April 1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 9 10 11 12 13 14 15 16 17 18 19 20 21 22 23 24 25 26 27 28 29 30 2011
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[personal profile] sarka
The computer is the only electronic device I've got on at the moment. We've been kindly asked to save electricity for those who need it more, and so I'm sitting here in late afternoon light, in several layers, because I have turned off my heater.

I woke up to an earthquake warning on my phone, and barely a minute later, my house rocked gently, my glasses clinking together in the shelves in my kitchen unit.

I'm going to have to bike into school tomorrow, probably, because I doubt the trains will be running. There won't be any students, but the staff is still expected to come in, and while I could theoretically take some time off, I know the Japanese staff will all be there.

It's a strange, surreal existence, here in Saitama. We are so far removed from the events that the biggest impact will be the rolling blackouts and the lack of train service. And of course the inability to stay away from the news. Statistically speaking, I know some of my colleagues are probably grieving and anxious, but I know they're all going to be there tomorrow, because that is how this country works.

As we get more reports of death and devastation, the reports of incredible selflessness, unbelievable rescues and brilliant reunions have started trickling in, too. This country is, and has always been, incredibly community-minded. Even in Tokyo, where the devastation was minimal, people still experienced acts of kindness that would bring tears to anyone's eyes. There's a story on twitter about someone who couldn't make it home due to train stoppage, and was given cardboard to keep them warm by the same homeless people most Tokyoites pass without second thought every day.

What strikes a foreign guest like me the most is the unutterable dignity of the situation. There is no panic, there are no mobs, there are no unmanageable crowds. People may be buying things for the worst possible situation, but nobody is taking more than exactly what they need. I have been called by my coworkers to make sure I'm up on what's going on, and I have been stopped on the street by the people I nod at every morning, asking me if I'm okay or if I need any help to get through this.

Everyone is grieving, and anxious about the disaster we may still be facing. But the tenor of people's conversations doesn't seem somber; they seem determined - as if every disaster looming on the horizon is just another obstacle to traverse.

When the earthquake struck on Friday, I was in the gym. I didn't immediately realize what was happening; I thought someone was trying to open the door I was sticking posters to from the other side. And then the ceiling started creaking. I walked over to the other doors, which were open, snagging a frozen coworker along the way, and we stood under the doors, until everyone realized that this wasn't just a tremor. The sixth graders had been practicing for their graduation ceremony in the gym, and were crouched down in the middle of the room, and as the shaking intensified, we started hearing whimpers and screams of panic. "Out," one of my coworkers finally shouted, making the decision for all of us. I darted outside and set myself up at the edge of the courtyard, making sure the students stayed away from the windows as they ran for the playground. When everybody was out of the gym, we got over to the grounds to settle the students down, the earth still bucking and weaving around us, making our gait a little unsteady.

"Is it just my knees shaking, or are we still going?" I asked a coworker on the down low once the students were sitting down, and more people were evacuating the building in so orderly a fashion you'd have thought this was a drill.

"We're still going," he said, softly. "Look at the trees." They were swaying, back and forth, like they were being battered by strong winds.

We eventually settled the students back into the gym and made rounds of the school. Nothing was broken, nothing even really out of place. As we passed a second grade classroom, one of the second grade Japanese teachers asked us to help setting up some loose panels - what she had been doing before the first quake struck. In the middle of trying to figure out why the panels wouldn't cooperate, the biggest aftershock struck. We learned later that it was 7.4 on the Richter scale. My coworker cowered on the ground and I had to dart back in and tug her to the door - she told me later that she hadn't ever felt anything like the first tremor.

Once the shaking subsided, the intercom went, calling all of us to the office. Train services were suspended, and we did nothing for the rest of the afternoon except watch the news and wait to figure out what to do.

Thirty students couldn't make it home that night and slept at school with some of the teachers. To give you an idea of the level of preparedness in this country for this sort of thing, they did not have to make do with their jackets and some hastily procured blankets. In the event of a natural catastrophe, like this, the school has access to sleeping bags for every single student.

I've been home since then, mostly glued to the news services. The situation in Fukushima is frightening, particularly because nuclear reactors are an unknown quantity to me. However, the news reporting from Japan is quite different from the sensationalist stuff that seems to be reported elsewhere, and so I've banished the BBC forever from my reading list. (Not to mention CNN, what's with the Godzilla jokes?)

Tomorrow it's business as usual for this part of the country. I have no inkling what sort of thing we'll be supposed to do, but I imagine there will be long meetings in Japanese.

I am expecting a rolling blackout to start any minute now, so I suppose I better post this and turn the computer off - or try to write, since the internet won't be there to distract me.

