Saturday, March 12, 2011

I wake up at 5:20am to eat and drink something before sunrise, say my prayers, and open my laptop. There are dozens of emails from friends and family from around the world. I spend the morning responding to emails, Skyping with my brother and sister in Canada, and following the news. The death toll is rising every hour, and we're finally getting a better picture of just how bad it really is - the tsunami has devastated the coastline, and there are two nuclear reactors that face potential meltdown.

I'm exhausted. Aftershocks as big as regular earthquakes kept me up all night, and have continued into the morning. Along with everyone else in the Kanto area, I'm wondering if we're in for the Big One.

My assistant supervisor calls around 7:30am to see if I'm all right. It seems the phones are working again. I tell him I haven't had gas since the earthquake. He's over about 30 minutes later, and he helps me turn it on again.

My parents phone me in the afternoon. It's the first time we've spoken since the earthquake, and they sound pretty worried. They ask if I've stocked up on enough water and food to last me a few days before things get back to normal, and whether I have enough cash to travel in case of another major earthquake. What was I thinking! Since I'm fasting and haven't been thinking about food, I hadn't visited the grocery store yet. Around 3pm (24 hours after the earthquake), I make my way to the local grocery store to get supplies, passing a major highway that connects Tokyo to southern Chiba. The road moving into Tokyo in chock-a-block gridlocked, while the one moving out of the city is moving freely.

The store is busier than usual, but not crazy. All of the ready made foods - bread, bentos, onigiri, and kimchi, frozen foods, non-perishable items like ramen noodles, as well as meat and water - have all been cleared out. Fresh food stuffs, however, which is the only kind of food I eat, are in full supply. I buy enough fruits, vegetables and yogurt to last me a week, as well as one of the last boxes of Ritz Crackers. Not something I tend to eat, but something I thought might be nice to have in my emergency bag.

Kimchi and tofu almost completely cleared out, Chiba City

Ready-made bentos and onigiri all gone, Chiba City

As I approach the checkout, I see more people filing in and I look at my big basket of food and wonder if I've been greedy. Have I taken too much? Will others go hungry on account of my needs? The old woman behind me has only purchased a few vegetables, enough for a single meal, maybe two. Others have also stocked up, but it doesn't make me feel any better. I suppose I have to take care of myself, but what about the others? I placate myself by promising to share with friends in need, should it come to that.

Next on the list is cash and water. I drop the groceries off at home, and head out in search of cash. Downtown Chiba is eerily quiet for a Saturday afternoon. Many shops and restaurants have posted signs in the window saying they're closed, and the first bank I visit is closed as well. I check out a downtown grocery store, and it's even worse than the first - all the fresh foods are gone, and there's not a bottle of water in sight. It's bustling with people and there are long lines at the cash, so I decide to head deeper downtown. The second bank is open, and I take out enough yen to travel in an emergency. Then I check out the 100yen store above Yodobashi to buy some water. Yodobashi Camera, one of the largest electronic chain stores in the country, is bustling with way more people than usual, and staff have set out carts of flashlights and other random "emergency" electronics by the front door. I go upstairs to the 100yen store, and find a huge stack of 2L water bottles for 100yen. I suppose most people don't equate 100yen stores with water, and I sense this must be one of the last supplies in the city. I buy two bottles and a box of ziplocks and bicycle home.

The local mall closed on Saturday, Chiba City

It's getting close to sunset, so I start making dinner - pumpkin, potato and carrot stew! I say some prayers and break my fast. After dinner, I receive a call from my parents informing me that the nuclear reactor in Fukushima has just exploded, and that I should have a contingency plan to leave the country should the winds change, and the radioactive fallout drift toward Tokyo. I pull up a document I had been reading a few months ago prepared by the US Deptartment of Homeland Security on what to do in the event of a nuclear detonation, Planning Guidance for Response to a Nuclear Detonation and tell them I should be fine. I'm about 280km south of the nuclear reactor and according to this document "The most significant fallout hazard area will extend 10 to 20 miles (16 – 32 km) from ground zero (for a 10 KT explosion), but this will vary with nuclear yield."

They tell me it will vary with nuclear yield. Back to square one. It's late now, and I tell them I don't want to leave the country, but understand I may not have a choice. Every hour the window of opportunity closes a little, as more and more people head to the airport to find a way out. That window is certain to close sooner than later. I tell them I'll make a more informed decision in the morning, and say goodnight.

I call my friend at City Hall to ask how things are going over there. She tells me she'd been asked to translate a notice that school would be held as usual on Monday, but then told not to release it after the reactor explosion. Things aren't looking good.

I repack my emergency bag with everything I might need to leave the country in the morning, and go to bed around 10pm.

No comments:

Post a Comment