Tuesday, March 15, 2011

Wake at 5:20am. I'm super tired, but don't remember waking during the night. The aftershocks seem to be subsiding, but I don't get the idea that's a good thing.

I check new mail on my phone and have a letter from my brother with a link to a Nature article saying the increased earthquake risk is heightened particularly for the Tokyo area and the 9.0 was only an aftershock of a 7.2 on the 9th of March. There are also warm invitations from family in Beijing and friends in Montreal inviting me to come stay with them.

I make some porridge and receive a phone call from my supervisor at 5:30am - the Sobu local line to Tokyo is running at 70% capacity. My co-workers should be able to get to work but the Sotobo line which I use is canceled today. He asks me to let them know and check in at the BOE at 8 o'clock. No word on the power cuts.

The JMA website registered eleven sizable aftershocks while I was sleeping. Maybe you really can get used to anything. Or I'm just really tired.

Both the Japanese and foreign news are talking about an increasingly critical situation with the nuclear reactors. At what point do you leave?

I call my school to let them know I can't make it today, and ask how things are going. My colleague tells me they're only having class till 11:30am, and lunch consists of milk and a piece of bread. On the upside the kids get the afternoon off and it's a beautiful day.

The elevators are working at the BOE, so I ride up to the main office on the 11th floor. I sit down with my supervisor and discuss the latest news. Power cuts to be expected from 3:20 - 6:20pm. He also spoke with the Council of Local Authorities for International Relations (CLAIR), who overseas the JET Programme, about evacuation procedures and they told him that we should wait a few days to see what happens with the nuclear reactors before considering evacuation. Should we evacuate, the entire cost is shouldered by the individual and is in no way the responsibility of CLAIR. There are a few Chiba Prefecture JETs who've already left, but most are still here.

My supervisor asks about my food situation and says it might take till the end of the week for grocery stores to be restocked. I tell him I'm fine for a few days, and my co-workers and I are looking out for each other. Not to worry. I decide to take the stairs down.

On my way to see how things are progressing downtown I get a phone call from a friend who's also off work today. I invite him over for 10am.

I arrive at Chiba Station at 8:50am and some of the lights are off and things are super quiet for rush hour. Only a few local trains to Tokyo and Narita Airport are operating, and there aren't nearly as many people as I'd expected. Most of the stores are still closed so I head across town to the 24/7 grocers and pick up some more supplies. There are no lines at this hour, and they've restocked their supply of 2L water bottles. While some shelves have yet to be restocked, things seem to be getting back to normal. I pick up 3 bottles of water (bringing my total stock to 5), a couple cans of non-perishable foods, and a lighter.

Chiba Station is open and select lines are running at 70% capacity, Chiba City

As I'm walking out of the store I get a text from my friend asking if I've been watching the news the last hour. "No. What's up?" "The 4th reactor blew and they think this one may have actually blown."

My new found sense of normalcy is shattered. This is getting out of hand. I bike straight home to clean up a bit before my friend arrives. We catch up on where we were at the time and how things have been since the earthquake. His parents want him to come home. Mine want the same. We go over the news on the explosion at the fourth reactor. It seems like things are spinning out of control. We talk about some of the positive outcomes that could result from these dire circumstances, such as unifying the country and the world in one common cause and say some prayers for Japan. We read some material prepared by the Ruhi Institute on arising to serve, and my parents call just as he’s leaving around 11:45am.

They’ve read the news on the fourth reactor – the fire is out of control and the workers have evacuated the plant, and they’re adamant I leave the country now. Two minutes later my brother’s phoning me on Skype. I tell my parents I’ll call them back. My brother tells me I have to go now and he’s found me a ticket to Montreal leaving Narita at 3pm and is ready to book it. When do I want to return? Good question! I tell him I’ll never make it. I haven’t packed, the trains are infrequent and I haven’t confirmed with my supervisor. I jump up and grab my backpack from the top shelf of my closet. I don’t want to leave – I don’t even think I can make it – but the people I care about most are telling me I don’t have a choice.

