Earthquake, Tsunami, Nuclear Power Plant

As it happened, I've been in the office in Tokyo when the big earthquake happened on Friday, March 11. From the intercom of the institute where I worked, we've got a warning like 10 seconds before, that it was coming. Now, that's really impressive. My colleague made a joke, he jumped under the table and we laughed.

Since I didn't understand Japanese, only at that point I understood that the earthquake was coming. I took the helmet from under my table and put it on my head. Being from a country with no earthquakes and experiencing some small ones during the two previous years I lived in Japan, I was rather scared of a big one. My colleague was making jokes though, so I wasn't worried.

Then it started, and it was the biggest I've experienced, I started recording it because everything around was shaking and it was kinda cool at that point. Then intensity was rising though and the other colleague was yelling, 'san ja nai, deshou?', 'it's not third degree, right?'. They warned us that only number three was coming. Then it gets even worse than that the colleague is now really jumping under the table and yelling at us to do the same. When I think of it now, it was rather funny that the other guy was asking what he said, since it was actually obvious and I got it even without the translation. We waited under the table and I said there some ugly words, so stop the video in the middle if you don't want to hear them.


Some books fell from the shelves and one monitor too, but other than that here was no damage. The building is quite massive and makes me feel safe there. Then we left the building, all the fire walls were closed separating parts of the building to prevent the spread of a possible fire. We all gathered outside, every lab has a person responsible to count us to make sure we were all there and then he reported it to the group of the institute organizing the evacuation. This way they knew if there was someone left behind and it was necessary to return to look for them.

Shortly after that first aftershock occurred. Being outside, people moved farther from the building. People around me talked in Japanese, watched TV news on their phones and after a while when nothing was going on, I said that I was bored and asked my colleagues if I could go home. They granted me that permission, so I took my bicycle and rode home. On the way home I have to cross train lines, but this time there was train stopped in the middle, so I had to go around and find another place to cross.

At home, I spent the rest of the day watching TV news and chatting with friends and family on the internet and internet discussions. That's how the TV news and newspaper and later even radio in Slovakia found me and contacted me to ask some questions and record me for the news using Skype. Being from a small country, there aren't many people of my nationality here.

The next days to come

Next day they contacted me from the TV news from my country again. I asked them why, they said it was a follow up. So I told them the trains were running again although with delays and the highways are opened except for some areas, where they need to check it better. I admitted that people buy food more, but it's still available. Then later I check the TV news and they didn't use me. Instead, there was a Slovak woman there who lives in Tokyo for 15 years already, saying that the food was gone and that the highways were closed so people couldn't run from the radiation. I must admit I was shocked. This information wasn't true, and the highways didn't even make sense, people could always leave using trains and other roads, why would they be closing it for that reason?

The media kept exaggerating the news, and from some other countries even more than the news reported in Slovakia. Next day the reporters from Slovakia came to Japan. I got a phone call asking how to get to Sendai. I asked my Japanese friend, he called another Japanese guy, who explained to me that it's not good trying to get there, that he has a friend who's got family up there and she can't go there either, and the reporters shouldn't be trying to get there to hinder the rescuing and endangering themselves. I told them this, but they found a guy who drove them there. For the money some people do everything. After all they got stuck there. Now probably heroes in Slovakia.

Because of the nuclear crisis in Fukushima, foreigners kept freaking out in Tokyo, which wouldn't be dangerously affected even in the worst case scenario. The French embassy advised their people to leave tokyo, the Austrian embassy evacuated from Tokyo to Kyoto. I do get why they freak out like this if their own politicians don't manage to stay calmed down. Many of my non-Japanese Asian friends were also panicking specially after hearing from French and other Europeans how they should immediately evacuate Tokyo.

My mother's Austrian husband wrote me an email urging me to come back explaining that they in Austria have better information than me in Japan, because Japanese government is for sure withdrawing information and I am in danger. These emails kept coming and it wasn't really helping me. Although my family surprised me and they stayed calmed, because I was calmed.

Most of the days of the following week I had spent at home alone, watching movies, the NHK news and calming down my friends from Europe, although not always I was patient enough explaining that Tokyo is safe and I didn't see a reason to go. Sometimes I replied rather pissed off, because those emails weren't helping and I could evaluate the situation by myself and didn't need anyone telling me what I knew better than them. So I apologize for that to those who got my messages of that kind, but I believe you guys understand it now.

After all it wasn't so bad the foreigners left Tokyo. More electricity, water and food supplies for the rest of us. Although the messages they were spreading over the FaceBook were sometimes ridiculous. People started talking more about the rather negligible danger in Tokyo than those poor people in the Tsunami affected areas who deserved the attention more.

If you can, donate some money for the real victims who are in difficult situation in Sendai: Groupon Japan (in Japanese), Japanese Red Cross Society (in English).

Comments:

Jeremy:
The French are panic-stricken. They should all evacuate at once! Let's all visit Paris together... ; D

Jerry Hu:
Last 2 paragraph is rather insightful~

Indeed, while people are paying more attention to the danger of the radiation, let's not forget the ones who are suffering the most.

nippon gannbare!

Ivana:
Dear Milan, You are a brave and cool guy. Good luck and in case you need help, you know whom to contact!

Pekka:
Great blog post! It's nice to see that there's at least someone who isn't freaking out completely!

Matthew:
As Usual the Brilliant Scientist remains calm and analytical,(and a great writer); keeping in perspective the real suffering up North.Stay safe Milan.

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