After two days of price negotiations, converting dollars to Baht and Baht back to dollars, spending all our "buy" money and literally stuffing our suit cases past maximum capacity, the Ichiban girls and I were exhausted and ready to head home...we got back to our hotel in Chiang Mai and were able to check our phones for the first time all day. "What???" The news was turned on and shrieks were let out, as we were informed of the natural disaster that had taken it's toll hours earlier in a country we call home!
The news was broadcasting horrifying pictures of the scenes from the 8.9 earthquake and resulting tsunami that hit Japan on March 11th. Airports were closed, trains were stopped, traffic was backed up and we were to board our plane and head back to Japan in a little over 15 hours!
I should have been relieved that I wasn't in Japan during the heavy earth shaking, but I felt unsettled at the unknown of what I would be going home to and nervous at the possibility of not making it there!
They did in fact open the airports back up and we made it home without any difficulty, but standing in the airport with the dozens of other Japanese trying to get home, we watched the news and I couldn’t help but get emotional!
News reporters were arriving in Japan at the same time as us...we didn't see Ann Curry in person, but had to take a picture of her sign anyways!
I finally made it home last night around 1AM – tired, alone and dreading what I would see inside my house. I called my mom and made her talk to me while I did a walk-through and assessed the damage! I might have been a bit more paranoid than the average person about this, but everyone else I knew had their husbands’ home with them and hadn’t just experienced a break-in! And that was exactly what it felt like…walking into a house that had been vandalized in my absence, only this time it was due to a violent shaking of the earth!
Even though most of the devastation is 150 miles North of Tokyo, and we live just South of Tokyo, the 8.9 shook the ground enough to do damage everywhere!!!
Doors had been flung open, things toppled out of closets, pictures on the floor, glass broken and the oddest of it all was that my sink was on and running full blast! (Something had fallen and flipped the nozzle on) However, the damage was minimal compared to those in Sendai where the tsunami hit, the streets were flooded, houses were swept away and people were trapped and killed by rushing water!
All the picture frames fell from their shelves and my jewelry was scattered on the floor!
One of my Japanese students emailed me to say she was too depressed to study English with me this month because her “daughter can’t get water and so she is going to die”…a bold statement, but true to the panic that the Japanese are feeling right now!
The news will tell you of the devastation…the destroyed cities, floods, death toll, fires, and the nuclear power plant that is leaking. Plus there are aftershock earthquakes that happen every few hours, making it hard not to panic that another big one will happen again!
But things could have been worse… this earthquake was bigger than the last 2 major earthquakes in Japan and yet the damage is far less!
In 1923, a 7.9 earthquake hit the Tokyo area (where we currently live) and there were over 100,000 people killed! Again in 1995 a major earthquake hit Kobe and killed 6,000. Looking at those numbers, I feel blessed that things weren’t as grim as they could have been!
Relief efforts are in full swing as well! Though Nick's in the States for training, his squadron, in addition to many other personnel on base here are doing search and rescue missions and providing supplies to the victims in Northern Japan!
They aren't out of the woods yet, but are on the road to recovery. Japan is resilient and has dealt with such devastation before; I have no doubt they will get through it again!