For those of you with the funds... [livejournal.com profile] help_japan has an auction up with many nice things on offer. Please consider it.

Thank you for all the well wishes and all the concern. I'm touched so many people thought of me.

Stay safe.

Sárka.

(no subject)

Date: 2011-03-14 12:55 pm (UTC)
From: [identity profile] michelle-ravel.livejournal.com
Thank you for this report.

(no subject)

Date: 2011-03-14 02:11 pm (UTC)
From: [identity profile] sarka.livejournal.com
The thing I can't stop thinking about - that hasn't left my mind for three days - is the written student report that landed on my desk three hours before the quake hit on Friday.

I told my kids to write about their last vacation. Beautifully illustrated, this one went; "I went to Sendai during Winter Vacation. I visited my grandparents while there..."

(no subject)

Date: 2011-03-14 03:22 pm (UTC)
From: [identity profile] phoenixwriter.livejournal.com
First of all thank you for this insight of the situation. Japan is pretty much known to be community-minded thats probably why I'm not worried they might have troubles to pull through this disaster.
However in terms of the situation in Fukushima, I wouldn't trust the news you get there either...considered if one thinks about it what other choice do they have? If things are really as bad as BBC or CNN keep saying, nobody can evacuate that many people in such a short time esp. not after an earthquake.

Anyway I hope for you things aren't that bad afterall but in any case stay safe.

(no subject)

Date: 2011-03-14 04:03 pm (UTC)
From: [identity profile] jazzqueen.livejournal.com
This is a short article on how reactors work, which has some useful information.

Also, I've seen several people making claims along this line:

"On of the interesting facts associated with the debate over nuclear power is the amount of radiation emitted by burning coal. Typically a coal-fired power plant emits about 3.3 times the amount of radioactive material into the environment that a nuclear plant does for a similar amount of power produced.

This is due to the fact that coal contains radioactive material, mostly uranium and thorium, at about 4 parts per million. Now this does not seem like a lot until the quantity of coal a 1000 megawatt plant will burn in a day, around 11,000 tons, is considered. This works out to be roughly 40 kilos of radioactive material (88 pounds) each day. About 10% of this will be released to the atmosphere and the rest will end up in the ash pile and subject to weathering. If proper scrubbers are in place as little as 1% could reach the atmosphere, but this is still rather significant given the tonnage of coal burned for electric generation.

Additionally there is the radon present in coal that is directly vented to the atmosphere by mining operations and the smaller amounts of more dangerous radioactive elements like radioactive potassium or phosphorous."

I haven't been able to verify this, mind you.

I did read up on the Chernobyl disaster back when I was thinking about going into nuclear physics, and back then it wasn't so much a case of "something went wrong" as it was a case of untrained operators experimenting with outdated Soviet equipment in hugely irresponsible ways.
The second biggest nuclear plant accident seems to be the Three Mile Island accident, and according to wikipedia: "In the aftermath of the accident, investigations focused on the amount of radiation released by the accident. According to the American Nuclear Society, using the official radiation emission figures, "The average radiation dose to people living within ten miles of the plant was eight millirem, and no more than 100 millirem to any single individual. Eight millirem is about equal to a chest X-ray, and 100 millirem is about a third of the average background level of radiation received by US residents in a year.""

As I understand it the worst case scenario in Fukushima involves the reactor becoming irreparably damaged and therefore unusable, with little or no irridated material ever making it outside the plant. The reactor is already inside a very thick concrete shield, and then there's the walls of the power plant beyond that.

I hope some of this helped?

(no subject)

Date: 2011-03-14 04:05 pm (UTC)
From: [identity profile] jazzqueen.livejournal.com
Uh and the point of the coal thing is that there is much more radiation in our environment than we realize, in case I wasn't clear. Derp.

(no subject)

Date: 2011-03-14 04:19 pm (UTC)
From: [identity profile] darkhawkhealer.livejournal.com
You make me cry in all the best ways. Thanks for letting us know you're okay. <3

(no subject)

Date: 2011-03-14 05:24 pm (UTC)
From: [identity profile] helgarr.livejournal.com
I'm glad your okay. It's interesting to have an insider's view on this. Continue to take care. :)

(no subject)

Date: 2011-03-14 06:13 pm (UTC)
ext_29986: (strength)
From: [identity profile] fannishliss.livejournal.com
I'm very glad to hear that you are well and safe. I think that for the purposes of prayer, it's good to know someone in the area, however tangentially -- so I'm praying for you and through you for the welfare of your friends, colleagues and acquaintances.

Thanks for your report, and Be well!

