70/365: M8.8 (rev. M9.0)

March 11th, 2011 in Daily

A man hands out an Asahi Shimbun EXTRA edition (号外) to commuters during rush-hour in Osaka

Around 15 minutes after checking into our hotel room on the 35th floor of Osaka Baytower in Bentencho, I noticed a slight rattling sound coming from the window. I thought it might have been loose or partially opened.  The rattling got more persistent and Miyuki suggested it may be an earthquake. I quickly grabbed my walled and camera and we proceeded to run down all 35 flights of the access stairwell. The whole way down the building was swaying and sicking creaks and moans were coming from the building’s core. I popped the door open on the 20th floor to see of other people were doing anything and that’s where I heard the worst sound – elevators banging around inside the shafts. I hope no one was actually in there. I know they have sensors that shut them off, still, that would be a harrowing experience. I kept running back up to catch up with Miyuki and help her down faster. Finally on the ground floor I burst through the door, now out of breath and feeling sea-sick from the shaking and spiral descent, only to find people casually smoking cigarettes and chatting on their cell phones feet from the building. Embarrassing, but hey what does a guy from the east coast know about Earthquake proof buildings? In any case this one survived the Kobe quake in ’95, I sure as hell wasn’t sticking around for the ride on the 35th floor…

On the ground, one person commented that an M7 earthquake had occurred, but at that point there seemed to be little recognition or knowledge of the following tsunamis that ultimately devastated the coastal areas north of Tokyo. We walked around the area for a while, mostly for me to clear my head which was still lacking equilibrium from the experience. Found the Modern Transportation Museum nearby and relaxed a bit. If we only knew what was really happening up north… I feel really fortunate the Osaka and Kobe port areas weren’t directly hit, otherwise I probably wouldn’t be typing this (or at least not as casually) right now.

We later learned that the quake was around level 3 in Osaka, which is nothing in comparison to what they felt up north. Here is the map of how the original quake spread across the entire country:

Later that evening, we went to Kobe to have dinner at Miyuki’s Uncle’s place, truly giving us some time to relax and figure out what just what was unfolding. I also got to meet their hilariously emotive their three month old Ryo.

During dinner the news footage was unbelievable. It was truly hard to fathom 7m waves pushing their way kilometers on shore. Then I saw the water at the same level as the roof of a Gas Station. Then footage of wave breaking against a school gymnasium, causing it to fold flat like a cardboard box. Houses floating freely down main streets. It took a while for the scale of this destruction to sink in and three days later it is still unsettling at best.

Later that evening, back on the 35th floor – yes, I struggled with the idea of going back up there – the news looked even worse… fires spanning whole residential areas, exploding from refineries, catching on the rows of cars ready to ship at port…

Very little sleep that night. Every few minutes the TV would chime and display the latest aftershock location and magnitude… after which I came to expect that horrible creaking and moaning sound from the building. I distinctly remember waking up around 4 AM to this sound, a swaying building, and marquee scrolling on the TV about a separate, M6.6 quake in Niigata Prefecture. Motion sickness manifested in an upset stomach all night and well into Saturday, but I still felt incredibly lucky that I was south of the Tohoku coastal region.

What a day.

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