I’m throwing my favorite clothes in my backpack and my brother's on Skype on the phone with a travel agent finalizing my ticket. As soon as I’ve got the most essential pieces together, I call my supervisor and ask if he’s seen the latest news. He hasn’t. I tell him about the fire at the fourth reactor, that the Prime Minister of Japan has just made a statement on national television regarding the urgency of the situation and that my parents want me to leave the country at once. He says he’ll turn on the TV and phone me back in five minutes.

I hang up and my brother’s ready to book my flight. I tell him I won’t make it. He asks the agent about flights leaving later this afternoon or tomorrow. She has one leaving at the same time tomorrow but the price jumps another $700. This is it. But even if I left this moment and got my supervisor’s permission on the train I don’t think I’ll make it – not to mention the chaos I’ll meet at Narita. Can we book it and cancel it later? Not without a $300 changing fee. I tell him to drop it. He thanks the travel agent and we’re back where we started. My parents phone me again. I tell them I don’t want to go but I’m willing and working with my brother to find a way home. I’ll call them back when we do.

There’s nothing left. All the tickets to Canada and Tanzania (where my parents are working with the Canadian High Commission) are overpriced or completely sold out. Plan B: get the cheapest ticket out. Hong Kong for $800, but he’s told he has to call the airline and he can’t get through. Seoul and Taipei for $1500, but he has to call the airline. Beijing for $2500. Ulaan Baatar for $3200. This isn’t working. And the prices are jumping every couple minutes. I pause for a moment and think about where I’d like to go as opposed to what is available. I’d love to go to China and stay with my cousin, but I don’t have a visa and that will take a couple days. I’ve always wanted to go to Korea, and I just might have a place I can stay. It starts coming together – I’ll look for a flight to Seoul where I’ll get my visa for a flight to Beijing. I’ve finished packing and sit down at the computer to help my brother search. Everything’s coming back fully booked. But what’s this? 4 tickets to Seoul Wednesday morning for $800. I jump on it and start filling in the information. I pull out my phone and call a friend in Tokyo who’s got an apartment in Seoul he’s said I can crash at. It’s cool. I fill in my credit card info and try to book it but it doesn’t go through. It’s a new credit card and I forgot to authorized it. My brother gives me his credit information before the booking expires and I lose the ticket. Do I really have to go? What about my supervisor? He never called me back. My brother tells me to buy it.

It’s 1:35pm, and I’ve just bought a ticket to Seoul returning April 5th. I didn’t see that coming this morning. I have two more hours before the power cut and tons to do. How do I get to the airport? I don’t even know if the trains will be running tomorrow. I wait for the confirmation e-mail before I Skype my parents. They’re thrilled. I’m still not sure.

I repack and start cleaning my apartment. I have this sick feeling like I’m never coming back. Why am I leaving? I get a Skype from my brother telling me the French government has just released a statement that the radioactive fallout could arrive in Tokyo by 4pm, and that he thinks I should get to the airport ASAP and spend the night. Given the situation with the trains that might be a good idea. I text my friends and let them know I’m leaving. They’re in complete support of my decision. Their parents are telling them the same thing.

Next on the list is speaking with my supervisor at the BOE and sending my savings to Canada. I drop by the BOE at 2:45pm, and run into the principal of my current school. What luck! I tell him my parents are very worried about me and insist that I leave the country immediately. He’s a little surprised, but understands. I tell him how sorry I am that I can’t say goodbye to the students and staff, but that I’ll drop by as soon as I return. He’s happy to hear that, and wishes me the best.

My supervisor’s not in, so I give him a call. His daughter’s very sick and he’s rushing her to the hospital. I decide it’s not the best time to tell him I’m leaving the country, and hope she’s okay and feeling better soon. I’ll call him back later.