(no subject)

Date: 2011-03-14 06:14 pm (UTC)
From: [identity profile] tmblue.livejournal.com
This is such an incredible report! Your account of what happened and how everyone reacted... It's really moving, actually... especially this right here:

"What strikes a foreign guest like me the most is the unutterable dignity of the situation. There is no panic, there are no mobs, there are no unmanageable crowds. People may be buying things for the worst possible situation, but nobody is taking more than exactly what they need."

That is just really beautiful to me.

I'm really glad you're alright, and thank you so much for your account of what's happening. It really feels so much more real and raw when a person who has been directly involved relays what happened, how they feel, how everyone is feeling... News never seems to get anything right...

Stay safe and you will be in my thoughts xxx

(no subject)

Date: 2011-03-14 09:49 pm (UTC)
From: [identity profile] vampyran.livejournal.com
I wish the rest of the world (the western world that is) would look for inspiration in the Japanese people. This is amazing.

I also wanted to give you this link: http://morgsatlarge.wordpress.com/2011/03/13/why-i-am-not-worried-about-japans-nuclear-reactors/ It explains the whole nuclear thing quite thoroughly.

(no subject)

Date: 2011-03-15 03:52 am (UTC)
From: [identity profile] layne67.livejournal.com
What strikes a foreign guest like me the most is the unutterable dignity of the situation. There is no panic, there are no mobs, there are no unmanageable crowds.

That's exactly what struck me most, looking at the news coverage. The people there seemed so calm despite the gravity of the situation. Thanks for the update.

(no subject)

Date: 2011-03-15 04:36 am (UTC)
ext_14888: Yummy (Default)
From: [identity profile] angels3.livejournal.com
I'm very happy to hear that you, your coworkers and students are safe. I've not had the opportunity to meet you on lj but we have a few flist friends in common, one being layne67 which is of course where I saw your post.

In watching the news coverage, which I've been oddly confused about since the tsunami in 2004 had nonstop coverage on all the networks, and this one doesn't seem to, of course it could just be that I'm working odd hours for the main news stations. I've caught a lot on line and I find myself almost having a panic attack watching the footage people took of the destruction as it was happening.

The thing that struck me though was also something that was mentioned on a special at MSNBC about the strength of the people of Japan. They aren't looting, aren't creating mobs in the streets because they aren't getting aid fast enough, and we all know they're not. Even if anyone could have forseen this the lack of basic infrasturcture (because it was literally wiped off the face of the earth) in the hardest hit areas makes it so difficult to get to the people that need it the most and hearing it on the news and knowing it intellectually is just so very frustrating when you know people are suffering so.


The quiet strength and grace the people of Japan have shown in all the many disasters and tragidies should be an example to every country. I can tell you that the world has seen a country that can bend with each hardship and not break, a country that cares for each other and their neighbors. I've choked back tears listening to the stories of men carrying older family memebers and neighbors to higher ground on their backs. This is a people that know what do unto others as you would have them do unto you and it has served them well and will continue to do so as they grieve, remember and rebuild.

My thoughts and prayers are with you and the people of Japan.

(no subject)

Date: 2011-03-15 06:42 am (UTC)
From: [identity profile] ala-tariel.livejournal.com
Hello...I got here from layne67.

I'm glad that you are okay, though. Thank you so much for sharing the report. ♥

(no subject)

Date: 2011-03-15 07:10 pm (UTC)
From: [identity profile] mews1945.livejournal.com
I am humbled by the dignity and courage of the Japanese people. It's such an awful situation, but everyone I've seen seems to be coping without any whining or complaining, and the response of the government and rescue teams has been astounding. I think I've cried more than the Japanese I've seen on camera.

(no subject)

Date: 2011-03-16 04:41 pm (UTC)
From: [identity profile] rfachir.livejournal.com
The Japanese reaction to this disaster is impressing the world and raising the bar for my judgement of disaster behavior. (Your reaction impresses me, too.) There is nothing but tremendous awed respect for everyone there.
I have not studied nuclear reactors since I was in school, but my friend is a French nuclear engineer and he said that the reactors are so old it is probably as much as most people know. The Japanese government doesn't appear to be telling people anything he does not believe, either. According to him, (and he is getting his news in France), the authorities are giving the right advice to people. The closer people are to the plant, the more precautions there are. The prevailing wind is blowing out to sea, which is good.
The plant workers are there now are real heroes, fighting fires and making pumps work. All the reactors are in cold-shutdown, and from what we know they are damaged but under control. The only question is when the military will encase the plant in concrete and boron to contain the reaction permanently.
*Hugs* keep it togther. Remember, the world wants to help. We all remember all the help Japan gave everyone when there were disasters in Mexico and Haiti.

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