Monday, March 14, 2011

48 hours parte two

I left off my story yesterday with the fact that the cafe we'd camped out in served everyone up some breakfast. By this time I was getting quite worried about my kitty and Shimon about getting home and making sure things were alright. At around 8 o'clock we decided it might be prudent to see what the trains were like and if we could get home.

First, Michelle and I went to check her train line home, while Shimon went to check ours. Turned out that all trains were running and we could all get home. This is where we parted ways. Michelle made it home in about the time it took us to get to Yokohama. This doesn't sound so bad if you don't know that her distance from where she started to where she ended was much shorter than our trip from Tokyo to Yokohama. She should have been home in around 30 minutes... it took around an hour.

Shimon had us aiming for an 8:40am train. We arrived on the platform to find people crammed so full into the trains that they were literally spilling out the doors. Kind of like the classic videos of Japan from the 1980s with people being shoved unceremoniously into trains. Only this time people were shoving themselves into trains just to get home. Trains were only running about every 30 minutes (which is a huge change from every 5 to every 15 depending on the train line).

We walked along the platform trying to find a train car that appeared to have enough space to shove ourselves in. Finally, somewhere near the front we found a car that would do. We waited until the last moment before we had to cram ourselves in (and cram we did). There was a fairly constant stream of announcements telling us that due to the earthquake and the amount of people there were likely to be many stoppages along the way and to please be patient.

So, what's the hardest thing about being on a crowded train?? First, lack of fresh air. Or even the fans blowing. Being in winter clothes with that many people made things unbearably hot. Then there was the fact that because there were so many legs and other things (luggage, bags, etc.) it was hard to get your legs situated in a way that you were stable.

Due to the crowds and the lack of air and other factors there were a few times when I was near panicking. At every station we stopped at it took at least 5 minutes to close the train's door and another few minutes the train started moving again. Finally we made it to Yokohama where Shimon was on the ball and got us a taxi rather quickly.

In the taxi on the way back home, Shimon received a number of phone calls from friends and colleagues checking that things were alright with him. As we passed through the streets of Yokohama we noticed a number of stores that seemed to have small "trenches" in front of them. Shimon wondered aloud if it was from construction, but we quickly realized that these gaps in front of buildings and storefronts was from the earthquake.

On our way home Shimon asked if I'd shut off the gas before I left home. I couldn't remember. That got me really worried. What if the gas had started to leak and Suzu (kitty) was dead from the fumes? Shimon was panicking about his TV. The ride home in the taxi took too long!!

We arrived and Shimon went to check on his scooter and I ran to the front door to get in. Surprisingly, things were ok. No gas leak. The kitty was hungry, but very happy to see us. The TV was intact. One of the first things we did was turn on the TV...

At this point, we began to realize the devastation that this earthquake and tsunami had caused. Entire coastal towns washed away in minutes. Repeated footage of the tsunami coming in from the open sea and just wreaking havoc on the northern coast of Japan. The initial footage, before rescue efforts began, was shocking enough.

Yesterday, the tsunami footage was joined by footage of the rescue efforts. There were many interviews with people waiting to find family members. I'll share the two most poignant and heartbreaking stories (out of many) that made me break down in tears last night.

One woman had been caught fleeing the tsunami in a car with her mother and her daughter. The daughter, who'd only had a license a year, was driving and doing the best she could. The car was rolled many times before it became lodged to the side of the building. All three had climbed from the back of the broken car window using the daughter's belt onto the roof of a house and were subsequently rescued. The lady was saying that they waited and there was an older man on another rooftop saying, "We can do this!" and shouting encouragement. One of the men nearby said, "He died." And the women was inconsolable. He'd made it through so much and managed to climb to safety. But the night was so cold and he was old... The reporter was able to interview the son of the man who had died as well. The raw emotion in both people just flowed through the television images.

The second story was of a woman in Fukushima. She had been at work when the quake hit. She had tried to call her family who were all at home; her husband and two daughters. She couldn't get through and couldn't get through. They were buried in a landslide. During the short interview, the woman describe the situation and events. And slowly lost composure... saying, "I just want them to come out safe. My husband, my daughters... I'll be left all alone. I just want them to come out."

Sadly as the reality of the situation unfolds, there will be many stories from the area that will break your heart. But there will be others that uplift.

For my last short story, there was a woman waiting near rescue vehicles for her elderly parents. Her parents and her dog had been rescued. I can't accurately describe how she must have felt, but I think that the actions of her dog speak loudest. The dog jumped right into her arms and showered her face with kisses and couldn't stop moving for his excitement in being reunited with his "mom."

The hardest part of the ordeal is yet to come I'm sure. The temperatures in the quake hit areas has been dipping down to freezing at night. Without power and heat, even the people in evacuation centers are having a pretty hard time. Supplies of food, water and baby supplies are also down. Even us in Japan are trying to figure out what the best way to help is.

Keep Japan in your thoughts an prayers as the true impact of the quake and tsunami begins to sink in.

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