12 March, 2011

Behind the earthquake news

Many of you are seeing the shocking images of tsunami destroyed towns and huge silos fallen over, news of nuclear power plants overheating and people being evacuated. In no way do I want to minimise these events, but just want to give you a behind-the-scenes view of what is happening for our family and those near us.

Yesterday, when the first earthquake occurred. I was working on the computer on the ground floor of our home and everyone else in our family was at school, just down the road. We all ended up under tables. We are well used to small earthquakes here. Just like an Australian would say, "Oh, it hasn't rained for a while." A Japan-resident would say, "Oh, we haven't had a tremor for a while." Most of the ones we experience are very small. Perhaps enough to make you look up and see if the lights are swaying. Rarely do they send you under furniture. When yesterday's earthquake began, it felt much like any other tremor - except that it kept building and building until the house was squeaking and groaning, the curtains were moving and doors swaying. 

Though it went on for what seemed like a long time, I didn't see things falling off shelves, no furniture was moving around the room and no cupboard doors opened. I therefore didn't think too much of it. News took awhile to filter down, so it was hard to know how big it was and where it was centred.

About 40 minutes after the quake and after several other small earthquakes, it was time to collect the boys from school. My usual Friday afternoon includes shuffling our youngest to his music lesson (on campus) and waiting in the library for him to finish. I grabbed some books to return and a snack for my son and headed off. 

When I got there I was shocked to find the whole school evacuated on the oval and our son's music teacher at the gate saying they probably wouldn't let us into the building in time for a lesson. Then someone said no trains were running (the playground is right next to the train line). It was good to see my husband straight away and the boys too. A bit shocked, but fine. My husband had been on the third storey of the building and felt it quite a bit more than I did. Yesterday I wrote that he had broken things in his classroom, but that was not true - a misunderstanding on my part. He just had papers fall off shelves.

There were a few kids crying, however, and groups gathered together praying. Many were cold as their coats had been left in the building. The temperature must have been about 8-10 degrees at that point.

A short time after I arrived an administrator friend (who's family is in Christchurch, NZ) came out looking all official. She had class lists and children were only to be allowed off campus if they had an adult with them or permission from an adult. It gradually became obvious that this was bigger than I'd thought. 

Getting permission for children to leave campus was more complicated that it sounds. The mobile phone network was quickly overwhelmed (within minutes) and the landlines weren't great either. The main thing that remained a lifeline was the internet, including Facebook and Twitter. 

Our 11 y.o. had been supposed to go on a camp straight from campus, and we didn't know what would happen with that plan as they were supposed to drive up into the mountains. By about 4pm, it seemed more sensible to take all three boys home and wait there in the warm to hear news. Once back I received an email from one of our 11 y.o.'s friend's mum. She was worried - unable to contact her son or the school. They live about 30km away, on the other side of central Tokyo and usually totally rely on trains to get to and from school.

After a bit I walked back to school to find out the news about the retreat and what to tell the mum who'd contacted us. Even though we're just down the road, communication via phone or texting wasn't working very well. Found that they'd moved all the remaining students into the auditorium or gym and all were warmer. Felt a bit teary as I met friends. Gave my Christchurch friend a hug. Found out that the departure for the retreat had been put back till Saturday morning. 

When I returned home I emailed the mum to tell her to contact the school to let them know it was okay for her son to stay the night with us. Then I set about writing to various people (family, supporters, friends, etc.) to tell them what was happening here and that we were okay.

It was 6pm before my husband came home. There were still many students left at CAJ and the last one didn't leave until after 1am. Some were housed with friends or teachers who live close to the school. We only ended up with one boy (the one referred to above) and his dad collected him at 10pm after driving four hours through horrible traffic.

We headed for bed, but aftershocks, small tremors, occurred throughout the night, part-way waking us, but not bad enough to get us out of bed or wake the boys. Just the bed swaying like you are on a ship and the house creaking. We have felt many less today. We've continued on with a fairly normal Saturday, we even rode to a shopping centre to buy new shoes for one boy.

The youth group retreat was drastically scaled down to a sleep-over at school from 1pm today. The kids were disappointed, but with all the uncertainty at present, it seems like the safest plan.

We're hearing various stories of people who spent the night in places they didn't expect. The school business manager was at a meeting in Shinjuku - about 20km away. With no trains running, he walked home. Four hours walking in business shoes.

The world has heard about this big disaster, and how massive a quake it was. That is absolutely true. At least 1000 people are missing or dead and many homes destroyed. It is also true that many were not much affected. For example we've retained all essential amenities - power, gas, water etc. Although we have been warned of possible power blackouts tonight as they try to repair the nuclear power plant (which is a fair way away from us).

There is response happening from within the missionary community. A group called CRASH - standing for Christian Relief, Assistance, Support and Hope who are mobilising. OMF is involved in the group - I can vouch for them. There is a place on their website for donating: http://crashjapan.com/

It is kind-of strange continuing on as usual. We cannot even volunteer to go and help as David has a job to do (teaching the kids of those who can go) and I have to keep looking after my boys. However, we can pray. The area hit is one of the spiritually neediest areas in the whole of Japan.


Shirl said...

Thanks for the update Wendy. PTL you guys are all okay, but praying for the hundreds who aren't - and for the families who don't yet have news. How awful.

Angela H said...

I know what you mean Wendy about "kind-of strange continuing on as usual". Its a very surreal feeling. Experienced same feeling in the Brisbane floods. Just had to go around the corner to see the flooding/mud/devastation. But our home unaffected - apart from no power for a few days. And couldn't feasibly help out due to caring for the boys (I did try at Kashelle & Andrew's place). And then, one just had to drive to the northside or some district unaffected and life continued on as normal. Shops were open -- they actually had bread & milk etc (we didn't)...all very surreal.

Wendy said...

Yes, it was even similar for us when you were having floods. So much craziness and yet we were continuing on as usual.