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Posted at 9:00 AM ET, 03/13/2011

Japan earthquake, tsunami and the aftermath: Your stories

By Abha Bhattarai and Ryan Kellett
WashingtonPost.com readers are sending in  their stories about the tornado, tsunami and aftermath in Japan. Here is a selection; check back often for updates.

Steven Takashi Negishi, a graduate of George Washington University, now lives in Yokosuka, Japan and works in Tokyo.

I work in the area called Marunouchi near Imperial Palace in the heart of Tokyo's business district for a financial firm on the 19th floor. It was before 3pm JST when the earthquake hit. There was an earthquake 3 days before which lasted about a minute, so I thought maybe this was going to end quickly since we are so used to the earthquake. But it kept going longer than I expected and shook violently. Next thing you know, everyone inside the office was underneath the desk scared. We have a fish tank in the floor I work and it rocked hard side to side and water spilled out. It lasted about few minutes. The scary part was the number of aftershocks that took place. I felt it while underneath the desk. The building started to make creaky sounds which we never heard before and I was genuinely concerned that the building was seriously damaged and near collapse. I was speaking with my father using VOIP phone while this was taking place, and made a frantic call to my mother and relatives in the northern part of Japan, but the lines were dead. Text messages weren't working either.

Soon, we saw horrific scene of tsunami engulfing cars and houses in the northern part of Japan in our monitor. Many people started to leave the office after 5pm in order to survey the damage to their apartment/homes, but all public transportation, such as trains, subways, and buses were paralyzed. People flocked to the cabs and soon, massive lines were formed outside the taxi stand outside the train station. Those who stayed on wore a helmet to finish up whatever work was left and headed out as well. Majority of them live Tokyo, so they decided to either stay at a friend's house or walked to their home. One friend told me he walked about 6 hours from his office to his house.

I had an option to stay or find a hotel and to stay, so I decided to head out knowing that odds of finding a hotel to stay was slim to none. At the same time, I wanted to see what outside looked like since I was stuck inside the office building the whole time. I have attached a zip file which contains all the photos that I took while wandering around in the streets of Tokyo. As you can imagine, all hotels were completely booked, so I turn my attention to finding a shelter. I got a direction from the local police box and was told there is an evacuation spot set up at an local elementary school. While walking to get there, my leg was starting to cramp up badly as I was walking for few hours and while carrying emergency kit provided by the company. I saw a large hotel near the train station and to my amazement, the hotel lobby was filled with stranded passengers such as myself who was sitting/lying on the marble floor and carpet, looking really tired. I decided to stay rather than walk and get there not knowing whether I can be admitted.

Robert Magner, 70, of Arlington, was waiting at a Japan airport when the earthquake hit:


I was at Narita airport scheduled to leave for DC at 4 PM.  The earthquakes intervened and the airport authorities evacuated the  building and then held all there on the first floor telling us that there would be no planes leaving until the next day, if then.  My United Airlines flight (898) however after about six hours was scheduled to leave.  It was the only 

flight to go to the US that day after the event.  It appeared that a crew was made up from personnel already at the airport who while they had already worked were prepared to stretch their work rules and allow the flight to go. We - the 300 passengers were very grateful.  The last time there was clapping on take off when I flew was in Vietnam.  This was certainly a different situation but the feeling of relief was similar.


An American physician living in Japan sent us the following account of his experience:

My home is about 100 miles south of Fukushima, in Tochigi prefecture. At the time of the quake, I was teaching in a hospital on the northern edge of Tokyo (in Omiya). Most notable was how normal everything looked outside after the quake in that area. No one in any panic. 
The quake was strong and of longer duration than the many small ones we get here in Japan. I left the hospital by bus, normal time, etc., and until I got to the station, I didn't think anything big had happened.

Once I got there, many people were lined up outside the station. All the stores were closed (400pm). The trains were all stopped, including local trains and the Shinkansen (bullet trains).

For me, the whole thing was a big inconvenience. McDonalds remained open, and there was no way to get home so I ended up sleeping on the floor of a hotel lobby once the McDonalds closed at 1100pm. I got home the next morning. Not a very exciting story really, but I am lucky that things were not worse for me. We have a lot of family in Sendai and thankfully everyone is OK.