I arrive at Japan Post at 3:00pm with the emergency travel money I had withdrawn on Saturday. The power cut is scheduled to begin in 20 minutes so I’m told to be quick, the post office is closing. I get the necessary forms to transfer my funds to my Bank of Montreal account in Canada, fill them out and hand them in. While I’m waiting for the clerk to confirm the transfer, I receive a call from my friend with the apartment in Seoul. He’s got an address and pass code (no key!). I write them down and the clerk calls me up, hands me my receipt and I’m good to go. It’s 3:19pm.

Chiba Bank is busier than usual and I empty the remainder of my bank account. I already know my balance and it’s just enough to get me through Narita and my first few days in Seoul. I bicycle home. The wind is fierce and my body is screaming. I’ve been fasting on adrenaline since Friday afternoon. I invite my friends for dinner to help finish off my food, and start collecting the emergency supplies and extra food I won’t need anymore. We discuss the escalating situation and they wonder if they shouldn’t be doing the same. I prepare dinner while they search for tickets on the net.

I call my supervisor again at 5:00pm, and tell him what’s going on. He asks me to meet him at the BOE at 6pm. We’ve just finished making dinner when I have to run out the door. I tell my friends to eat without me, and bike to the BOE praying the whole way down. My third time today! My supervisor and assistant supervisor are waiting at their desks. They seem concerned. I start telling them the facts and my assistant supervisor takes out a pen and paper and begins writing them down. “I don’t want to leave Japan, but my parents are very worried about me and insist I leave the country. I’d like to go home to be with my family, but the tickets are either sold out or cost three times the usual price, so I’m flying to Seoul to get a visa to Beijing to stay with my father’s cousin. I depart March 16th and plan to return April 5th.” They’re very supportive and tell me that if they were in my parents’ position they’d feel the same way. I ask them what they’ll do if it gets any worse. They say this is their home, there’s nowhere else to go, and if they leave who will stay? I really love these guys, tell them I’ll keep their families and Japan in my prayers, and wish them the best. The last thing my assistant supervisor says is, “you must come back to Japan!” There’s nowhere else I want to be.

It’s 6:45pm when I get home, and I haven’t broken my fast yet. It’s been 13 hours since I ate or drank anything. I pause for a moment on the stairwell and recite my favorite prayer.

My friends have left me a huge pot of food on the stove and I turn on the burner to warm it up. The electricity’s still on, and they’ve figured out a way to make the Japanese news channel NHK play an English audio translation. So cool!

We clean up the dishes and I see them off with big bags of bottled water and promises to stay in touch. I take out the garbage, turn off the gas, unplug the electronics, turn off the lights and walk out the door at 8:15pm.

Chiba Station is open and I grab the 8:35pm train to Narita Airport. When I had checked Narita’s website earlier in the day, it said that it closed between 11pm and 6am and all passengers not in transit would have to find accommodation in town, so I’m a little worried as to whether I can stay the night, but feel confident some kind of exception must have been made under these extenuating circumstances.

I arrive at 9:45pm and find the airport unusually quiet. People are sleeping or huddled in small groups around an insufficient supply of wall outlets, glued to their phones and laptops. I walk the perimeter of the airport until I find an empty socket down a cul-de-sac. I text my family to let them know I’m all right. Around 10:30pm, the biggest aftershock I’ve felt all day rocks the airport.

Entrance to Terminal 2, Narita Airport

Makeshift cardboard beds, Narita Airport

Passengers stretch out where they can, Narita Airport

Passengers sprawl, Narita Airport

Prepared for a night at the airport, Narita Airport

A woman finds a quiet corner to rest her head, Narita Airport

A group of passengers curl up on the main floor, Narita Airport

A correspondent from CNN calls me around 11:15pm and asks if CNN and "all CNN networks & affiliates, worldwide, on all media in perpetuity" can use my blog and stills. Sure. Why not?

I crash on marble at 4am.

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