E-mail Reports From The Quake

Jade Moon
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Wednesday - March 23, 2011
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As I write this, I am receiving word from the subject of this column, my friend Randy Itamoto, that he and his wife Karen have decided not to leave northeastern Japan. Randy, a Department of Defense employee, works out of Camp Zama, which is near the Naval Air Facility Atsugi. Both bases were included in a voluntary evacuation for eligible military dependents.

The following are excerpts from a series of e-mails I and others received from Randy. He contacted us shortly after the quake to let us know they were OK. They were not in Sendai, but the entire country is reeling in the aftermath of disaster. Everyday lives are affected, whether in the area of devastation or not. These missives reflect his personal views and not that of the U.S. government:

* March 11

I was at the computer and I felt the earthquake, but did not panic. But after a minute of harmonic movement, the movement got worse. I live on the third floor of a nine-story high rise, and it was rock and roll for about 5 minutes. Strange feeling, to feel the power of nature and knowing that there is nothing you can do. Karen and I are safe, but the trains stopped running and there are lots of pedestrians and cars out on the road outside of the base. Watching CNN and seeing pictures of the devastation there, which looks like was caused by the tsunami more than the quake. As I am typing this, I am feeling a pretty strong aftershock (8:24 p.m. here). It’s subsiding now, but still going, now it has stopped. I guess we’ll be getting a lot more of these in the coming days.

We’re fine. I guess you have the tsunami coming your way in about 90 minutes. Our thoughts and prayers go out to you folks as well.

* March 12

Today on Japanese TV they were announcing a tsunami warning for the coastal areas of most of Japan. They are warning of a 3-meter (10 feet) wave that could hit Sendai, Fukushima (coastlines in that area), the same area that has already been devastated by the tsunami on Friday (Thursday in Hawaii).

I also found out that the Costco that I go to up here in Japan had a fatality, when their multistory parking garage collapsed (I’m sure it must have been partially) and killed a woman. The word I hear is her husband is trapped under a beam and they haven’t got him out yet.

Take care, everyone.

* March 13

We will be experiencing rolling blackouts throughout Japan. Nothing is set in stone, but people are estimating that the rolling blackouts could possibly last through the end of April. This may have some impacts on those of you who are planning upcoming trips to Japan. Will let you know more information as we receive it.

As of today, the Odakyuu line (train system that services our area) is out. This is probably due to the rolling blackouts, because they were running over the weekend. Right now we are told to boil all water before drinking or brushing teeth. They had a 12-hour water outage last night, but the water will not be tested for clearance until 6 p.m tonight.

We are about to be shut down so I will have to get off the computer.

* March 14

So, as reported, we are about to experience rolling blackouts to make sure that electricity is available to most of Japan. That did not happen for us this morning as scheduled. I guess the theory is because of the outage, the trains in our area are not running, no trains means the traffic was a mess (one worker took two hours to drive to work, it would usually take him less than 30 minutes). Without the normal work force, operations are not running 100 percent, therefore electric usage is down. Right now, we have the lights in our office off, and we have opened up the blinds and the sunlight is sufficient. Because demand was down, it is believed that the power company did not need to shut down any sections of the grid.

Other challenges are quickly becoming a concern. We are running out of fuel, and are not sure when the next shipment will be. I believe that the military bases as well as outside stations in Japan are rationing the amount of gasoline you can purchase. I am also told that a lot of the stations are closed (possibly out of fuel to dispense). I believe this is due to the sudden demand (everyone wants to top off their tanks) and the supply unable to react quick enough with the traffic situation. There may not actually be a fuel shortage, just a heavier demand for fuel and a more difficult time to supply the fuel due the off-base traffic.

Next, as with any such type of disasters, people have started to stock up on necessities such as bottled water, bread, cold cuts, canned meats, etc.

Coupled with the fuel situation and the traffic situation, I’m sure restocking the shelves will be a challenge.

Thank god in Japan people (for the most part) do whatever they can to help each other, and work together to take the beginning steps toward recovery. There is no sign of looting, etc.

Please don’t get me wrong. I am not complaining about the inconveniences. Actually, I am delighted that this is all happening to me, because it means that I am one of the fortunate who is still around (basically unharmed) to face these challenges. And like the Japanese people, instead of sitting around wondering why this happened to me, or who is going to help me, the best thing is to do everything within my power and control to move forward one step at a time, and not be a burden to others.

* March 15

We just got another earthquake at 10:31 p.m. This time this appears to be a 6.0 earthquake but the epicenter was closer to where we live. This one will not be generating a tsunami and the duration was only about 30-50 seconds, although I felt a tremor about two minutes before this one hit.

* March 16

Regarding the radiation, there are a lot of people concerned, and the information we receive is like apples and oranges. We’re trying to learn quickly information about radiation so we can make smart decisions for ourselves.

We are still working normal working hours and, in fact, because the rolling blackouts cuts power to us during the day, we lose the use of our computers. In this day and age, without our computers and phones, we are practically worthless during the blackout. I was able to review drawings and meet with others discussing projects, but the real work goes undone during those four-hour blocks.

The day after the March 16 e-mail, Randy updated us again: President Obama had authorized the voluntary evacuation of eligible military dependents from the Kanto Plain. NAF Atsugi and Camp Zama began moving people out on Friday, March 18. As of this writing, Randy had decided it was safe to stay.

Please, if you haven’t already, donate what you can to the Red Cross. This is an historic crisis for the country of Japan, one that will have repercussions for many, many years to come, not only for that country but also for us here in Hawaii and globally.

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