake and tsunami. They provided relief supplies for the victims in northern Japan.)

Right now, I feel like I'm on this roller coaster of emotions that's dependent on the current situation of the country. The last week has been better than the first; and I continue to pray that it'll keep getting better.


marie said...

you're a great writer, maricel. i always enjoy reading your posts. keep it up!

my mom also had to wake me up from the northridge quake. i remember having to go and buy bottled water from the stores, because the water wasn't running, and things fallen all over the aisles. in a weird way, it was kind of a nice time to be with the family, without electricity (or school or work). we would stay in the living room together and just enjoy each others' company and basic meals.

anyway, i'm really glad that you and your family are safe. stay strong!

Maricel said...

Thanks, Marie! Yeah, since the Northridge Earthquake, I usually keep water in the car so that I'm prepared for an earthquake on the road.

Yes, sometimes blackouts are nice. More so during the day or when we're sleeping. :)

Trying to stay strong! Have to!

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