Tuesday, March 15, 2011

Sendai Earthquake

On the afternoon of 9 March I felt my first earthquake.  I had never been through an earthquake so I didn't really know what was going on at first.  I was sitting on my couch eating some lunch before I went into work and suddenly everything started shaking and the house started swaying.  The initial feeling I had was something akin to sea sickness.  My equilibrium was off and I felt dizzy.  I had just read an article about record numbers of people in their 20's having strokes and I thought to myself, "Either this is an earthquake or I'm having a damn stroke!"  Almost immediately after the shaking stopped I heard the local giant voice system start making announcements in Japanese and I was able to get online to see we had just had a strong 7.2 magnitude earthquake off of the coast of Sendai.  A 7.2 magnitude quake is strong, but I had no idea that two days later I would experience the fifth largest quake in recorded history.

We had a number of aftershocks after the quake on the ninth, but nothing very strong or long.  We were currently having an exercise on base where we were simulating deployment operations.  Moving passengers and cargo around as if we were going to war.  Who knew that we would immediately transition to a similar real world mission.  I was running the vehicle operations control center on the night shift (we were split into 12 hour shifts) and was home sleeping on the 11th.  At approximately 1400 local, all hell broke loose.

I was laying in my bed when I first felt the quake.  I thought it was just another aftershock, but it just kept building, and building.  After about two minutes of shaking the power cut out, and the quake continued on for another 2 minutes.  It was pretty damn intense and just seemed to go on forever.  I'm no expert on quakes but after the 7.2 a few days earlier I knew that this one had to be big.  Once the quake stopped I got out of my bed to assess any damages, and of course post on facebook!  Luckily I had my phone to record this little aftershock right afterwards.  It doesn't do the main quake justice but its all I have!

The giant voice announcement system in Japan is very highly developed and is tested everyday at 0600, 1200, 1800, and 2000.  They play this little jingle over it each time so that they know its working.  All of the warnings are in Japanese though.  I was recording one of the messages when they dropped a few words in English.

Shortly after the tsunami warning my cell phone went dead.  With no power, no phone, and the giant voice squawking about tsunamis I figured the best thing for me to do was head to base because I knew no matter what happened they would be doing a recall to check on everyone.  Dirty and unshaven I threw my uniform on and headed to my unit.  When I got there I finally got some info about how bad things were.  They were evacuating near the coast due to the tsunami, we had no power on base, and we were trying to get accountability of all of our people.  We still had no information about how bad things were in the local area though.

Within a few hours we had some generators set up at my unit to provide some basic light and set up a heater so we could heat a few rooms.  Since there was no power or heat anywhere most of the guys brought their wives and kids into work and we set up the break room for them.  Almost immediately after the quake the base starting making arrangements to get functional again.  All of the units in the Mission Support Group starting using their skills to support the base.  Civil Engineering was checking for damage and started working on the water, electricity and heat.  Security Forces secured the base and buildings where alarms had failed.  Force Support and Services got the chow hall serving MRE's immediately and hot food within 12 hours of the quake.  My unit, the LRS, started prepping for the immediate humanitarian support response that was coming in from around the world.  There was so much going on in that first 24 hours after the quake it was a a blur.  It was really great to see all the units on the base do their job and start getting things functional again.

We had the break room set up for families and I found out quickly that everyone I work with has daughters.

SSgt Shipley was alternating between feeding and holding his 1 month old daughter and directing ops.  He was the dayshift lead and I was the nightshift lead, but since we were all basically there the whole time there was a lot of overlap.  He definitely was taking phone calls while feeding little Eva!

My shop really supported all of the families well.  Every spouse whose husband was deployed was contacted and many of them came to the unit to eat, sleep, be warm, and be around friends.  People pooled together food from their houses and everyone made sure everyone else was taken care of.  Many of the military members were working around the clock and just catching some sleep when we could, and when we were "off" we would pull double duty entertaining kids!

Within 24 hours of the quake my squadron in-processed 100's of people including two 80 person search and rescue teams from the States (with 12 dogs), one 60 person search and rescue team from the UK, 60 TDY Civil Engineers to assist with re-establishing utilities, and about 250,000 pounds of cargo.  Our high school on base had a few sports teams near coming back from Yakota during the quake (they were riding the train near Tokyo) and about 80 students had to be flown back in on C-130s.  We supported those passengers and were able to reconnect them with their families which was pretty emotional for most of the parents!

During all of these operations we remained without power.  At times the dependents were a bother, but for a lot of guys it was good to have their families nearby and know they were safe.  We even had a lot of people bring their dogs in with them!

All we have for power right now is a floodlight set with a generator running an extension cord inside the building.  I am actually running my laptop off of that right now to write this post!  3G phone service came back up yesterday so I am able to get some internet on my phone.
If I look tired in the photo it's because I am.  

Today we sent a convoy of 22 vehicles including 7 fully loaded tractor trailers and 4 buses down into the hardest hit zone.  They're delivering people and cargo and coming back up to do the same thing again.  I may get to go on the next one, but they may just have me stay here to coordinate efforts from a desk.  Pretty lame if you ask me, because I would rather be in the shit!

We're very busy over here, and will be for weeks to come.  The word is that we will support Operation Tomodochi (Japanese for friends) until we're no longer needed.  It feels great to be able to contribute to the relief efforts and not just have to watch the carnage on TV.  I have only been here a few weeks but I have been extremely impressed with the Japanese people and the country.  There are huge parts of the nation that have been utterly devastated and they really need our help right now.  If you can afford to give, I would personally appreciate it.  I know the Red Cross is already here offering assistance, as well as a number of other NGO's.

Even though we were spared most of the worst here in Misawa this is a national tragedy.  The highways have been shut down to only accept mission essential traffic so basic shipments are not getting through.  We're rationing fuel on base and off base.  You can see from the picture of a local convenience store below just how much food is available out there.

Sorry if this post is full of typos and grammar errors but I did it fast because I wanted to get some info out there.  I will continue to try to post when I can.  I will be working a LOT in the upcoming weeks, but I don't think I could spend my time doing something more fulfilling!  

EDIT:  Check out this site to see just how many quakes we've been having - it's crazy:

1 comment:

  1. Thank you for everything you do, in times of crisis and just in general. You are truly one of the best and bravest. Hugs to you and everyone who dresses like you.