Earthquakes and Tsunamis

The magnitude 6.8 earthquake in Niigata last night reminded me of the 3.11 earthquake I experienced 8 years ago in Tokyo.

Flash News

Even though nothing was really felt in Tokyo last night, I can feel the sense of emergency when you have all the TV channels over-riding the regular shows and showing flash news of the earthquake magnitude, tsunami warnings and shaky images of cities and rooms.

Tsunami warning on TV

That fateful earthquake

8 years ago when the Great Tohoku Earthquake happened at around 2.46pm on 11 March, I had just finished a meeting in the office and was returning to my desk.

It was a very violent upwards jerk and then followed by continuous vertical and horizontal shakes, then went into a rolling movement. Before this, I already had some experiences of earthquakes in Japan, but nothing like this.

First instinct

First instinct is to hide under the desk. I was under my desk for about a minute until the shaking stops, while in the meantime, some colleagues kept the doors open to ensure our escape route. Some other colleagues were continuing with their work on the PCs which I couldn’t understand.

I got a call within 5 minutes from my husband to ensure my safety. And I’m glad this call went through because after that, the phone lines were all jammed and nothing got through. Instead, the Internet was connecting well, so apps like Facebook, Twitter or Whatsapp were working fine.

Temporary evacuation

I evacuated with some colleagues, mostly foreigners, to the nearby elementary school and sat there in the open space for 30-40 minutes before we decided to go back to the office.

Walking back half a marathon

I had some colleagues who were leaving for the train stations to get back home. I was going to do the same until I got another message from my husband asking me to stay in the office. It was unwise to move around since I can get hurt from collapsing windows or signboards or street lamps, etc. Plus the trains have stopped by this time.

So I just stayed in the office for another hour before my husband came in with a dozen of energy drinks for my colleagues who were going to spend the night in the office. We then left together and started our long journey to walk back home.

We were not alone. There were many other people walking on the streets, some wearing helmets to protect themselves. Everything was done in an orderly manner, no noise, no pushing.

The Japanese way of Kindness

On our way passing some office buildings, there were make-shift counters with staff from those office buildings serving water, and toilets were open to the public too.

After 2 hours 30 minutes, we arrived home. Glad to find nothing really destroyed, water supply and electricity were still working, except the gas supply is cut off. This means we have to take cold shower when the temperature is still 10 deg.

It was only when we switched on the TV then we realised the scale of destruction this magnitude 9.1 earthquake has brought. Along with the earthquake, it triggered a whole series of powerful tsunami.

I was watching those flash news with tsunami warning last night and then I realised I don’t really understand the concept of the tsunami height alerts. They were talking about tsunami of a 1-metre height, how can it be dangerous?

Measuring tsunami

Height of tsunami is measured from the normal sea level.

Pardon my ignorance. After some googling, I then understand what they mean by people can get killed by 1-metre tsunami if you are caught in one.

Tsunami heights and their impact

FYI, the highest tsunami from 3.11 earthquake was 16.7 metres at Ofuna City of Iwate Prefecture.

Tsunami run-up height

There’s another way of looking at tsunami height is to look at its run-up height. This is the height that the tsunami surges up above the shore, and in this case, it’s usually much higher. The highest recorded in Japan was also from the same earthquake event, and it was estimated at 40.5 metres at Miyako, also at Iwate Prefecture.

The worst combination of disasters

Back to the 3.11 earthquake, I thought it was the worst combination of natural and man-made disasters when you have earthquakes, tsunami and nuclear explosions happening during the cold winter all in the same period of time.

Too many aftershocks

The first week after the earthquake was filled with many strong aftershocks. It was so frequent that up to a point, I don’t even know if I’m hallucinating or it was real. I was constantly in this sea-sick mode.

Food and supplies were running low in convenience stores and supermarkets. We were lucky that we stock up water, food, toilet paper, etc. You will be surprised how important these things are when you go to the supermarkets seeing empty shelves.

Staying prepared

As long as we stay in Japan, there is always a risk of encountering these natural disasters. The only way is to stay alert and stay prepared.

There is an extensive range of products called 防災グッズ “bousai goods” including dried/canned food, water, and other supplies like torches, batteries, portable radios, even dry shampoo that you can buy in Japanese home centres or Tokyu Hands. Or you can simply buy a backpack of these assorted items in what is known as an emergency kit or a survival kit.

For now, we may expect some aftershocks from the Niigata earthquake last night for the next coming week for the regions near Niigata. Anyone in the affected regions, please keep calm and stay safe!

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