Geary L. Hoover of Hagerstown, Maryland, said he spoke to his son over Skype this morning, as aftershocks continued to ravage Japan. Kevin Hoover, 29, teaches English in Fujisawa. His father sent us this account:

Kevin told his mom and I that he was on the seventh floor of his school building, teaching students when shocks came. They had young students down under their desk during the beginning of the shocks, then rushed them down the stairs to get out to the street. I had tears in my eyes and became very emotional, for this was one of my wife's and I biggest fears was a big earthquake and/or tsunami hitting Japan.

As we were talking and viewing on Skype, Kevin was experiencing aftershocks, and we could see him tuned into what was happening to his bedroom in a high-rise apartment in Fujisawa, Japan. We all were very emotional and had a group hug on Skype.

Geary Hoover sent us the following update early Sunday morning:

We lost communication with our son, nothing for over 24 hours now, last time we talked, gas and water was out, very low on food and bottle water, local shops were bare from people rushing in, buying everything they could, no traffic, no deliveries, no train service,  nothing coming in or going out. Last we talked, there is fear in Japan that the coming full moon is causing them problems already, the last time the moon was this close to the earth was in 2005 and there was a huge 9.0 earth quake several days before this moon. Now also,  the Japanese people fear, that Mt. Fuji will erupt once again as it did after their last large quake some years ago.


John Hopewell was on United Flight 897 from Washington Dulles to Beijing via Narita, which was due to land in Tokyo at 3:25 p.m. As the plane was descending toward Japan, Hopewell wrote:

The pilot came on and said that there was a massive earthquake, Narita was closed and were being diverted to a US air force base (I think it is called Yokota?). Other international flights were coming in and the tarmac so crowded, we were parked wing tip to wing tip. After 3 hours and refueling we were flown to Osaka. No chance getting to Tokyo today. The mood in the country is somber, though no hint of damage here.

Hopewell is currently staying put in Osaka, where there is little damage but still trying conditions for a traveler:

Hotel rooms are 100% booked and hundreds slept in the hotel. We met a foreign service officer taking her 15 year old daughter to Seoul to visit a prospective high school, a guy trying to get to Mexico from Bali etc. Thank god a kind Japanese guy who was stranded and staying in our hotel led us through dizzying train transfers last night at 1am. I called him our Angel.

Hiroko Okura was on the 31st floor of his office at the Fast Retailing Co. in Tokyo. He felt the first earthquake at 2:46 p.m.

"It was so sudden," he wrote by e-mail. "The whole building was swinging to the sides so I felt sick and it was like sea sick."

Nothing broke, but shelves slid from side to side. Employees waited under their desks until they were asked to evacuate the 45-story building.

"We tried to evacuate from the floor but . . . many people from upstairs [were] already coming down so all of the 4 emergency exits got packed and none of our people could leave," he wrote. " People from our floor finally could start going down 30-40 minutes"after the announcement.

Once his group made it down the stairs and outside, Okura says, there were so many people that it was difficult to find anybody. There was very little order, and nobody seemed to know what was happening.

"People downstairs all looked just puzzled but I saw no panic," he wrote. In the end, he said nearly 400 workers in his building "remained in the office to spend the night because their trains were completely stopped. I thought I never be able to get out."

Andrew Schecker of Chesapeake, Va., lives in the capital of Akita Prefecture, Akita-shi, where he works as an English teacher for a private children's school. His account:

The day of the quake I was in my apartment preparing for work later in the evening. -Right when the quake hit Akita, I was on my computer checking e-mail and watching videos on youtube. Suddenly my room shook. For the past week I had felt a lot of aftershocks and tremors from the prior earthquake so I was not too worried about things until the violence of the shaking increased at an amazing pace. My two story apartment building began to creek and shutter as if it were made of jelly while the ground outside roared and rumbled. I was almost certain my building would be damaged. Everything in my room began to rattle uncontrollably, including myself. At that moment I got out of my chair and sat on the floor so make sure that I would not fall over. As the quake continued I began to throw on every winter sweater, jacket, scarf, and hat I owned. I was preparing myself for evacuating my apartment if it started to collapse. Then the lights flickered and the power went out.

Phones weren't working, and like many others in the city, Schecker said he didn't realize just how severe the earthquake had been. He left his apartment and began walking to the train station to commute to work.

