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Japan Earthquake, Diary From Sendai (Part III)

Japan Earthquake, Diary From Sendai (Part III)

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Published by Braven Smillie
The third installment in a series recounting my family's experience in Sendai, Japan, during and after the recent earthquake.
The third installment in a series recounting my family's experience in Sendai, Japan, during and after the recent earthquake.

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Published by: Braven Smillie on Mar 16, 2011
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05/12/2011

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Diary  from  Sendai,  Japan  (Part  III)  

  March  11,  2011   by  Braven  Smillie                                     Damaged  roads  in  Sendai  (source)       As  I  met  my  children  on  the  school  playground  where  they  had  evacuated  after   the  quake,  I  tried  to  split  my  time  between  seven-­‐year-­‐old  Elena  and  ten-­‐year-­‐old   Christina.  But  I  soon  realized  that  Elena  needed  more  immediate  care.  And  I  was   starting  to  feel  the  bite  of  the  bitter  chill  after  giving  Elena  my  jacket.  “Don't  YOU   start  shaking,  Daddy!”  she  said  at  one  point  as  I  shivered  from  the  cold.  “We  can,   but  you  can't.”  I  held  on  to  her  for  a  while,  partly  just  to  keep  warm,  then  left  to   check  on  Christina.     Tina  had  joined  a  squatting  group  of  classmates  who  were  hugging  and   encouraging  each  other  in  an  improvised  scrum.  For  the  first  of  what  would  be  

many  times  in  the  coming  days,  I  heard  myself  talk  in  a  way  I  never  could  have   before  without  a  sardonic  smirk:  “I  need  you  to  be  strong,  now,  Tina.  Can  you  be  a   strong  big  sister  for  me?”  Her  response  was  equally  new  and  raw,  something  I’d   have  called  “hiiiigh  drama”  just  an  hour  earlier:  “I  can  be  strong,  Daddy.  Go  to  her.   I  think  she’s  having  her  first  earthquake.”     I  went  back  to  hold  Elena  until  the  teachers  confirmed  that  all  were  present  and   unhurt.  They  then  began  releasing  each  child  to  parents,  carefully  confirming  and   matching  family  identities.  Not  only  did  the  teachers  act  in  a  calm,  professional   manner,  but  the  seamless  procedures  extended  to  the  parents,  who  had  also   prepared  for  just  such  an  evacuation.  I  was  there,  I’d  thought,  only  because  Chiaki   happened  to  have  thought  of  checking  on  the  kids  before  they  were  sent  home.  In   fact,  she’d  sent  me  to  the  school  as  one  well-­‐defined  step  in  a  procedure  that  was   second  nature  to  everyone  but  me.     As  the  three  of  us  walked  home,  I  noticed  that  my  daughters’  teeth  were  no  longer   chattering.  We  began  to  try  to  find  ways  of  talking  about  what  had  just  happened.   They  tried  talking  about  the  quake  as  they  would  the  antics  of  a  class  clown,  a   scene  in  a  scary  movie,  a  boast  of  something  amazing  they  were  privy  to.  It   wouldn’t  fit  into  any  of  the  usual  frames.  I  tried  to  make  them  laugh  –  “Sorry  about   the  quake.  Don’t  tell  anybody,  but  I  think  one  of  my  big  sneezes  set  it  off.”  They   were  having  none  of  it.  It  wasn’t  going  to  be  that  easy  to  get  back  to  normal.  We   walked  silently  for  a  while  and  I  remembered  the  mask-­‐like,  stunned  expression   that  all  the  children  seemed  to  wear  during  the  evacuation.  I  wanted  to  get  at  it   and  find  out  where  it  came  from.  So  I  asked  them  each  what  they  saw  and  did,   starting  from  before  the  shaking.     In  its  brief  way,  Elena’s  story  told  it  all:  “Everything  was  shaking,  shaking,  

shaking!  We  went  under  our  desks  and  people  were  praying  and  crying  and   screaming.  And  things  like  books  and  bags  were  falling  like  crazy.  We  went   outside  and  then  Daddy  came.”     Tina’s  story  reveals  more  detail,  of  people’s  reactions  to  chaos  and  of  the   evacuation  strategy  taken  by  the  teachers:  “We  were  doing  math  about  shapes   and  it  was  Friday,  and  then  it  shook  and  we  only  thought  it  was  just  a  tiny  one  that   stops  immediately.  But  then  it  shook  from  the  floor,  and  almost  everybody  was   crying.  Then  the  teachers  all  opened  the  doors  and  windows  so  they  wouldn’t  get   stuck.  And  our  teacher  said  ‘Duck  down  under  your  desk  and  save  your  head!’     “It  was  like  we  were  on  a  big  boat  and  we  were  holding  onto  the  feet  of  our  desks   and  it  was  going  back  and  forth  and  back  and  forth,  like  rowing  a  boat.  And  it   shook  up  and  down  and  sideways,  so  I  banged  my  head  and  it  hurt.  And   everybody  was  praying,  and  all  the  boys  were  saying  in  Japanese,  ‘It's  OK!  We’re   surviving.  It’s  OK.  We  can  do  this!’  And  then  when  it  stopped  down  to  a  little  tiny   bit,  like  between  the  big  shakes,  we  lined  up  really  really  fast  and  we  ran  down   the  stairs  to  get  outside  before  it  started  shaking  big  again.  The  teachers  and   principal  were  really  good.  They  were  out  in  the  hall,  and  saying,  ‘Are  you  still   alive,  fourth  graders?  You’re  ok!  Bear  with  it!  You’re  doing  fine!’  And  I  didn’t  think   it  ever  would  stop.  We  heard  sounds  in  the  road  like  ‘boom  boom,’  echoing.  I  think   that  was  the  cracks  we  saw  in  the  road  later.     “Then  we  got  outside  and  we  felt  really,  really  safe.  And  after  that,  we  started   thinking  about  our  moms  and  dads  and  all  of  us  started  crying,  even  the  boys.  I   was  holding  on  to  two  of  my  friends.  We  tried  to  be  brave  but  we  were  shaking  a   lot.  I  was  really  cold  and  shivering,  but  also  because  we  were  really  scared,  and   the  shaking  in  our  minds  and  in  our  legs  was  really  really  making  us  shake.  Then  

daddy  arrived  and  went  to  my  little  sister  Elena.  It  was  her  first  big  earthquake  so   she  was  really  really  scared.”    

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