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I live just outside Tokyo, several hundred kilometers from the epicenter of the earthquake in Miyagi. We are far from the devastation and the tragedy. The photo (see details below) is a train forlornly stopped at an empty station. So this post is only about my personal experience and earthquakes in Japan, not about the terrible events still happening in the north of the country. These are the Yahoo and CNN links with information for people who want to help:
Please do what you can to help. In this thread and this thread Francis Takahashi Sensei and others are trying to find ways that the aikido community can help.
Everyone in Japan knows what to do in an earthquake. There is an earthquake day - disaster prevention day - on 1 September, the anniversary of the Great Kanto earthquake of 1923. Schools and businesses have regular earthquake drills.
You learn the basic rules:
1.Turn off the gas and any appliances which could cause a fire to start.
2.Immediately secure an exit. Walls can buckle with the movement of the earth and you might not be able to open a door.
3.Stay away from the danger of falling objects - if necessary get under a table. If you have a helmet put it on.
4.Then after a really serious earthquake stay away from buildings - because of the danger of falling glass or debris - and get to a designated safe open space.
Japan is a country of earthquakes. There were two especially devastating earthquakes in the last century. In 1923 there was the Great Kanto earthquake. It happened at midday when people were preparing lunch and so many fires started. More than 100,000 people died. Then in 1995 there was the Kobe earthquake. More than 6,000 people died.
So Japanese building standards are very strict. From the wikipedia article about the Kobe earthquake: High rise buildings that were built after the modern 1981 building code suffered little, however those that were not constructed to these standards suffered serious structural damage.
Many homes and workplaces have earthquake kits. An earthquake kit is a backpack with essential supplies like dried food, a torch, a radio, bottled water and maybe a helmet and a foil blanket.
There was an earthquake in Japan on Wednesday 9 March. Sometimes an earthquake is a sign of a bigger one coming. That's what it was. A foreshock. Then at 2.46 pm on Friday 11 March the big earthquake struck. I was on the ground floor. The floor started swaying and there was a continuous loud noise from outside like a storm wind blowing fiercely. Usually earthquakes are over in a few seconds but this one went on and on. We all knew this was a big one. I went over to the door and opened it so that we had an exit. Everyone was very, very concerned. Finally, finally, minutes later, the tremors stopped. We all got out. Everyone was talking excitedly. We tried to telephone our family members. But cellular networks were already down. They stayed down for many hours.
All transport in an out of Tokyo stopped. A friend who was in his car took many hours to drive 4 or 5 kilometers. All my family members finally, finally managed to get home at 2.30 pm on Saturday 13 March. Twenty-four hours later. And at last we heard from a friend who had been visiting her family in Sendai. She and her family and her home were safe. We haven't been able to speak to her yet. We had almost no damage - but one friend who lives on the third floor had considerable damage inside his apartment. Aftershocks have continued through the night of Saturday 12 and today Sunday 13.
There is no point in me talking about the disaster that is still unfolding. News is changing hour by hour. But a worry for everyone is the safety of the nuclear power plants in Fukushima. Unbelievably as the seriousness of the situation became clearer Yahoo Japan was repeatedly playing a cute cartoon commercial about the benefits of nuclear energy.
Our prayers go out to everyone affected, expecially those still waiting for help to arrive.