It might seem odd that I would do that, but I did not want anger my company by not going to work if I could still manage to get there, and this was the only train I could take that would get me to work on time since trains are few and far between in the countryside.

As I stepped out my door, I was greeted by a green sky, that I had only ever seen in Chicago during tornadoes, lightly powdering the ground with a curtain of snow. The traffic lights were out and I was forced to walk in between cars stuck in traffic. About three minutes into my journey I saw a massive flash of light, which I had thought was a camera, until I heard the ground rattling roar of thunder. It seemed like the Earth had decided the quake wasn't enough so it brought down freezing temperatures, snow/sleet, and thunder.

Looking out the windows I saw that all the taxi, usually swarming around the exit had all but disappeared and only two buses seemed to be running out of a terminal that housed fifteen.

I could make out a majority of the conversations around me. Most of them belong to school children stranded, mid-way, on their trips home. There was an echo of the same phrases across the large pathway inside the station: "I'm so scared," "I want to go to the bathroom, but there is no light and a massive line," "Does your phone work?"
After trying to call my closest friends and coworkers for the 100th time I decided that I should try and log on to facebook (I had the bars, for web I guess, just not for communication) I immediately posted what I suppose is the most important status report of my life "I'm ok. . ." I then began checking the website for the New York Times for information but I quickly moved to BBC.com for my information when the New York Times kept asking me to log in.

After about an hour of standing in the station I decided to head back to my apartment. On the way back I stopped by the local, mom-and-pop liquor store to get some water and food for the night.

It became dark and cold fast, so I crawled into bed with four pairs of socks, two sweaters, one jacket, gloves, and a hat and tried to go to sleep, hoping to sleep through the pitch black, bitter cold night ahead of me. I woke up around 10 pm and hastily searched for the one candle I had in my apartment. A small birthday candle shaped like a piece of strawberry shortcake. After finding my matches I lit the candle and began to try and figure things out. I kept my phone off most of the time, only turning it on to check for mails from friends and the news. I did not sleep well that night. With the stress or the whole ordeal bundled up with the fact that I was alone, in the dark, feeling each violent aftershock (which came at least every 15 minutes) and very very cold I could not rest.

I soon left my apartment in search of three important things: food/water, candles, and a portable phone charger (my phone was the only thing keeping me informed and in, very limited contact with others. Arriving at the nearest convenience store I was greeted by the image of a young mother working earnestly to help everyone buy their goods while to kept watch of her young child, who was strapped to her back. I was soon told that they had nothing left and that I should try somewhere else.

Moving on to the nearest grocery store, I saw a line, which wrapped around the block, for entrance in to the store. I decide to pass the store up in hopes that the next (cheaper and bigger) grocery store would have a shorter line. I was in luck. In about 30 minutes I was inside the store with a middle-aged woman who marked and wrote down each item I put into my cart. We spoke briefly about Sendai, and how I had friends there as well as her own friends experiences concerning the impact of Katrina on their life in Arkansas.

Leaving the store, with two bags filled with canned, goods, candles, lighters, tea, and mikans (Japanese tangerines) I headed home. Exhausted from the long haul, I quickly fell asleep and awoke from a rather vivid nightmare. Realizing I still had no phone charger I proceeded to ride my bike around the entire city in hopes that a convenience store or grocery store might still have a few left over. I hoped wrong. After three hours of searching, I headed home to be greeted with the sound of my neighbors vent fan. The power had returned. My lights were on, my water was running, my air conditioner/heater was working, and my candles were now completely useless.

From that moment on I spend all my time checking the internet for news of Sendai and learning as much as I could about the reactor in Fukushima.

I believe the cruel joke to all this is that I am moving on March 27th to Sendai for a new job, or at least I was planning to. At the moment I have no idea if my new apartment has survived the earthquake or the tsunami (as it is close to the coast). It seems like this disaster might have just put me out of a job.

As I finish writing this I want to make it abundantly clear that I am still feeling a large number of powerful aftershocks along with the never ending wail of ambulance and fire engine sirens. Even with my power back, tonight will be another long, lonely night.

We encourage you to continue to submit your stories, photos and other accounts of your experience.

By Abha Bhattarai and Ryan Kellett  | March 13, 2011; 9:00 AM ET
Categories:  Your Take  
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